Road Trip: The Shadow Play Master (Wayang Kulit Pak Dain)
I’ve always been fascinated with the traditional cultural play of wayang kulit, otherwise known as shadow play. Meeting Pak Dain, the owner of the Kelantan Malay Traditional Shadow Play Gallery in Palekbang for the first time was so exciting. It took awhile for us to find the place but once you’re in Morak, you can look out for signages which leads you to a house just on the main road. When we arrived, the gallery seemed quiet until one of the staff told us to hang around while he walked over to Pak Dain’s house (just behind the gallery) to inform him of our visit.
It all started with something called passion.
Pak Dain started this gallery in 2008 after working for awhile in the Government sector, all the while learning and researching deeper into the traditional shadow play. From our conversation it was clear how passionate he was from the stories he told. When I asked him why he had set up such a gallery in Morak, he said that a cultural inheritance such as the wayang kulit should be preserved for generations to come as there are not that many original players in the country. Pak Dain had learned the Wayang Kulit Asli Kelantan formally with a few teachers such as the late Tok Dalang Che Wa, Pak Hamzah and Hassan Omar. The words Tok Dalang means storyteller or Master Puppeteer (in the context of Shadow Play).
Parts of the gallery consists of a theatre area, craft incubator, a workshop, a hostel and an office which for me meant that the experience of this culture goes beyond glancing at the exhibit area. Tourists, travellers, heritage lovers, culture fans would gladly prefer to listen to Pak Dains’ explanation of the legendary Rama and Siti Dewi (the Malaysian version), dabble a bit of shadow play workmanship before watching the actual show. I certainly enjoyed it and had a great learning process throughout.
The story of Rama and Siti Dewi
The wayang kulit has adapted the story of Rama and Sita to the Malaysian version titled Rama and Siti Dewi. Although the original story still gets played, it takes Pak Dain and his team at least 3 months to complete it through the shadow play as the stories are told in episodes. If only I could understand the Kelantan dialect and sit through every episode. Instead I’ve summarized the story of the two lovers as below.
A good man called Rama, was married to a beautiful princess called Sita. They had been banished to live in the forest with his brother, Lakshman, by his stepmother, as she wanted her son to be King. Ravana, the Demon King heard of Sita’s beauty and goodness and planned to kidnap her. The Demon King disguised himself as an old man and tricked Sita. He kidnapped her and flew away on his chariot back to his island, Lanka. Rama and Lakshman searched many months for Sita. Finally, they asked Hanuman, Monkey King army for help. He found Sita imprisoned on the island of Lanka. Hanuman, Rama and Lakshman prepared themselves for battle. This was one of the greatest battles ever seen which lasted for 10 whole days. Rama tumbled the Demon King with an arrow from the Gods, and rescued Sita.
Where magic takes place.
The shadow play incubator is where all the magic takes place. These students have been studying the wayang kulit craft under Pak Dains’ watch and from the looks of it, it is not as easy as it seems. I had a chance to learn how to hit the nail through a stenciled paper drawing of Rama, creating holes along the belt line. Luckily this was not the actual version which would have been completed on leather instead of paper. Pak Dain also mentioned that the design for each of the character could vary in terms of their clothes patterns, so no character would look the same. He then taught me how to paint colours onto the plastic version which were sold as souvenirs to the public. Some countries do not allow leather goods into the airports therefore Pak Dain created this version for his customers’ conveniences. The colouring was easier than the carving part but it needed clean strokes instead of the patchy ones I did. I hope Pak Dain will not be selling that version.
The House of Knocking.
The House of Knocking programme is a 3 days 2 nights in a homestay where anyone can experience the skills of shadow play by a skillful crafter, watch and experience the arts of wayang kulit performance and play the musical percussion too. You could also bring home your own wayang kulit character. Most of the people went through the programme left with good memories of Pak Dains’ teaching and the wayang kulit experience. I personally feel that this is a great way to pass on the heritage culture to our younger generations but also to spread it across the world.
Watching the performance at night.
When night fell, the Gallery staged a short performance for us, on one of the episodes of Rama and Siti Dewi. The team or Pak Dains’ students would start to prepare by playing a few verse of notes on the musical instruments while he sat with us, chatting a bit more about the play. A few more people had walked in and sat on the sofa with us, waiting for the performance to begin.
Pak Dain later retreated to the backstage and sat in front of the students, his voice emanating through the dangling microphone. Even though he was having a slight sore throat, Pak Dain did his best in reciting the stories of the characters. Meanwhile in front of the stage, I watched the colourful character swish in and out according to his stories. It wasn’t easy to catch the detail of the script but from what I saw, the conversation seem to be between the Demon King and his army, discussing on how to kidnap the beautiful Siti Dewi.
Throughout the entire time spent with Pak Dain, he was such a gracious host, taking us around the gallery, sharing with his experiences and passion for this amazing cultural play. He puts a lot of effort in ensuring that the wayang kulit is preserved through generations to come and I would personally highly recommend a visit here if you’re ever in Kelantan. Thank you for mentioning us in your website Pak Dain and we hope to visit you again to watch another round of wayang kulit soon.
To watch some of the scenes from the Wayang Kulit play, click on the video below.
Galeri Wayang Kulit Melayu Tradisional Kelantan, Simpang 3 Morak, Kampung Paloh, Wakaf Bharu, 16040 Tumpat, Kelantan.
Telephone: +60 17 977 8929
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.