Kaohsiung Museum of shadow puppet
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Shadow plays are the only kind of puppetry to be found in Malaysia with the northern city of Kelantan as their center. Shadow plays here are divided into two main types; the Wayang Java and Wayang Siam. Common scripts are derived from the two very well-known Indian epics through Thailand. Wayang Java has been categorized as entertainment for the noble class and was centered on the Mahabharata, only to gradually decline in popularity after British colonialism ended. Wayang Siam is considered entertainment for the public with performers adopting important parts from the Ramayana, and uses folk legends or local stories to stay popular.

Performers of Wayang Siam also make their puppets, though, generally speaking, the puppets are less delicate than those made by Wayang Java performers. The average number of puppets for a common troupe is about 100, though the number can range between 75 and 200. One of the characteristics of the puppets is that the heads and limbs are made laterally, and only the right arms are movable. Puppets playing clowns such as Park Dogol and Wak Long are often given peculiar appearances that make them different from common characters. The puppets’ colors of are also assigned to specific characters. For example, the color green should be used for Seri Rama, red for his brother Laksamana, dark blue or black for Maharaja Rawana, and black for servants. Various other characters that may vary from play to play include devout men and women, and local residents and demons.

In early days, the panggong or temporary stage was set up by the performing troupe. Later on, the audience asked the troupe to set up the panggong in advance and treat the audience to free performances. Nowadays, stages have become fixed structures and the landlords sign contracts with troupes to offer different plays and earn ticket fees. Performers are usually in charge of supervising the stage work. Male performers are more often seen than female ones, and the major requirements for becoming an excellent performer are to truly understand the messages or morals of the plays and becoming proficient in portraying the sentiments of the characters accurately. Performers need to first receive musical training, and then rehearse before performing on the stage. They can also become apprentices to many masters at the same time in order to be a successful performer.


Now, let us proceed to Malaysia, south of Thailand, to get to know its shadow puppets.
Malaysian puppet stage
Malaysian puppet theaters are limited to the shadow puppet variety, with its center located in the northern state of Kelantan. Here, shadow puppets come in two types: Wayang Java and Wayang Siam. Their scripts came from India by way of Thailand. Wayang Java, which came from Indonesia, is associated with the noble class, and was used to perform Mahabharata. It suffered a decline after the British colonization in 1909. Wayang Siam is more associated with the grassroots and is used to perform important portions of the Ramayana. Other less important scripts are derived from folk legends or those written by the puppeteers themselves, which are more popular.
(Seri Rama) Rishi (Seri Rama)
Another example is this puppet of the Wayang Siam variety. It is a representation of Seri Rama, a Hinduism poet who is also the major character in the Ramayana. The structure of the puppet is much similar to the Thai variety, with only the right hand movable and supported by a single handle. The bottom section of the handle is sharpened for easy positioning on a banana trunk. Its colors are also mainly red, black and green.
No. 42, Gangshan S. Rd.,Gangshan District,
Kaohsiung City 82060, Taiwan(Museum Hours)
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