THE ASIATIC SOURCES OF SHADOW THEATRE
he Shadow Theatre is not only one of the most interesting kinds of art but it is one of the most attractive subjects of study and research as well.
Many famous Greek and foreign scholars who were investigating about the roots of shadow theatre found its origins in India: the plays of the most known Shadow Theatres of SOUTHEAST ASIA, (Java, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia), influenced by the Indian civilization – (4th c.) – have been taken from Ramah’s legends and the war between the two races, Pandava and Korawa based on Ramayana and Mahabharata epic poems.
The shadow characters came from the world of gods, spirits and ghosts.
In particular, in INDIA, the oral tradition has the Tholu Bomalatta, “the play of the leather doll”, as a form of shadow theatre, which used figures made of animal skin in bright colours in about 200 B.C., if we take into account the references that appear in the Mahabharata.
There are other written references in Buddhist writing in Indian literature of around the 17th century.
Even today, shadow theatre enjoys great success in India. We meet it mainly in the regions of Orissa, Kerala, Karnataka and in Andrha Pradesh in four different versions.
In most cases it deals with the old Indian myths related to the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics.
These presentations of mythical battles between demons and gods conceal, even today, a strong ritualistic character. Despite this, the puppeteer, who produces the spectacle, may move away from the particular text and inject astrological, metaphysical, philosophical and scientific opinions.
According to the area of origin, the figures are made of animal skin: dear, goat, ox, cow, and buffalo. They are controlled with bamboo sticks from top to bottom and are placed against a piece of cloth stretched between two bamboo poles.
The light comes from two oil lamps. The shadow player is opposite the audience and plays an accompaniment on his drum.
Shadow Theatre in Indonesia, named Wayang and means shadows deals with the metaphysical world of ancestorsand spirits.
The word today also means figures made from worked leather and generally a dramatic performance in which the actors are puppets or people.
The first traces of Wayang Kulit in Java go back to the 9th century but with the conversion of Java to Islam in the 16th century, the character of this shadow theatre changed radically. The basic stories in Wayang Kulit are of three types, always based on the Indian epics, but adapted accordingly, taking on a more local colour thanks to the rich philosophy characteristics of the inhabitants of Java.Wayang Kulit could be considered as a continuous battle between Good and Evil, where the player, accompanied by the orchestra, “had the power to oblige the dead to answer his call and to go through the procedure of re-enacting their own history”.
It can be watched from either side. Men prefer the shadows and women the coloured figures. One play can make use of up to 350 shadow puppets. The presenter narrates, sings and creates the dialogue. On the right of the screen are placed the figures that represent the good and on the left are placed the figures of evil. In the middle there is a big fan which divides the stage into two, good and evil. This fan is removed when the performance begins. About the history of Shadow Theatre in CHINA, according to the Chinese encyclopaedias, that appeared in the 11th c. as a kind of entertainment.Regarding to its origins, the source of the plays in Ying Xi, is based on the legend of a king named Wu, from Han’s Dynasty, (121 B.C.) who was desperate because of his wife’s death, Wang and he commanded a magician to bring her spirit back. The magician, then, created her shape in a dark room by projecting her shadow on the curtains around his royal bed.
The stories, which the puppeteers based their performances were part of the oral tradition, were interpreted by each shadow player according to his own understanding and were taken from the huge oral and written literary tradition.Shadow theatre delighted not only the ordinary people but all social classes, especially children.
The figures of Chinese Ying Xi Shadow Theatre are made of leather. The puppets that have survived wear clothes of the period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1694 A.D.) and the Quing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.). A shadow player can usually hold and manipulate eight figures, three in each hand and one on each foot! The dialogue in these performances is sung and the movements are exaggerated and grotesque.