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The Kelantan Malay
Shadow Play

Four varieties of shadow play are active in the Malay peninsula:

(a)Wayang Kulit Siam,
(b) Wayang Kulit Gedek,
(c) Wayang Kulit Purwa and
(d) Wayang Kulit Melayu.

Wayang Kulit Siam is the most indigenous of these styles. It is principally performed in the state of Kelantan on the east coast of the Malay peninsula. Wayang kulit siam makes use of a local version of the Indian epic, Ramayana. Existing only in the oral tradition, this version is known as Hikayat Maharaja Wana. The Hikayat Seri Rama provides material for the principal story (cerita pokok). Local extensions of and accresions to the epic have resulted in the creation of a large number of Ramayana branch stories (cerita ranting). These have traditionally been more popular than the pokok story.

The wayang kulit siam orchestra consists of a pair of double- headed drums(gendang), a pair of single-headed goblet-shaped drums known as gedumbak, a pair or vertically standing drums (gedug) hit with beaters, a pair of hand small cymbals, (kesi) and a pair of inverted gongs canang), also beaten with sticks. and, finally, a pair of hanging knobbed gongs(tetawak).

Wayang kulit siam peformances are done in two varieties:
(a) those done purely for entertainment and
(b) those intended for ritual purposes such as the salutation of teachers (sembah guru).

Ritual performances,known as wayang kulit berjamu,are extremely rare.They incorporate a host of ritual acitivities as well as trance.

Further information regarding traditional Malay theatre genres may be obtained from:
The Asian Centre, Penang

Recent Materials related to the Kelantan Malay Shadow Play:

Matusky, Patricia. Malaysian Shadow Play and Music: Continuity of an Oral Tradition. Penang: The Asian Centre, 1997(Reprint).

Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof. The Malay Shadow Play: An Introduction. Penang: The Asian Centre, 1998.


For further information contact Dr Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof at The Asian Centre, Penang, Malaysia.