Featured Objects: Balinese Shadow Puppets and Lamp overview image

Featured Objects: Balinese Shadow Puppets and Lamp

  • Post Date7/7/2017
  • Reading Time3 minute read

I Nyoman Sumandhi, from Bali, comes from a family of famous dalang, or puppet masters. Mr. Sumandhi, an expert in shadow puppetry and other forms of Balinese music and dance, came to Urbana in conjunction with Visions of the Unseen: Picturing Balinese Ceremony and Myth exhibit. While here, he performed shadow puppet shows in schools and at the Museum. Mr. Sumandhi generously donated 2 shadow puppets and an oil lamp used in his performances to the Museum.

The puppets are made of painted cowhide. The main sticks or handles are painted wood. The second stick on Rahwana’s arm is made from buffalo horn. Hide, wood and buffalo horn are also standard materials.


This ogre-like puppet is Rahwana (2005.08.0002), the demon king of Alangka (Langka). In the Hindu epic poem the Ramayana, Rahwana kidnaps beautiful Sita, wife of Rama, king of Ayodya.

  • Large, flat, wooden cut-out of a human-shaped figure facing to one side.

The Kayonan

Kayonan (2005.08.0003), or the cosmic Tree of Life, is a puppet used to create the setting of the performance by marking the beginning and ending of the play, as well as individual scenes. The Kayonan may also be used as a prop to represent abstract ideas such as rain, wind, the sea, a palace, or a mountain.

  • Large, flat, wooden cut-out attached to a tan, wooden stick.

Oil Lamp

Coconut oil lamps are used to create the shadows from the puppets on the screen during a performance. This lamp (2005.08.0001) is made of jackwood, a hard wood, called Kayu Nangka. The carving gives the impression of fire or flames. During a performance, the dalang uses the carving portion of the lamp as a resonator, by putting his face and mouth close to it and moving closer and farther away from the wood to vary his voice. There are holes in the carving so that the dalang can see if the flame is getting low and will know when it is time to add more coconut oil fuel. The positioning of the dalang, lamp, and screen also enables the lower half of the puppets to be seen on the shadow side. The lamp was made by Mr. Sumandhi’s family, and a friend of the family carved the wood.

  • Black oil lamp attached to a red and gold ornately decorated wooden mask facing.
  • side view of the oil lamp
  • backview of the oil lamp, a sculpted flaming monster