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Indonesian A R T AND CULTURE



Gamelan is a term for various types of orchestra played in Indonesia. It is the main element of the Indonesian traditional music. Each gamelan is slightly different from the other; however, they all have the same organization, which based on different instrumental groups with specific orchestral functions. The instruments in a gamelan are composed of sets of tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, drums, one or more flute, bowed and plucked string instruments, and sometimes singers. In some village gamelan, bronze is sometimes replaced by iron, wood, or bamboo. The most popular gamelan can be found in Java, and Bali.
In Indonesian traditional thinking, the gamelan is sacred and is believed to have supernatural power. Both musician and non-musicians are humble and respectful to the gamelan. Incense and flowers are often offered to the gamelan. It is believed that each instrument in the gamelan is guided by spirits. Thus, the musician have to take off their shoes when they play the gamelan. It is also forbidden to step over any instrument in a gamelan, because it might offend the spirit by doing so. Some gamelan are believed to have so much powers that playing them may exert power over nature. Others may be touched only by persons who are ritually qualified. In Javanese gamelan, the most important instrument is the Gong Ageng. The Javanese musicians believe that Gong Ageng is the main spirit of the entire gamelan.

Functions of Gamelan

Gamelan is a way of linking individuals in social groups. Gamelan music is performed as a group effort, and so there is no place for an individual showoff. Traditionally, gamelan is only played at certain occasions such as ritual ceremonies, special community celebrations, shadow puppet shows, and for the royal family. Gamelan is also used to accompany dances in court, temple, and village rituals. Besides providing music for social functional ceremonies, gamelan also provides a livelihood for many professional musicians, and for specialized craftsmen who manufacture gamelan.
Today, although gamelan music is still used for ritual ceremonies and the royal family, it is also performed as concert music at social and cultural gatherings to welcome guests and audiences. Gamelan is also used to accompany many kinds of both traditional and modern dances, drama, theatrical and puppetry. In modern days, gamelan can be kept in places such as courts, temples, museums, schools, or even private homes.

Balinese gamelan

foto credit: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Indonesian/

Balinese Gamelan music is very similar to Javanese Gamelan music. The music is in cycle too, however, it is usually faster. One of the characteristic of Balinese gamelan music is that, it has a lot of sudden changes in tempo and dynamics. Like the Javanese gamelan, the instruments in Balinese gamelan includes metallophones and gongs. However, there are more metallophones than gongs in Balinese gamelan. The metal keys in Balinese metallophones are ticker than those of Javanese. These Balinese metallophones produce very bright sound. Another characteristic of Balinese Gamelan music is the used of cymbals. These cymbals create fast rattling sound that usually cannot be found in Javanese Gamelan music.

Javanese Gamelan

Picture Credit: Dr. Han Kuo-Huang

The word "gamelan" came from Javanese "gamel," which means "hammer." Most of the instruments in a Javanese Gamelan are gongs and metallophones, and the music is of percussive nature.
The Spiritual Leader in Gamelan is the biggest gong, Gong Ageng. However, the real leader during the performance is the drummer. Gong Ageng is the largest hanging gong in Javanese gamelan. It is also the lowest-pitched gong in the gamelan. Like the Kempul, Gong Ageng has a flat surface with a protruding knob at the center of the sphere. The number of Gong Ageng in a Javanese gamelan varied from gamelan to gamelan. Usually there will be at least one Gong Ageng, and it is usually hang at the back of the gamelan
Javanese Gamelan instruments, according to orchestral function



What is batik?
The word batik is thought to derive from the Indonesian word "tik" which means dots-- denoting a certain method of applying colored patterns or designs to finished fabrics.
The process of making batik.
The process of batik is simple but tedious. Finely woven cotton and occasionally silk are used to make traditional batik. There were two parallel traditions in batik, one for the royalty and one for the common people.
The first step is to apply the hot wax. There are several methods of waxing. The most popular methods are canting method and cap method.

Picture credit: Dr George Henry

Picture credit : Bali Tribune, Edition 23 June 2001

After the initial waxing, the cloth thus prepared is then dyed in indigo vat and dried in the sun on long sticks. The oldest and first dye to be applied in classical Indonesian batik was blue made from the leaves of the indigo plant. Indigo dyeing was usually done by men.
The cloth is first pulled through a chemical agent which helps the dye to bond to the cloth. It is left to drip and is then pulled through the dye
Chemical dyes produce more predictable results and offer better resistance to sunlight and frequent washing. After the colors are obtained, the fabrics is rinsed thoroughly and it is then transferred to boiling water. The finished products are brilliant in both design and color. Producing a high quality batik may take anywhere from five weeks to over a year.



Wayang Purwa symbolizes human life in the world. Basically, the genealogy of wayang is rooted in the gods named Hyang Manikmaya and Hyang Ismaya. They are sons of Hyang Tunggal. In the wayang performance, Hyang Tunggal is not visible. The two sons emerged as lights simultaneously. Manikmaya's light was glowing brightly. Ismaya's light was dark. Both of them competed to proclaim that they were the older of the two.

The spark light was named Manikmaya, who lives in Suralaya (the kingdom of gods). Manikmaya is so proud to himself since he perceives himself to have no weakness and to be powerful. That kind of attitudes makes Hyang Tunggal give him some weaknesses

Then, Hyang Tunggal stated that the dark light was older, but he was predicted that he could not have the god's personality. He was given a name Ismaya. Since he had the human personality, he was asked to stay in earth to take care the god's descendent, the Pandawa. Then he was sent to the world and named Semar. He has the ugliest human being outlook.

The two events are symbols. Ismaya symbolizes the body of human being. Ismaya symbolizes the soul of human being (inner body). The body (Semar) always takes care of five senses (Pendawa): sense of smelling (Yudhistira); sense of hearing (Werkodara); sense of seeing (Arjuna); sense of taste (Nakula); and sense of touching (Sadewa

The task of Semar is to take care the wellbeing of Pendawa, in order to avoid the war with Korawa (sense of Anger). However, Hyang Manik Maya always persuades them to fight. Finally, there is Baratayudha where Pandawa become the winner

Ki Dalang (The Puppeteer)

A Dalang is a complete artist. It is said so because a dalang is the director and the main player of the show. Beside moving the wayang, they are also give them voice; they are comedians, and also preaching the spiritual teaching. A Dalang is also the conductor of the gamelan orchestra

In a wayang show, the languages used are not only one (Javanese/ Balinese) but also Sanscrete or Old Javanese/Balinese Language. In the modern time, there are a lot of Indonesian words and sentences slipped in the shows.

Because of that the story of wayang often contain spiritual teachings or the shows are produced in connection of certain religious ceremonies, a dalang was expected to fulfill high standards of spirituality. Before they are initiated as dalang, they need to practice meditation and asceticism. In the shows, they are believed to be able to communicate between the physical and spiritual world. A Dalang is often be categorized as a communicator, spiritual person, and of course a complete artist.

Gamelan (accompanying music)

The Gamelan is the musical instruments. In the Javanese Wayang, these instruments nowadays consist of at least 15 different types, mostly made of bronze and generally of the percussion type, mostly made of bronze and generally of the percussion type; a small bamboo flute (suling), one or two horizontal drums on wooden stands (kendang), a two stringed violin-like instrument (rebab) and a wooden xylophone (gambang) are the non percussion and/or non-bronze musical instruments used to accompany a wayang purwa performance.

The kothak or wooden chest. The kothak normally functions as a storage box for the wayang puppets and other equipment such as the kelir, chempala and kepyak. To store a professional set consisting of around 200 puppets, its measurement should be approximately 150 cm. long, 80 cm. wide and 60 cm. high (with lid on).

The chempala or wooden knockers are usually made of teak wood. There are two kinds, one about half size of the other. The larger of these is approximately 20 cm. long with a diameter of about 5 cm. This is usually held in the dalang's left hand, is used to knock the kothak to produce the sound effects and coded orders he requires. When his two hands are busy manipulating the puppets, he uses the small chempala for the same purpose by holding it between the toes of his right foot, for he sits cross-legged, his right foot crossing his left thigh. As mentioned above, the knocking sounds not only produce sound effects, but also serve as the coded orders/signals of the dalang, orders to the musicians on what melodies to play, to slow down or quicken the rythm, to play it loudly or softly, or stop the music.

The kepyak or metal rappers. This is usually made of three pieces of bronze plate measuring approximately 15 cm. long and 10 cm. wide suspended on small cords or chains to the outer side of the kothak. The dalang hits it with the toes of his right foot or with the small knocker held between the toes of his right foot. The function of this tool is mainly to produce sound effects; occassionally it functions as a chempala in giving the coded signals.

Wayang Bali

Wayang in Bali is a sacred performing art. It is sacred since the performing art in Bali becomes an arena of transmitting the basic philosophical thought to the audience. The audience is perceived as coming from three realms of world (the realm of gods, the realm of human being, and the realm of underworld

The existence of wayang characterizes much of the Balinese ritual, from ceremonies for pregnancy to the rituals for weddings. These rituals serve the function of harmonizing the three worlds, often utilizing wayang as the main instrument.

As a sacred performing art in Bali, there are numbers of purification ceremonies for the wayang, puppetteer, gender (gamelan), and the gamelan players. Before the wayang is performed, certain purification ceremonies will be carefully conducted.


Balinese Dances

Wherever you go in Bali, the air is full of gamelan music. People play gamelan at the temples when the calenderacally ceremonies being held, at the village halls, on the streets when the ceremony procession goes to a temple or cemetary. Sometimes gamelan is also played to greet high ranking government officials who come to visit.
The gamelan orchestra usually (if not, always) accompanied by dancers. For temple ceremony purposes they usually belong to different generations. Late age and not having a formal training is not a constraint. During temple ceremonies you may see ladies in their 80's dance gracefully. You may also see a little girl dances with her mouth opens because her mother puts to much lipstick on her lips. Boys and girls, men and women, they all dance. Not all of them go through a formal training before being able to dance publicly. They just do that. But, why do they dance?
When we are talking about offering, what comes to our mind is flowers, fruits, cakes, etc. For the Balinese a dance is another kind of offering too. The main purpose of dancing is as an offering for the God and deities, not as a performance for public.
At a temple ceremony, to greet the gods a group of dancers (mostly women) circle the central shrines three times. While dancing in simple movements but very grace and intense, they carry some ceremonial objects, such as holy water, fire, some pieces of cloth in different colors, etc. The dancers move slowly in clockwise direction that symbolizes ascent of the sacred mountain. The gamelan group accompanies the dancers and others sing prayers.