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Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970. Indonesia; West Java. Painted and cut leather, horn, and thread. From the Mimi and John Herbert Collection, F2000.86.127.

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970. Indonesia; West Java. Painted and cut leather, horn, and thread. From the Mimi and John Herbert Collection, F2000.86.127.

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970. Indonesia; West Java. Painted and cut leather, horn, and thread. From the Mimi and John Herbert Collection, F2000.86.127.

Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970
Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970
Tree-of-life puppet (kayon, or gunungan), approx. 1970
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This leaf-shaped shadow puppet, intricately carved from leather and supported by a central rod carved from horn, is known as a kayon (“tree”) or gunungan (“mountain”). In the symbolism of Indonesian rod puppet theater (wayang golek) the kayon represents the “tree of life,” the axis of the universe that connects the earthly world with that of the spirits. At the beginning of each performance, the puppet master (dalang) invokes a prayer. The first puppet he raises is the kayon, which he dances, spins, and flutters in the air, magically breathing life into the surrounding rod puppets. The kayon continues to be used throughout the performance for a variety of purposes. Its presence may indicate a change of scene, the entrance of a major character, elements of nature, or pieces of scenery such as a palace. The kayon may also be used to symbolize abstract themes such as war and destructive forces of nature such as fire and storms. Appropriately, the kayon is also the final puppet to be used in a performance—bringing to a close this depiction of the events of the spirit world

This kayon is decorated with a tree of life on one side and the face of the demon Kala (“time”) on the other. The tree of life (shown at left) represents the universe and all of the creatures that inhabit it, from the demon giants located at the base of the tree to the birds that perch on its peak, the latter symbolizing the human soul. The demon Kala (right) is surrounded by a halo of flames. His presence represents the annihilating forces that exist in the universe.