With its UNESCO designation as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2003, wayang puppet theater is without a doubt one of the most celebrated icons of Indonesian culture.
While it is most commonly recognized as part of Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese heritage, the art actually exists in many other parts of Indonesia, including South Sumatra, South Kalimantan and even West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).
If you wish to learn about the artform, the aptly named Museum Wayang in Jakarta is the perfect place to do just that.
Located on Jl. Pintu Besar Utara No. 27 in West Jakarta in the heart of the culturally rich Old Town area, Museum Wayang boasts a vast collection of more than 4,000 wayang puppets from across Indonesia.
Apart from that, the museum also houses collections of puppets from Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, China, France and Suriname.
The museum's building may look small from the outside, especially when compared to the Jakarta History Museum on the other side of the famous Fatahillah Square (Jakarta's Old Town square during the Dutch colonial era).
However, it has a long and illustrious history stretching back to the 1600s.
The building was established as a church by the Dutch colonialists in 1640. It underwent numerous renovations over the next three centuries, including after a huge earthquake destroyed much of the building in 1808.
It was first turned into a museum by the Dutch in 1939 and was eventually refurbished into its current function by the
Jakarta administration in 1975.
Remnants of the old church still exist, the most prominent of which is a grave in the front yard belonging to former Dutch governor general Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who died in the city in 1629.
Visitors entering the museum are greeted by two giant wayang golek (wooden puppets) from the Sundanese culture of West Java.
The puppets depict Rahwana and Ramawijaya, the two main characters from the Indian epic, Ramayana, from which many local wayang stories emanate.
Just behind these two towering effigies are other wayang golek portraying other Ramayana characters. Walk further into the museum and you will find that its collection is mostly dominated by wayang puppets depicting Ramayana characters, including the four beloved punokawan (clowns), namely Semar, Gareng, Petruk and Bagong.
The art of wayang itself is believed to have been brought from India to Indonesia during the spread of Hinduism in Southeast Asia some 2,000 years ago.
During the span of those two millennia, however, the art of puppetry fused with many aspects of indigenous cultures, evolving into something with its own unique Indonesian identity.
The four punokawan are examples of wayang characters that originated in Indonesia and do not exist in the original Ramayana epic.
The museum's wayang collections are stored in glass cabinets, compiled according to a certain theme or a puppet's origin. There are separate glass cabinets showcasing wayang from Banyumas in Central Java, Bali, Banjar in South Kalimantan and even from the Sasak tribe in NTB.
You will also see cabinets storing wayang kulit (shadow puppets), wayang golek, wayang klithik (flat wooden puppets), and wayang mainan (toy puppets).
The museum also houses a special wayang collection called Wayang Revolusi (Revolutionary Puppets) that depict Indonesian soldiers, students and politicians during the revolution of independence in the 1940s. Another special collection depicts women characters of various origins and eras.
Apart from the puppets, the museum also boasts a collection of masks used in wayang wong (classical dance dramas) from all over Indonesia. There are also gamelan (traditional orchestra) sets used to accompany wayang shows.
On the way out, a souvenir shop is on hand, should you wish to indulge and buy some wayang-themed memorabilia.
Showcasing the ancient wayang puppets may not be enough for some – which is why the museum also holds regular wayang performances three times a month. A wayang golek show is held on the second Sunday of each month, a Betawi wayang kulit show every third Sunday, and a Javanese wayang kulit purwa show on the last Sunday of each month.
Visitors can also watch the process of making the puppets by appointment.
Museum Wayang / Puppet Museum:
Jl. Pintu Besar Utara No. 27, West Jakarta
phone: +62 21 62929560
Tuesday-Monday: 09.00 am – 03.00 pm
Monday and National Holiday: Closed
Adult: Rp 5,000
College Student: Rp 3,000
Student and Kid: Rp 2,000
How to get there:
- Take a Transjakarta bus on corridor 1 (Blok M-Kota), alight at Kota shelter. Walk toward Fatahillah Square. The Museum Wayang is in the right side of Fatahillah Square if you face the Indonesia Post Office.