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The Classic Drama

Conservative Balinese, fond of the classic literature in the fine old language, like to watch archaic dramas with long dialogues in Kawi and with a great deal of singing. There are various styles of classic plays, each with its own technique, and with special stories and costumes. For instance, episodes from the Ramayana are played only in wayang wong style (perhaps a development from the shadow-plays) in which masked actors in elaborate costumes enact the struggle between Rama and Rawana, while the rowdy monkeys play tricks on each other and the clowns Twalen and Delam provide hilarious comedy. The music of the wayang wong is, like that for the sbadow-plays, mellow and delicate, played by the same genders augmented by drums and gongs to provide dramatic accents. The human wayang is not, however, as popular today as the shadow wayang and is rarely played.

The romantic and heroit adventures of Pandji, the native Ardjuna, the dashing young prince of the Malat stories, are played in the gambuh, the ancestor of the Balinese opera. The gambuh is played by middle aged actors who represent kings and prime ministers, singing and chanting long Kawi recitatives to the accompaniment of great bamboo flutes or a two stringed violin, and drums and cymbals. The style of singing gambuh is curiously dissonant and archaic, with great contrasts of deep voices mingled with high falsettos, whines, and loud cries that grow into a jumbled chorus at the exciting moments of the play. There are other classic plays, more or less in the style of the gambuh, but with their own stories., such as the tantri, tjupak, and so forth.

A great favourite is the famous Ardiuna Wiwaha, one of the Kawi classics, a masterpiece of romantic poetry, but when played in the baris pendet, it becomes a mixture of love story and roughouse. The favourite episode of the Balinese is the one in which Ardjuna, in deep meditation on a mountain top, seeks to obtain a divine weapon with which to vanquish the demon Deyta Wata Kewatja, who has insulted the gods by demanding that the most beautiful dedari, the nymph Supraba., be given to him in marriage. The long penance of Ardjuna worries the gods, who decide to send the most beautiful dedari to bring him out of his abstraction so that be may help them to make war against the demon. The nymphs find him in a deep trance and all immediately fall in love with him. They display their charms and employ every artifice to attract his attention, but they cannot break his penance.

In the play the main baris dancer sits with closed eyes and bands clasped in an attitude of prayer while his patih and Kertalah make poor attempts at meditation. Two beautiful girls appear; they are Supraba and Tilotama, the nymphs, who dance in front of him, embracing and kassing Ardjunia, who remains unmoved, while the clowns appear indignant at his indifference. The dedari go away broken-bearted, when suddenly a bloodcurdling roar is beard off-stage. The clowns are paralysed with fear. A monster with the head of a wild pig leaps into the arena.

He is Mang Mang Murka, the patih of Detya Wata Kewatia. Ardjuna shows signs of coming to life as the clowns run madly about trying to find a place to hide and getting caught unexpectedly in the path of the monster. Ardjuna wakes, takes his magic bow, and kills the hog with a symbolical arrow given him by the gods.

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