This mask would be worn by an actor playing the part of Laksmana in the Ramayana dance drama. Wayang topeng is the Indonesian name given to dance dramas where the performers wear masks. It is thought to have developed from puppet theatre, which has existed since the 11th century in Indonesia. Dancers imitate the movement and speech of the puppets. A performance might contain 30 or more masks, representing different characters. The masks are small and light and painted in various colours to identify the different characters. Characters also have different kinds of features. Noble characters are good looking with refined features, while evil characters are ugly with grotesque noses and bulging eyes.
Mask making has existed for a long time in Indonesia. It is a specialised form of woodcarving that has been passed down for generations. Traditionally, a mask maker learns the craft from older family members who have been in the practice of making masks for many years. The carver begins by choosing a particular piece of wood for the mask. He sits cross-legged and holds the mask with both hands to give the control needed as he shapes it with a knife. The carver smoothes the surface of the wood with a flat knife and then with different grades of sandpaper. The back of the mask is also carved with care, using a curved knife. The mask is then painted with different colours to distinguish the character from others in the play.
Wayang topeng performances are held at night and last for several hours. Traditionally they took place at the courts of the sultans of Central Java or at the weddings of wealthy families. Today, Wayang topeng performances are quite rare, and tend to be performed only in government-supported theatres and tourist centres. The dramas are based on traditional Javanese stories, or the Indian dramas the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.
The Ramayana, (The Goings of Rama), is an epic Indian tale set in the north of the country between 1200-100 BC. The tale is in the form of a poem, made up of 24,000 verses divided into 500 songs. It is an important story in the Hindu religion as it illustrates values of courage, faithfulness, duty and obedience.
In the story, Rama, a royal prince, is banished to the forest by his jealous stepmother who wants her son Bharat to be king. Rama makes the journey to the forest with his faithful wife Sita and loyal brother Laksmana. Ravana, the demon King of Sri Lanka abducts Sita and spirits her away to his kingdom across the sea. Rama and Laksmana set out to rescue Sita and on the way they overcome many obstacles and fight many battles. In the end Rama triumphs and is reunited with Sita, returning home to claim his throne.
Laksmana is an important character in the Ramayana and he embodies the ideals of courage, devotion and perseverance. He shares Rama's exile in the forest and stays awake for 14 years in order to watch over him. Laksmana accompanies Rama on his travels, fights alongside him in battle and cares for Rama when he has been injured.