Monday, January 11, 2010

Reflections on the lotus 1

The lotus flower, symbol of purity, fertility and growth.

Apparently in Indian mythology Laksmi grew from a lotus flower that sprang from the head of Vishnu.

Both were good guys, or so said the puppet maker in Jogjakarta who sold me two beautifully painted Wayang Kulit representing these two characters last year.   He explained that Vishnu represented protection, cleverness and true love, and that his partner Laksmi was a good mama, beautiful and wise.

Then he explained that he had these two puppets in his kitchen, and that his wife moves Laksmi's hands around to show how she is feeling.

It was raining, and I had been brought to the puppet makers workshop on the back of a motor bike, so he carefully wrapped the puppets in layers of paper, cardboard and plastic to protect them.

Kulit means skin and these puppets are carved from animal skins.  Then they are delicately painted on both sides in beautiful colours.  Their arms and legs are hinged to move.  When the puppets are used in a play the story is told through their shadows.

The puppets are used in set plays most commonly the Ramayana and the Mahabarata.  The complete plays go over several nights (or overnight) and involve many puppets each representing different characters.  They are accompanied by a traditional gamelan orchestra.  In Jogjakarta you can see the Ramayana every night, and my puppet maker who also plays in the orchestra threw in a free ticket.

In this story I let the puppet maker move my hands and legs in the role of compliant and innocent tourist.  And yet I was overawed by the reverence this man had for what he produces in his work, the tradition it continues and the way it beats music in his life today.

 I am still working out how to display these beautiful puppets in my home so they can also cast shadows.

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