In Indonesia, the Ramayana is performed in multiple theatre genres spanning puppetry, and masked and unmasked dance drama. Still performed throughout much of Indonesia, these forms function as both ritual and secular entertainments, ones distinguished by characteristically Indonesian elements of song, gamelan music, dramatic narration, costuming (including masks and headdresses), and stylized dance and movement. Historically, the Indonesian theatre genre known as wayang wong (dance drama) in particular may have links to the traditional style of Ramlila performed in India. Even today wayang wong has ritual functions in Hindu Bali, and in Muslim Java, where it was once integral to court rituals. However, Indonesian theatre genres are quite distant from Indian ones like Ramlila, and thoroughly reflect Indonesian arts and sociocultural concerns. After a historic pan-Southeast Asian Ramayana festival in Yogyakarta in 1961, Ramayana-themed sendratari (dance drama) became more popular in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country with a fondness for the Mahabharata. One performance at the 1961 festival had such an impact, it has continued to be staged at the ninth-century Prambanan temple complex in Central Java up to the present. This report discusses the 2012 National Ramayana Festival held at Prambanan to commemorate half a century of Ramayana performances there. It is intended to give insight into the history of shared ideas and aesthetics in Ramayana-themed performance in Indonesia and India, as well as some of the obvious differences between them.
I Nyoman Sedana is an artist and professor at the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) Denpasar, Bali, and director of Bali Module and PEPADI (Indonesian Puppetry Association) Bali. He received his MA from Brown University and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia; his work has been supported by Asian Cultural Council, IIAS Netherland, ARI NUS Singapore, ASF Bangkok, Freeman Foundation, etc. He has published articles in Asian Theatre Journal, Puppetry International, Asian Music, and Puppetry Yearbook, and is coauthor, with Leon Rubin, of Performance in Bali (Routledge, 2007).
Kathy Foley is former editor of ATJ and a distinguished professor of Theatre Arts at University of California, Santa Cruz.