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Shadow puppets, Arjuna and Bima

Made in Java, Indonesia, Asia, 1972-1973.

Wayang kulit (shadow puppets) are a favourite medium in Java and other parts of Southeast Asia for the dramatic performance of the two great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These ancient morality tales were brought to Southeast Asia by Indian traders and travellers around the 8th century CE. Together with other elements of Indian culture, including art, literature, religion and social systems, these tales captured the imagination of many Southeast Asian peoples who incorporated t...


Wayang kulit shadow puppets (2), 'Arjuna' and 'Bima', heroes of the Mahabharata epic, unpainted pierced buffalo parchment, maker unknown, Java, Indonesia, 1970-1975.

Two flat shadow puppets cut from buffalo parchment, with long arms jointed with bone pins at the shoulders and elbows. The puppets both have long-nosed faces and looping hair styles, and are intricately pierced giving a lace-like appearance. Differences in facial features and dress indicate however that they represent two different characters, Arjuna and Bima, from India's epic poem the Mahabharata. Arjuna is strikingly handsome and aristocratic in appearance and wears a patterned sarong; Bima's features are more homely, and he wears ornaments on his upper and lower arms. The puppets are both unfinished as they are unpainted and lack the horn handle necessary for manipulation.


The puppets have been formed according to traditional Javanese designs, and are in typical wayang style. The physical appearance, dress and ornament of individual characters change very little as they must be immediately recognisable to the audience in silhouette. These puppets represent two heroes and from the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata.

Cut from buffalo parchment and pierced to form the lace like design so effective when projected on a screen. According to the donor, these puppets were made in Java, Indonesia - probably by small boys about ten years old with sharp young eyes.

The accompanying receipt shows the puppets were bought on 18 September 1973.


Bought in Jakarta by the donor on 18 September 1973 to use in audio-visuals for Educational Media Australia.


Gift of Gwendoline John, 2002
16 May, 2002

Cite this Object

Shadow puppets, Arjuna and Bima 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 June 2017, <>
{{cite web |url= |title=Shadow puppets, Arjuna and Bima |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=28 June 2017 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
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