Tumpek Wayang


As usual, I have no idea what is going on until it happens. I had been told that there was an upacara (ceremony) and a wayang (shadow-puppet play) this weekend, what I didn’t know was that they both marked a special day for gamelan music: Tumpek Wayang. This I found out on Saturday morning when my teacher, Subandi, asked me to help him move his box of shadow-puppets into the gamelan studio. We placed them on a bamboo mat with the instruments so they could be presented with offerings of food and woven palm leaves. A religious specialist came to help conduct the brief ceremony.


Once the essence of the food was delivered through the burning of incense, we enjoyed what was left. This was followed by a true feast: grilled meat skewers called sate; chicken coated in cloves and chilies; and lawar, shredded pork mixed with fresh fruit and who knows what else. This was all around 10:30am, and since I was not warned of this mini-festival, I had just eaten my breakfast a couple hours earlier…oh well.


After rehearsing all afternoon for Sunday’s upacara, which I then realized was also part of Tumpek Wayang, Subandi and I rushed into the city for the wayang. Shadow plays in Bali are accompanied by a special ensemble called gamelan gender wayang. This performance was not entirely typical because the traditional gender quartet (which opens the recording) was accompanied by drums, flutes, and gong. The instruments used an unusual tuning for wayang music and much of the music was newly composed, some of it by Subandi.

Here is the opening of the shadow play. In the beginning the puppeteer, or dalang, is arranging his puppets and deciding which ones to use. He then starts the drama by dancing the ‘tree of life’ puppet around the screen. The banging sound you here is the dalang using his feet to pound the puppet box with a horn. He uses the sound both to direct the musicians and for dramatic effect.

Here characters begin to enter, first with singing and then dialogue.

Much of the play was in an ancient language most audience members don’t understand. A special group of characters provide commentary in Balinese. Of course, I couldn’t understand them either. Luckily there was enough slapstick comedy and fighting to keep me entertained. I gather that the story comes from the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic. This version was told largely with animal characters (including some dinosaurs) and commented on the role of the caste system in contemporary Bali.

The next day the gamelan group that rehearses in my house was providing entertainment for a temple ceremony, or upacara, down the street. Since my arrival in September they have been rehearsing for this evening, which included music, dance and a comedic play.. The performance involved over 40 people, from little kids to high school students, so the rehearsals liven up my weekends. I usually sit-in when I they practice, so I was invited along to play flute. The general attitude here is the more the merrier, whether you know all the music or not. Some of the more experienced players just showed up for the performance to play flute and hang out for the evening.


In typical fashion, the upacara was a three-ring circus, with people praying and presenting offerings to the beat of multiple gamelan groups (one of them an all female group based in the temple). We closed out the evening with almost of three hours of music, dance and drama. Apparently the play was very funny…Subandi is in the frog costume playing the steel-pan drum.


Today Tumpek Wayang officially comes to a close but I think it will come one more time while I am here. I have gotten varying accounts of how often it comes…as usual, I have no idea what is going on until it happens.


2 thoughts on “Tumpek Wayang

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