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Shadow Puppet [Wayang Kulit] of Puntadéwa

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Shadow Puppet [Wayang Kulit] of Puntadéwa
Wayang Kulit

24 in. (61 cm)

Unknown, Javanese

Full Title:Wayang Kulit
Object Type: Recreational Artifact
Medium and Support: Carved and colored buffalo hide with carved horn handles
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Forman
Accession Number: 1937.16
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view

The shadow puppets of Indonesia, called wayang kulit (literally, “shadow-made-by-leather”), are flat, elaborately painted, and intricately carved leather puppets that in performances cast dramatic shadows on a screen. These shadow puppet plays, which are always accompanied by a gamelan, a traditional Indonesian orchestra, are among the oldest and greatest storytelling traditions in the world. There are over 200 plays in the wayang kulit theater repertoire; many are drawn from the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharta.

This puppet represents the young Puntadéwa, a key protagonist of the Mahabharta, which has as one of its basic teachings the triumph of virtue over evil. Puntadéwa was the eldest son of the “good” Pandhawa family, which struggled to regain its kingdom from their evil Kurawa cousins. After years of exile and war, Puntadéwa became the king known as Yudhistira; he was revered for his wisdom and piety.

Many of the visual elements of this puppet are traditional to the character of Puntadéwa. His bowed head indicates kingship and modesty. The elaborate bustle on his loin cloth, intricately painted with imitation embroidery, is also a princely motif.

--Gallery label text, spring 2011

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