Resources for Schools - Topèng Pajegan


Contemporary Mask - I Madé Redha


Photo Galleries of Topèng & Bondrès (masked dance)


Male Topèng
Female Topèng
Theatre Masks


About Topèng

Topèng, masked dance-drama, is one of Bali's most important genres, as it is used both for religious ceremonies and for the re-enactment of historical chronicles. The history of Topèng is, however, rather obscure. There are texts from the neighbouring island of Java and from Bali itself which indicate that masks of some kind have been used in theatre for hundreds of years. However, the texts they are supposed to have enacted, Babad, now turn out to be much more recent than previously supposed, dating to the latter half of the nineteenth century or twentieth century, where they were probably retrospective claims to territory and people. So we cannot be too sure what Topèng looked like in the pre-colonial period.

Two forms of Topèng are particularly important. These are Topèng Pajegan, where an entire story is performed by one actor, who changes masks to impersonate the various characters of the story. Topèng Pajegan is usually performed for rites, while a Balinese high priest, Padanda, presents offerings and prepares holy water. Topèng Pajegan is distinctive for the last mask to appear: Sida Karya, the Completion of the Work, a wild-looking character (see below). Another is Topèng Panca, ‘five masks' in which five men play the various roles from the refined king and the strong minister to Topèng Tua, an old man who remembers his youth when he was still vigorous, this last being a wonderful opportunity for expressive dancing. A genre which has flourished recently is Bondrès, clown masks, of which there are a great variety and which permit more modern demotic stories to be told.

These Topèng comprise full masks. So the characters cannot speak. This task is left to their servants, Panasar, who are normally elder and younger brothers, distinguished as kelihan or simply Panasar and cenikan or Wijil. Although the servants are low caste (as in the shadow theatre, wayang kulit ) and notionally inferior to their aristocratic masters, they play a pivotal role which includes advising their lords and masters. They also frame the plot, comment on events within the play and in real life, and speak direct to the audience. The servants, Panasar, have become more or less standard fixtures in contemporary Balinese theatre from Arja to Derama Gong.


The Story of Empu Tapa Wengkeng

Sattwa Empu Tapa Wengkeng
(Performed by I Ketut Kodi for the consecration ceremony for GEOKS).

Once upon a time, in Bulalak village in East Java, there was a proud Sage called Tapa Wengkeng, who had just completed building his new retreat for meditation (pasraman). Satisfied with his newly build retreat, he spoke very highly of it to all and sundry. Unfortunately this was not the right conduct for a religious man and most inappropriate. Disturbed by his arrogance, the gods sent a message to the sage in the form of a whisper in the air, telling him that his new retreat was still impure. In order to purify it before he could make use of it, he would have to hold a consecration ceremony, which would require very special offerings, as they should include a human sacrifice. Upon hearing this voice from the unseen world, the sage realized that he had done something inappropriate and was therefore being punished by the gods. Night and day he locked himself inside his room, not knowing what to do to find someone to be sacrificed. In the end, realizing the nature of the problem, the sage's very dear old servant, I Kelik, offer himself as the sacrifice. The servant however made one condition. It was that the sage must make very special prayers for him, so that in his next reincarnation I Kelik would be born with a higher caste status, so he would no longer be a Sudra servant, but a highly respected person of standing. After carefully considering I Kelik's offer and his request, the sage promised that he would do his utmost to ensure his servant's future elevation of status. So, for the sage, the story had a happy ending: he fulfilled the demands of the ceremony and made special prayers (puja) for a better future life for I Kelik.

All the photographs below are of I Ketut Kodi whom we would like to thank for his permission to use them.


Classical Male Topèng

Topèng Keras Dadeling Mani, the first character of the introductory dance, pangelembar

Topèng Keras Dadeling Manis, a strong aristocratic figure

Topèng Tua (An Old Man), the second figure on stage, dancing his Introductory dance (panglembar).

Topèng Tua (the Old Man) who has been reminiscing about his youth and now remembers he is old and frail

The Panasar, the clown servant of the Sage Tapa Wèngkèng (and also the story teller)

The High Brahman Priest, Sage Tapa Wèngkèng


A villager (or Bondrès mask) representing I Kelik, the old servant of the priest

Another Bondrès mask of an ordinary villager who witnesses the ceremony

Sidha Karya (The mask of the Completion of the Ceremony). This is required for the ritual inauguration of GEOKS

Sidha Karya, this particular mask is ritually pure mask and belongs to Professor Dibia's family