I still remembered a master puppeteer, Muhammad Dain Othman once said: “The Western think Malaysian wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) Kelantan is similar to those in southern Thailand, but it’s not. It does have some influences from the Pattani version of wayang gedek in two aspects namely the music as well as the characters (because it also focuses on the Sanskrit epic, Ramayana).

“But the third generation of the accredited master puppeteer was creative enough to assimilate it with the Javanese influence and combine with our local culture. However, there are only 10 per cent similarities because Javanese version focuses on two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. But the principle story of wayang kulit Kelantan is formed by a mixture of five versions of Ramayana that finally come out as one story, Hikayat Maharaja Wana.”

That was the first time I heard Muhammad Dain Othman, fondly called as Pak Dain, talked eagerly about wayang kulit Kelantan. He is an ex-government servant who had spent more than RM30,000 of his own money to train two groups of musicians for wayang kulit in 2003. His passion and love for wayang kulit Kelantan is unconditional. After retiring, he also opened Kelantan Wayang Kulit Gallery in 2008 at Kampung Morak near Tumpat as his initiative to preserve this priceless traditional show to the younger generation.

Pak Dain showed some of his wayang kulit collections displayed at his gallery in Tumpat Kelantan. Photo courtesy of Harian Metro

Moreover, most of the previous wayang kulit Kelantan master puppeteers depend entirely on memory and handed down the basic outlines of the plots orally. And now Pak Dain is the 13th generation of the accredited master puppeteer and unfortunately with no successor.

Sri Rama (left) and Sita Dewi (right) characters displayed at Pak Dain’s gallery

The two principal characters in wayang kulit Kelantan are the main protagonist, Sri Rama and the villain, Maharaja Wana. The main story is based on the Hindu epic which revolves around the 52 episodes of the quest of Sri Rama to rescue his wife Sita Dewi, who was captured by the evil Maharaja Rawana. Besides, master puppeteer also developed extended stories known as cerita ranting using their imagination.

Wayang kulit Kelantan is ideally played by a team of 12 musicians with one master puppeteer which orchestrates the characters’ movement across the screen while narrating the story in Kelantanese dialect. According to Pak Dain, 80 per cent of the main characters in wayang kulit Kelantan showcasing royal Siamese costume.

Maharaja Rawana (left) and Puteri Cahaya Bulan (right) wayang kulit characters displayed at Pak Dain’s gallery.

One thing that should be note – the mythology of Hikayat Maharaja Wana could be considered differently from the original Indian version of Ramayana since Hindu values and teachings are omitted.

According to the Hikayat Maharaja Wana, Sri Rama is the eldest son of Sultan Sirat Maharaja with his consort Tuan Puteri Chaya Bulan, the ruler of Java. After a battle defeating Maharaja Rawana, who abducted his wife Sita Dewi, Sri Rama returned to Java and was crowned as the new ruler of Java succeeding his father.

Under the reign of Sri Rama, Java had successfully expanded its territories, and therefore he was given the title of Maharaja Sri Rama Sri Perkam Raja Bersidang Ratna. His kingdom on the other hand, was given the nickname of Negeri Selurah Tanah Jawa, Negeri Susia Mendapura, Negeri Derdap Pasir Mayang Perbuangan Sari.

“There are five dominant features in wayang kulit Kelantan which incorporate music, language/dialogue, performance, characters and the art of puppetry. Besides, there are two storylines in wayang kulit Kelantan, and it involves the main story (cerita pokok) and the non-principal story (cerita asing) with enhanced elements of the characters as well as the music.

“These elements could be changed over time to suit the taste of the master puppeteers. However, the master puppeteers should not mix these enhanced elements into the main story. Otherwise, it will be considered as breaking the tradition of original wayang kulit Kelantan,” said Pak Dain.

According to him, there are 32 different musical accompaniments to the whole main story in wayang kulit Kelantan, and each of them is unique to certain characters and cannot be applied to others.

In a nutshell, wayang kulit Kelantan still maintains its main story as well as the art of puppetry in the performance. However, the so-called modern wayang kulit Kelantan may incorporate slight changes in terms of the characters as well as the storyline.

DC superheroes in fusion wayang kulit characters. Photo courtesy of Facebook Fusion Wayang Kulit

And now, Star Wars characters, Marvel and DC superheroes are also given a wayang kulit Kelantan makeover under a team named as Fusion Wayang Kulit (FWK) from Malaysia. Founded by Tintoy Chuo back in 2012 with Pak Dain as the chief engineer, the team wants to revive this traditional shadow puppetry art and spreads its cultural awareness, especially to the younger generation.

Star Wars characters of wayang kulit displayed at Pak Dain’s gallery

The team was also invited to display wayang kulit stylised Batman art at Southeast Asia’s first-ever Batman anniversary event (Batman’s 80th Anniversary) in Genting Highlands last year. You may check out more information about their activities, including their gallery by visiting their Facebook page, Fusion Wayang Kulit.

Address: Galeri Wayang Kulit Melayu Tradisional Kelantan, Simpang 3 Morak, Kampung Paloh, Wakaf Bharu, 16040 Tumpat, Kelantan.
Phone: +6016-2159422/ +6017-9778929
Email: wayangpakdain@gmail.com