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Three-dimensional male humanoid puppet: large head (part b) fits into body with jointed arms and skirt (part a), and a control rod (part c) with a long shaft that passes through the body and fits into the neck of the figure's head. The controlling rod (part d) from the figure's (right ?) arm has become detached, and the figure's left forearm, hand and controlling rod are missing. The figure has a light yellow face with black hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, moustache, and goatee. Headdress with Garuda Mungkur (short-tongued), three-tiered jamang; badong and sumping of light blue, red, gold, and yellow also present. Nose slightly blunt; moustache, sideburns, and black kendit. The body has a red and blue painted collar and a gold upper body. Skirt of brown, light grey-blue, and off-white batik pattern.

History Of Use

Javanese puppetry as an art form probably developed by the 11th century. The three-dimensional wooden wayang golek puppets of western Java, which are to be distinguished from the earlier and more sacred wayang kulit shadow plays puppets or other forms, appeared during the 16th century. Originally the plays depicted Javanese mythology, but after the Indian conquest of Java the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were incorporated into the cycles, which comprise about 200 plays. An individual or group hires a dalang (puppet-master) to celebrate important occasions. The performances often last all night and are generally presented in three acts, with vocal and instrumental accompaniment. The individual plays vary widely in detail but usually involve conflict between good and evil. They serve a moral and religious purpose, and more recently, one of political commentary. Each puppet's character is represented by its appearance and placement onstage; protagonists with strong elements of good are placed to the right, antagonists of violent or evil nature to the left. The character portrayed by this puppet is the main figure of the play 'The Death of Karna', one of the cycles of the Pandawa plays and last of the great war series of the Mahabharata epic. It is a pokok play, sombre in tone and typified by violent action. Karna displays many of the qualities of a noble warrior, including the less desirable pride and temper. His nobility is exemplified by his refusal to be swayed during the great war. In 'The Death of Karna,' he is killed by his cousin; the scene is anxiously anticipated by audiences and although they are familiar with the plot, its tragic conclusion causes great grief. It is one of the most popular of the Pandawa plays.

Cultural Context

Theatrical performance.

Iconographic Meaning

Clothing, particularly batiked skirt indicate wealth and nobility. Other features also show high position: jamang (diadem), sumping (ear ornament), and elaborate headdress, usually associated with gods and princes. Lowered gaze considered humble and reverent; a positive attribute. Yellow (or pale gold) face typically indicative of calm nature, although in this case it may be less than benevolent. Puppet identified as Karna, the son of the god, Surja, particularly by the distinctive arrangement of this headdress.

Item History

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