A Wayang Topeng Performance

Javanese masks are worn by actors in traditional dance dramas known in the Indonesian language as wayang topeng. The plots of the dramas are taken either from traditional Javanese stories about the hero Panji or from the two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Both epics came originally from India, but for more than a thousand years have been an integral part of the cultures of Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Wayang topeng performances are held at night and last for at least several hours. The performers are professionals who may be permanently employed at the courts of the sultans of Solo and Jogjakarta (or Yogyakarta) in Central Java, may be supported by government cultural agencies, or may be hired by wealthy villagers or townspeople to help celebrate a marriage or other festive event. Performances outside the royal courts are traditionally free for everyone who lives in the neighborhood. In the days before movies and television, they were exciting events for rural people, anticipated for months ahead of time and discussed for months afterward.