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Page 17

The Dalang

in the black gloom of night

neath a flickering light

sits the master of shadows

how his stories delight

and then he knocks loudly

thrice

from a slumbering state

his sleepy puppets now wake

let the drama begin

eerie shapes on the screen

like a deity is he

directing all that is seen

for the puppets are man

and all their actions he plans

by this master

who chants rhymes in kawi

for the tap of his feet

is what gives them the beat

and the gender wayang

obey the rhythmic dalang

then the story unfolds

from the epics of old

see the clowns kick and fight

how the bawdy humour delights

for the dalang is their master

and the crowd roars with laughter

by his magic enthralled.

but the spell is now broken

for the daylight has called

 

Wayang Kulit is essential to Balinese education because its enormous repertoire covers all aspects of life and shows in silhouette the exemplary actions of humankind. The dalang is the mystic storyteller of Wayang Kulit. His talents are all encompassing for he directs the drama and displays great physical endurance by sitting and chanting for up to six hours at a time. He is also the conductor of the orchestra (the gender wayang consisting of four xylophones), which accompanies the play.

The dalang is a scholar of classical literature and has mastered the difficult Kawi language. He has a prodigious memory and is a wonderful orator and this enables him to sing in many different poetic metres episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as other stories from the epics.

The dalang is a qualified priest who is able to ward off evil influences and make offerings. He is also able to bless the people. The Wayang Kulit and the dalang (who is the master storyteller), teaches ethics and right conduct in prose to responsive and attentive Balinese.

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