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Home » Arts & Culture, Dance, Drama & Music, Religion, Ritual and Ceremony

Through the Eyes of Researcher : The Religious Role of Dalang (Puppeteer)  

by on Tuesday, 3 February 2009No Comment | 1,618 views


Here is an interesting article on the religious role of puppeteer in Bali. this article is an excerpt taken from Umeda Hideharu’s writing entitled “Between and Adat Agama: The Future of the Religious Role of the Balinese Shadow Puppeteer, Dalang”.

In Bali a dalang who has the skills of a priest is generally called a mangku dalang. “Mangku” is a generic name for religious functionaries of a lower caste (kasta) who supervise various kinds of temples and performs temple rituals.

To become a mangku dalang, in addition to having acquired the skills to perform wayang, one has to have undergone the investiture rites, called mawinten, after learning the mantras and method for making holy water and acquiring the knowledge to perform purification rituals.

The religious role of mangku dalang can be roughly divided into two: performance of wayang called sudamala. The former for supernatural beings, and the conducting of the purification ritualis the performance of wayang for the relevant gods and demons on temple anniversaries and rites of passage, the audience being, not humans, but invisible supernatural beings like gods and demons.

wayang lemah

Wayang stories are closely associated with the temple anniversary or rite of passage, and gods usually appear in them. And this wayang is mostly performed in a style called wayang lemah without the use of a screen, and can be performed either in the day or at night. Margaret Mead has left the following description of wayang lemah.
There was a shadow play, but without the screen and the lamp. The dalang sat and recited and waved his figures in the dark and no one listened. And finally, late at night, there was an excited hush [Mead 1977: 193].

The latter role, however, has nothing to do with the dalang’s skill as a performer. The mangku dalang prepares holy water using three or four set wayang puppets, a ritual formula, flowers and offerings and pours it over the head of the person who needs the purification ritual. The Balinese call this holy water “wayang holy water” (tirta ringgit, toya ringgit) or “purification holy water” (tirta panglukatan) and believe that this holy water is effective in ridding human beings of defilement, called mala, or ridding the spirits of the dead of defilement, and have it poured over their head many times in the various life course rituals that they undergo from birth to death. McPhee has recorded one series of such rituals.


At the end, about 3 a.m., the puppets were put away as usual, with the exception of Kajon, together with Tjintia, Siwa, Toealen and Bima. Offerings were brought before the figures, and as the dalang, a brahmana, prayed he took each figure, decorated it with a flower, and dipped the handle in the holy water. When this was ended, the dalang descended to perform the njodamala [sudamala] ceremony, and liberate the child from the curse. Offerings were first made on the ground to the evil spirits, and then, approaching a special shrine made for the occasion, the dalang went through many prayer formula. The child, held all this time in the arms of its mother, was then stripped of its ceremonial garments and stood naked upon the ground in the midst of the offerings to the demons. Bowl after bowl of holy water was poured over the shivering infant, and the ceremony was finished [McPhee 1981: 29-30].

Mala is not only the inherent defilement that afflicts one from the time of birth, but one can also acquire a state of impurity in one’s daily life or through various mistakes that one makes. So a person must undergo the purging of mala by a mangku dalang at the time of the various rites of passage. All of these rituals are called sudamala and they are performed not only for human beings but also for the spirits of the dead who died in a state of mala [Hooykaas 1973: 15]

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