For centuries, the art of Wayang (traditional shadow puppets) has become an inseparable part of the lives of the people on the islands of Java and Bali and is a prominent part of Indonesian culture.

This long-lived art is among the world's greatest story-telling tradition. It comes in the form of theater (wayang orang), three-dimensional wooden puppets theatre (wayang golek), and the most distinguished one: leather puppet shadow theatre (wayang kulit).

While wayang golek is mostly associated with the Sundanese in West Java Province, wayang kulit is the outstanding art of the Javanese in Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java as well as Bali.

The Riveting WAYANG KULIT SHADOW PUPPET SHOWS  of Java and Bali

Today Wayang orang and wayang kulit performances are still regularly held at the Keraton or Sultan's Palace of Yogyakarta and Keraton Solo. In wayang orang, actors usually wear the mask of the character they portray, whereas, in the dramatic Ramayana dance legend which is regularly performed at the grand stage of the Prambanan temple, the masks are cast off. To watch this fabulous Ramayana ballet at its very best see this on full moon nights in the dry season between May through October, when the bright round moon shines directly on the elegant Prambanan temples, becoming an unforgettable backdrop to the riveting play.

Nonetheless, Wayang kulit is still the most well known Indonesian wayang performance. It is made of cow's leather, meticulously chiseled with very fine tools, supported by carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods. The art of creating wayang kulit is incredibly detailed. Several artists are usually involved in the different stages required to make one single puppet.

Visitors are welcome to observe and learn the intricate process in making wayang kulit in the Village of Kepuhsari, Wonogiri Regency, in Central Java.

The stories in wayang kulit are brought by one sole master performer called dalang, whorelates the story and at the same time does the voice for all characters, both male and female, the good as well as the bad.

He has a screen and a small oil lamp in front of him that throws shadows of the wayangs on the screen, while when not appearing, the wayang figures are stuck on a long banana stalk that can be easily taken up whenever the master needs them.

Tales in wayang performances are usually taken from the Ramayana or Mahabharata Hindu epics as well as from Java's own history and legends, that usually involve moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters, following their journeys through life, love, and war. During the endless battle between good versus evil, they also contemplate the existential struggle between right and wrong. The means to those ends are not always clear cut. "Good" characters may possess negative traits and likewise, not all "bad" characters are entirely immoral. Whatever the circumstance, wayang stories always present philosophical ideas and poignant messages.

The Riveting WAYANG KULIT SHADOW PUPPET SHOWS  of Java and Bali

The stories presented in wayang kulit performances that are based on the classic Hindu Saga, are commonly known as wayang purwa (classical wayang). The performances refer to four cycles of epics, which were standardized by the royal courts of Central Java in the 18th century.

Wayang kulit performances are grand events that last throughout the night, accompanied all the while by a live traditional gamelan orchestra. During folk festivities and significant events such as births, weddings, or other celebrations, wayang kulit performances often appear with specific messages that are relevant to the event.

Traditionally, wayang kulit performances draw large audiences from all neighboring villages who sit on both side of the screen: the "shadow side" and the "dalang" (puppeteer) side. In the past, people typically watched from the shadow side. Today, performances are set up for the audience to watch from the dalang's side of the screen.

The art of Wayang has been inscribed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The majority of those of Chinese descent have already for generations settled in many parts of the Indonesian archipelago, where their culture and traditions have taken root deeply, and in the process have fused with the local cultures, also since many settlers have taken local women as wife. This is why, Chinese New Year - here better known as “Imlek” – is celebrated with gusto and with lots of fanfare and participated by local inhabitants with equal joy, so that Chinese New Year in Indonesia has also been declared a national holiday .

This year, Chinese New Year falls on 28th January 2017, but celebrations will continue for 15 days, culminating on 11th February with the Festivities of Cap Go Meh.

Among the many cities and towns in the archipelago, - among which are SemarangJakartaPalembangPontianakMedan, and many other cities, - Chinese New Year is particularly celebrated with grand festivities on the Beautiful Island of Bintan in the Riau Islands and in Manado, capital city of North Sulawesi.

On Bintan island, just a short ferry ride away from Singapore and Johor Baru, Malaysia, Chinese New Year Festival will be centered at Plaza Lagoi on 28th January 2017 by the freshly opened attractive Lantern Park, with lanterns taking the shape of the many creatures of the sea. The festival itself will be highlighted with a special gala dinner for 200 persons, presented with various distinct Chinese art and cultural performances. During the festival there will be Dragon Dances, Lion Dances, a Chinese Musical Show, the release of bright sky lanterns, fireworks galore, and a lot more exciting activities.

What makes Chinese New Year festival in Bintan specially unique is here it features the figure of Cai Shen, the God of Prosperity. Chinese New Year celebrations have always been closely associated with fortune and prosperity. And this is the reason why, during this year’s festival, the Cai Shen figure will hand out ‘angpau’ or red envelopes containing coins. Most people believe that coins are supposed to bring good fortune and prosperity in the year to come.

While a lot further east in Indonesia, in the city of Manado, the capital North Sulawesi Province, Chinese New Year festival will last for two weeks. Here, the festival will not only feature distinct Chinese art and culture, but it will also be fused with local traditions of the Minahasa, Sangihe, and the Bolaang Mongondow ethnic groups living in this region.

Festivities as well as communal prayers will be centered at the Ban Hin Kiong Temple at Jalan D.I. Panjaitan in Manado’s Chinatown. This is the oldest temple in the eastern part of Indonesia, built during the Qing Dynasty in China (1644-1911), which has beautiful classical Chinese architecture and decorations.

During the festival, there will be mass lion dances (Barongsai), dragon dances, a Street food festival featuring mouth-watering Chinese food and Manado’s traditional food, and a whole lot more.

Also here in Manado, the pinnacle day of Cap Go Meh (here better known as Toa Peh Kong), which falls on 11 February 2017, is celebrated with a parade headed by local Minahasa performances of Kabasaran and Cakalele, that are special dances shown only at most important occasions. These are followed by colorfully decorated palanquins carrying religious personifications and symbols (called Pikulan), then come lion dancers and dragon dancers. While the most awaited by the packed crowds are the “Ince Pia”, the men and women who are able to pierce their body, tongues, or cheeks with sharp swords or lances, but remain invulnerable and completely unscathed.

Do make it a point to celebrate your Chinese New Year in Indonesia.

Dance moves that are simple but full of joy. The Janger dance is one of Bali’s unique dances created in the 1930s. With gamelan batel or gender wayang instruments playing in the background, Janger is danced by 10 pairs of young men and women. The group of women is called janger, while the men are called kecak. They would alternately dance together and sing the Janger song.

The accompanying Janger song is now popularised by Indonesian choir groups, playing at every international choir competitions.

It is believed that the Janger dance was started by women farmers, who sang joyously in groups as a way to entertain themselves and relieve their exhaustion from a long day’s of fields work. This developed into a dance and became a means to meet young men from other villages. The general theme has now revolve around the initial romance of young couples. Imparting the classic tales of Arjuna Wiwaha and Sunda Upasunda.

What makes Janger unique and appealing is the dancer's costumes. Originally, women wore the Balinese sarong with a bodice, while the men wore sarong and a Balinese headdress. But with time, the women dancers develop their costume into European clothes, even wearing stockings and shoes. The men now wears khaki uniforms with epaulets and a pasted or painted on moustache, while others dressed as boy scouts.

The dance are formed in a square, accompanied by the geguntangan orchestra, the young men sit cross-legged performing intricate hand movement derived from the pencak silat (the traditional martial art) movements. The young women would kneel, singing the janger song while making weaving patterns with their arms and hands.

In Bali, Janger is categorized as the bali-balihan dance, a dance that is performed for entertainment purposes or to enliven ceremonies.

As a popular traditional dance, Janger can be found anywhere in Bali. Each villages has its own variation of dances. In Tabanan, there are Janger groups led by a Dag, an actor wearing a Dutch army costume giving instructions to the dancers. In Bulian, village there is a Janger dance performed especially for the disabled. While the Metra Village Janger in Bangli, the dancer would perform on a bed of hot coal.

If you wish to watch a Janger dance, you can ask for the Sekaa (youth organization) that specializes in Janger performances, at the Janger Kedaton in Denpasar and Janger Singapadu in Gianyar.

Mount Bromo in the Bromo Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java is yet another one of Indonesia’s internationally popular tourist destinations and one of the most visited attractions in East Java. This unique volcanic mountain possesses a magnificent panoramic view and a mystical atmosphere unlike any other. With a cloud of smoke billowing from its crater, and its rugged surface rising high above the sandy landscape below, photos of Mount Bromo have graced magazines, newspapers, travel websites, post cards and brochures across the country and beyond. Recently, CNN GO listed Mount Bromo as one of its 50 Natural Wonders: The Ultimate List of Scenic Splendor.

Bromo’s sunrises and sunsets are especially amazing, alluring visitors from around the world, who scale its rocky trails to bask in their seemingly endless glow. Mount Bromo soars to an altitude of 2,392 meters above sea level in a mesh of valleys and canyons amidst a vast plain, known as the “Sea of Sand.”

Aside from Bromo’s outdoor splendor, its appeal exists within its culture as well. The Yadnya Kasada is a festival held every 14th day of the Kasada Month in the traditional Hindu lunar calendar. This ceremony is to honor Sang HyangWidhi, the God Almighty, Roro Anteng, daughter of King Majapahit, and Joko Seger, son of Brahmana.

Yadnya Kasada  is observed by the Tenggerese, who are descendants of princes of the 13th century Majapahit kingdom, living in the highlands of Mt. Bromo. Though the majority of Javanese have converted to Islam, this unique community still clings to their beliefs from the ancient days of Majapahit till today. Like the Hindu Balinese, the Tenggerese worship Ida Sang HyangWidi Wasa, the Almighty God, along with the Trimurti gods, Siwa, Brahma and Visnu, with added elements of Animism and Mahayana Buddhism.

One month before the Yadnya Kasada Day, Tenggerese from numerous mountainous villages scattered across the area will gather at the Luhur Poten Temple at the foot of Mount Bromo. One distinct feature that sets the Luhur Poten Temple apart from other Hindu temples in Indonesia is that it is constructed from natural black stones from the nearby volcanoes, while Balinese temples are usually made from red bricks. These temple ceremonies are prayers to ask for blessings from the Gods, and often last long into the night.

When the Yadnya Kasada day arrives, the crowds that have travelled together up the mountain, throw offerings into the crater of the volcano. These sacrifices include vegetables, fruit, livestock, flowers and even money, and are offered in gratitude for agricultural and livestock abundance. Despite the evident danger, some locals risk climbing down into the crater to retrieve the sacrificed goods, believing that they will bring good luck.

The origin of this ritual stems from an ancient legend of a princess named Roro Anteng and her husband Joko Seger. After many years of marriage, the couple remained childless, and therefore meditated atop Mount Bromo, beseeching the mountain gods for assistance. The gods granted them 24 children, under the condition that the 25th child must be thrown into the volcano as human sacrifice. The gods’ request was observed, and so the tradition of offering sacrifices into the volcano to appease the deities continues until today, although instead of humans, chickens, goats and vegetables are thrown into the crater for sacrifice.

Reog Tengger: Mystical Dance of the Tenggerese on Mount Bromo

Standing majestically in the huge caldera of the once ancient Mount Tengger, is Mount Bromo, The icon of East Java, a truly magnificent wonder. Its spectacular sunrise and stunning picturesque scenery have captivated tourists from all around the globe. Mount Bromo is also the home of the Tengger sub-ethnic group who until today still preserve their age-old traditions and way of life. One of these is the art of Reog. Although Reog itself originates from the neighboring regency of Ponorogo, the Reog Tengger has its own distinct characteristics that distinguish it from Reog Ponorogo.

reog ponorogo

Reog is a traditional Javanese dance from East Java that involves many elements including graceful choreography, extraordinary physical strength, as well as extravagant costumes and decorations.

The main character of Reog is the magical lion-like creature called Singa Barong. Singa Barong is a huge mask made to resemble a tiger's or leopard's head, over whose head are fans of long peacock feathers. The Singa Barong mask is notoriously heavy where the dancer must be capable of carrying the 30 to 40 kg mask by the strength of his teeth only. For this reason, people believe that the person able to execute this feat must surely possess supernatural abilities and strength.

reog ponorogo

ometimes, the Singa Barongan - sometimes called barongan - may also carry a young man or girl on the lion's head. In addition to the weight of the person sitting on top of the lion's head, therefore, the Reog dancer must then carry a weight of around 100 kilograms, and this only by the strength of his teeth. Holding this huge heavy mask by biting into it, he relies on the strength of his jaws, neck and shoulder muscles. The width of the mask itself spans more than 2.5 meters including the peacock feathers and other colorful decorations.

reog ponorogo

A Reog performance usually consists of three sets of dances while each dance is performed by several persons. The first is the opening dance, performed by warok, male dancers wearing completely black costumes symbolizing rough men wearing an intimidating mustache and other masculine attributes. The second is the Jaran Kepang dance performed by Jatil which was originally performed by a gemblak, a handsome, teenage boy wearing colorful costumes. Today female dancers usually play this role. While the third dance is the main attraction of the show performed together by all Reog dancers. The warok as the star male performer carries the large and heavy lion mask and dances on center stage while the others dance around him. To emphasize the barongan dancer's extraordinary strength, the Jatil then climbs on top, riding the lion mask and is then thus taken around the arena.

Origins and meaning of Reog Tengger

The Reog dance portrays the story of Klono Sewandono, king of Ponorogo who journeyed to Kediri to seek the hand of Princess Songgo Langit. On this journey, the King along with his entourage and soldiers were attacked by a vicious monster called Singa Barong, a mythical lion with peacock feathers on its head. A great battle ensued which involved not only physical fights but also using supernatural prowess.

The performance is then accompanied by vibrant music of the traditional gamelan orchestra that comprises the gendang, gong, saron, kenongangklung, and other traditional instruments. However, distinct from the original Reog Ponorogo, Reog Tengger also incorporates modern musical instruments such as the electric guitar and bass. These are innovations made by the Tenggerese, that not only include traditional songs but also the more modern 'campur sari' tumes that are very popular among the Tengger communities.

reog ponorogo

Another different aspect of Reog Tengger, when compared to Reog Ponorogo, is that while Reog Ponorgo relies mostly on exceptional physical strength that has been developed over years of intensive training, the Reog Tengger adds more mystical elements where the barongan's dancer is brought into a trance when he performs the dance. To achieve this, special preparations are needed before each performance: A 'dukun' or 'shaman' prepare offerings to bless the performance and to attract 'spirits' to join in the performance. The offerings include gedang ayu, rokok kinangan komplet (hand-rolled cigarette consisting of areca nut, betel, and a combination of three flowers known as KembangTelon), Jenang Wonco (traditional Javanese snacks cooked in five colors: white, red, green, yellow, and black), Sego Gulung (7 rice balls with steamed egg filling), black coffee (without sugar), fresh water, kembang setaman (various types of flowers), pituan (Coconut, rice, and 5 raw eggs), and more.

When you travel to Bromo in East Java take time to witness this extraordinary performance!

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