Characteristic Features of Wayang Figures

The status and characteristic features of wayang figures play an important role in the traditional shadow puppetry. Therefore, the classification of wayang figures is divided in several gradations varying from a subtle appearance (halus) to a rough appearance (kasar) (Miedema 2004:33); a halus personality is characterized by gentle facial features whereas a kasar personality can be distinguished by having more coarser features. Most halus figures are gods and kings whereas the kasar ones are usually demons. However, there are also figures which have both halus and kasar characteristics. The physical appearance of a certain type of wayang figure, then, is determined by his or her status and characteristic features. Based on the different types of characteristic features as suggested by Forge (Forge 1978:13-15), it is possible to distinguish the attitude of a particular wayang character; the main features will be discussed below.

The eyes: the shape of the eyes vary from small, half closed eyes – halus characters – to big, rounded and wide opened eyes – kasar characters. The halus male figure’s eyes are shaped in a curved line on the top and a straight line on the bottom, as opposed to the halus female figure’s eyes, which are shaped in a straight line on the top and a curved line on the bottom.

The eyebrows: most halus characters have a simple, thin curved line as eyebrow. The kasar characters, on the other hand, have much thicker and fuller eyebrows. Between both eyebrows there usually is formed a bridge by means of wrinkles.

The nose: the halus characters have a thin, straight pointed nose with tiny nostrils. The rougher the character, the more animal-like the nose becomes; kasar figures, then, usually have a big, round nose.

The mouth and teeth: the mouth of a halus character is rather small and has thin lips – a facial feature that signifies soft speech. The teeth of the halus are barely visible. A coarser character, like that of a demon, for example, has a much bigger mouth, also with much thicker and fuller lips than the that of the halus. The kasar also have rather big and sharp pointed teeth which are clearly visible, too. In this way, the kasar type of mouth can be compared to an animal’s mouth.

Head garment and hair dress: the head garment and hair dress resemble the character’s social status. These are, therefore, important features to examine when identifying a particular character. A high crown, for instance, is worn by the most important gods and demons.

Beside the aforementioned facial features color is yet another important feature of the character’s attitude and personality. So, a black colored face is a sign of calm and mature character; and, obviously, a white color signifies purity and serenity. Yellow or gold, then, in most cases point to a Royal descendent. The color blue illustrates a cowardly attitude, and red, not surprisingly, hints to an angry character – as displayed often by demons. An equally important feature is the position of the character’s head, which can be either bowed (=patient), facing straight ahead (=neutral), or held up high (=aggression).


Forge, Anthony, 1978: ‘Balinese Traditional Paintings’. Sydney: The Australian Museum.

Miedema, N.R.L, 2004: ‘Ramayana op de Traditionele Balinese Schilderingen in Kamasan-stijl: 18 doeken uit de Resink-collectie nader bekeken’. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Leiden University.

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