Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Timbul Hadiprayitno: Defender of 'wayang' convention

Singgir Kartana, Contributor, Yogyakarta

Timbul Hadiprayitno is a big name in the Javanese art of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry). Not only known for his regular wayang shows, dalang (puppeteer) Timbul is also a popular senior dalang ruwat or a traditional exorcist.

Ruwatan is a traditional Javanese ceremony to expel evil spirits through a wayang performance by a dalang ruwat. Unlike regular shows, only a few stories can be performed for ruwatan particularly Murwakala, a story about controlling Sang Kala or Betara Kala, a bloodthirsty giant symbolizing greed and evil.

The 68-year-old Timbul is not only a specialist in playing serious episodes of wayang. He is also able to present carangan, meaning the show slightly deviates from the pakem (original source).

Growing up with puppeteer father Guno Wasito and mother Sinah, the youngest of three siblings Timbul inherited the talent. He sharpened it by studying at the Habiranda puppeteer school at the Yogyakarta Palace, although only attending for two years as he was already busy with show contracts.

He finally decided to study wayang from available literature. Even at his advanced age, he continues to learn wayang. His consistency in improving his knowledge and performance earned him the name "Ki Timbul Cermomanggolo" from the late Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, ruler of the Yogyakarta Palace.

Timbul is also known as one of a very few dalang who is capable of blending original stories into banjaran, a biographical drama. Some of his works include Banjaran Sengkuni, Banjaran Durno, Banjaran Kresno and Banjaran Karno.

Javanese people believe that performing ruwatan and banjaran will bring magical consequences that not many dalang are will to face.

"Until today, only Timbul is courageous enough to play the eeriest episodes like Pandu Banjut (Pandu perishes)," said Subagyo, 54, a fan and neighbor of the puppeteer.

His advanced age does not prevent Timbul from performing. Many people hire him for his rare skills in giving character to each wayang by mimicking a typical voice and individual behavior. He is also famous for giving soul to each puppet character.

Timbul, who has been manipulating puppets for ruwatan since 1945, said each ruwatan would need 35 offerings to be given for such rituals. The offerings include cone-shaped rice, seven-color glutinous rice porridge, vegetables, fruits and chicken. A dalang ruwat is also required to refrain from eating rice and salt, with only some fruits, for three days and nights.

"Now, I have to be very careful in fasting due to a gastric problem. Short-notice contracts do not allow me to fast," he said. Orders for wayang cassette recordings, now widely sold at home and abroad, get equally serious treatment.

The earth purge as a form of ruwatan is designed to protect an area from potential calamities threatening human life.

Examples of these circumstances include having an only child; five sons; three offspring consisting of two boys and one girl or two girls and one boy. They are said to be Betara Kala's easy prey.

When these children are exorcised, a dalang narrates the story of Murwakala, by which the greedy giant is put under control with the help of a mantra. In one part of the wayang scene, he chants a mantra loaded with instructions for about an hour to overwhelm Betara Kala.

This ruwatan story originated in Java and is not derived from the Hindu Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, because it has to do with Javanese religious rites. So far, Timbul has performed ruwatan for more than 200 children, meaning that he is spiritually responsible for the children he has freed of the threat of evil spirits.

As a noted dalang, Timbul has toured nearly all cities in Java and other provinces to perform wayang. He was invited three times to the State Palace when Soeharto was still in power.

He was once an extraordinary lecturer at the Yogyakarta-based Indonesian Fine Arts Institute (ISI) at the school of puppetry. Today, he remains a revered and important source for students of this art.

His primary concern now is the prevailing wayang shows that deviate too far from pakem or basic principles of shadow puppetry just to attract larger audiences. Wayang shows are now even combined with popular music and comedy entertainment to a greater extent, reducing the moral content to be conveyed.

"I can't follow this trend. I'm not afraid of being out of business or deserted by audiences. That's what I am, it's up to them to judge," he said with confidence. He blamed nobody for departing from the mainstream. To him, it is the right of every dalang and only time will tell. He only wished that some would preserve the heritage properly without spoiling it.

Born in Bagelen, Kebumen in Central Java in 1934, he lives in a 800 square meter house in Patalan village, Bantul, Yogyakarta, with his children. Only two of his 14 children from two wives followed in his footsteps to become dalang.

In his spare time, Timbul takes care of his grandchildren and makes wayang, although they are not for sale.

"They are for my collection and family," said the recipient of the 1979 Favorite Dalang Award from the Indonesian Dalang Association and passionate defender of wayang convention.