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Cultural Significance of Wayang Gambyong in Traditional Javanese Dance




Wayang Puppetry dates from before the 15century and before Hinduism came to Indonesia. Originally the Puppeteer (=Dalang) was a shaman priest animating the shadows of puppets to invoke magic communication between humans and the spirits of their Ancestors.

The Shadow Puppetry is the earliest known puppet performance in Indonesia and usually starts evenings and lasts all nite until the early morning. Occasionally at the end of some shows, when dawn was breaking, a rare and unique 3 dimensional wooden puppet would appear in front of the screen.


A beautiful and courtly attired female dancer, dressed in finest hand painted batiks and silk brocades, adorned with precious jewels of gold and diamonds. Called a 'Gambyong' puppet, she would perform a special dance, acting as a bridge between the public and the puppeteer (=dalang) while recalling the significance of the story (=lakon).


This wooden figure may be the remnant of a much older animistic ritual associated with fertility and blessing ceremonies, for village purification. Without this dance, one is told, crops might fail, people would fall ill, and the land might turn barren. 



The Gambyong is not only the most finely carved of all the wooden wayang Golek puppets but also the rarest, as there was only seldom a single such wooden one in a complete chest(=box) set of 2-400 hundred flat leather figures . Her features are more ‘realistic' and less of the stylized elongated shadow like shape typical to Islam's aversion to represent images in human form. The Wayang Gambyong is now the rarest and most unique collectors item of Indonesia’s puppet world.


The Theater Art Gallery Bali has been collecting Wayang Gambyong puppets over the last 40 years and boasts of having the largest collection of these very rare and unique puppets. We also support the last Gambyong Master Artisans to keep this refined tradition alive by reproducing its finest pieces. 

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