Ramayana Epic as Retold in Ballet and Shadow Puppetry

The Ramayana epic is a classic love story of boy meets girl, girl gets kidnapped by evil demon king, boy goes on quest to rescue girl, boy makes girl set herself on fire to prove her love. Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these two.

Throughout Southeast Asia we have seen the retelling of this popular Hindu story in various formats.  In Prambanan the epic was retold in carved reliefs throughout the Shiva temple, in the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh the interior walls are covered with a painted mural depicting the story, and even in Bali we saw the story retold in the Kecak Monkey Chant dance.

In Yogyakarta,  we saw the epic retold in a Javanese ballet with the Prambanan as a backdrop and in shadow puppetry or wayang kulit.

Scene 1:  King holds a ceremony to auction off find a suitable husband for beautiful princess.  Rama wins the challenge and the princess.

Scene 2:  Beautiful princess gets kidnapped by evil demon king for the purpose of making her his wife.  Beautiful princess refuses his advances.

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Scene 3:  Handsome prince goes on an epic journey to find beautiful princess.  Along the way he interrogates a big bird which was earlier wounded by the evil demon king and discovers that it was the evil demon king who kidnapped the beautiful princess.

He enlists the help of the monkey king and his army after killing the monkey king’s evil brother for him.

Meanwhile, evil demon king has been busy.  He attempts to burn alive a monkey spy (who gets away and runs around the evil king’s palace setting it on fire).


Final scene:  All culminates in an epic battle where the evil demon king is killed by the handsome prince. Naturally, the handsome prince doesn’t believe beautiful princess’s virtue is intact. To prove her purity, handsome prince somehow convinces the beautiful princess to burn herself alive and if she survives that means her virtue is intact. Beautiful (and gullible) princess burns herself alive and comes out unscathed. The handsome prince and beautiful princess live happily thereafter.

Author’s note:  These scenes  were too graphic to post.  OK actually we don’t have any pics but here is one of all the cast on stage.

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Here’s the Ramayana epic as told in wayang kulit.

Behind the scenes

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