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Shadow puppet of the giant Kumbakarna
1859,1228.547
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The earliest references to shadow puppets in Java are by court poets in the eleventh century. Performances today are very popular and stories are drawn partly from Javanese sources and partly from Indian epics (the Mahabharata and Ramayana). It is a form of entertainment most often sponsored to celebrate a particular event, such as marriage, or as part of ceremonies. The puppeteer is not simply a performer, but also a ritual specialist because of the beneficial influence that the performance of shadow plays is believed to have on the well-being of the community. The colours and designs of Javanese shadow puppets are all clues to help identify the character. Here, the reddish-pink colour of Kumbakarna's face is an indication of his ruthlessness, while the tusks in the corner of his mouth suggest that he is a giant or a monster. However, he also has positive characteristics, such as his loyalty to his brother, which are brought out in the performance. Kumbakarna is the giant brother of Dasamuka, called Rahwana in the Indian version of the tale of the Ramayana. He is Rama's enemy: having captured Rama's wife, Sita, Dasamuka faces the onslaught of Rama aided by Hanuman and his army. Although Kumbakarna advises him to free Sita, Dasamuka refuses and the two brothers die in the battle against Rama and his allies.

History of the Object
Produced in the first half of the nineteenth century, and collected by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.

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Type
Performance Art 
Materials
Leather 
Measurements
Height 65 cm  
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Indonesia; Java 
Geography
Indonesia 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; 1800-1859 
Function
Puppet Theatre 
Acquisition
Donated to the Museum by Rev William Charles Raffles Flint. 
Copyright
Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
British Museum 
Museum
British Museum 
Credit line
 

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