What is wayang?
The following notes are intended for those who are unfamiliar with wayang.
Wayang kulit (kulit - leather) is the best known of the Javanese puppetry traditions and can be used to describe any puppet theatre using flat leather puppets which cast shadows on to a screen.
The puppets are carved from buffalo hide and painted. As a general rule they have jointed arms, which are manipulated with horn sticks (tuding). The puppets are supported by another piece of horn (gapit) which is split down the middle with one half extending up each side of the figure.
The puppets used in Java are highly stylised, which is thought to derive from the Islamic influence (which forbids literal representation of human figures) on the arts of Java. In Bali, which retained Hindu beliefs, the puppets are much more realistic. For more on Javanese puppets see Wayang Puppets by Tim Byard-Jones in the Seleh Notes Library.
The most popular stories (lakon) are those based on episodes and characters from the great Indian epic poems - the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The performances follow a formalised dramatic structure and include humorous interludes featuring a number of clown characters. Traditionally a wayang takes place overnight, lasting approximately nine hours.
A performance is given against a large screen, traditionally lit by an oil lamp. The dhalang (puppeteer) is in overall charge of the performance and not only voices all the puppets, but also sings and controls the musical accompaniment by means of a variety of cues.
Traditionally wayang performances were accompanied by a gamelan wayang, a smaller gamelan with fewer saron, a small number of kenong and kempul and without bonang. Today a full gamelan is usually used and a wayang kulit performance is an exciting, colourful and typically Javanese event.
Wayang golek are rod puppets which are unique to Sunda, the Western half of Java. They have intricately carved and painted wooden heads, jointed arms and elaborate costumes. Performances take place on a low, narrow wooden stage, behind which the dalang (puppeteer) sits.
One story has it that they were invented by an Islamic ruler in the 16th century, and used to spread Islam by telling stories about the hero Amir Hamzah who was an uncle of Mohammed (the Menak cycles). Today they might be used to tell stories derived from the Mahabharata or, less often, the Ramayana.
Traditionally wayang golek performances are accompanied by a small gamelan salendro although in recent years some of the best known dalang have experimented with using much larger instruments with an increased tonal range.
Resource Link http://www.gamelannetwork.co.uk/what-is-wayang.html