Wayang Kulit Kelantans nature, history, and purpose.
One of the existing Malay traditional arts, in particular in the State of Kelantan, is wayang kulit (puppet shadow play). It is said to have been originated from Cambodia for more than 1000 years. History transcripts reveal that it was first staged in Malaysia, previously known as Tanah Melayu, some 300 years ago.
Wayang kulit Kelantan play is performed on the stage. Tok Dalang (shadow play puppeteer) is the main leader and story teller in such performance. The puppeteer acts as the main player shouldering multi-tasking movements by playing the puppets made up of cow leather, portraying multiple characters in the stories, as in the famous Ramayana epic. The stories narrated by the puppeteer usually spiral on the local version of Ramayana epic as passed down verbally from generation to generation which are distinctive of the widely known version of the Indian Ramayana epic.
The stories are centred on the running and administration of the State of Kuala Dua by the King, Raja Seri Rama as well as events taking place around the people under his protection, with the classical background of the old era, and filled with cleverly built drama, homor, suspense, conflict and warfare. The full performance of wayang kulit Kelantan would traditionally take a non-stop 7 nights to completion, which has now become a history of the past.
The famous characters in the story telling performance include Raja Seri Rama, Siti Dewi, Pak Dogol, Hanuman Kera Putih, Laksamana, Serai Tunggal, Canang Kelanang and four funny character assistants, wit Wak Long, Abe Yoh, Samad and Said, with their own idiosyncratic disposition and outlook. The play has taken a number of the puppeteers to fame throughout history, past and present, which include Awang Lah, Hamzah, Dolah Baju Merah, Saupi and Nik Mat Suara Emas, to name a few.
The other indispensable element is the musical troupe accompanying the performance. Musical instruments used comprise serunai (double-reeded wind instrument), geduk (barrel drum played in a vertical position), gedombak (goblet-shaped type of instrument), tetawak (small hanging gongs) and gong ibu (larger gong). Besides adding flavour to the performance and making it more lively, music is also said to serve function for ritual purpose of the performance.
Wayang kulit Kelantan performance is still actively played in private premises. This is because open stage performance has been banned by the State Government for allegedly running counter to Islamic teachings. However, recent development has given a lifeline to the play, resulting in the lifting of the ban, with strict conditions to be met by the performers. Watching live performance after years, especially for old timers, brings great nostalgic delight of stories from bygone times.
Wayang kulit Kelantan as a traditional theatre paints a picture of Malay traditional life, the social norms, culture, beliefs, attitudes and values. The performance of this traditional art is not a mere entertainment in the old days; it conveys message and lesson within the stories for the betterment of the folk.