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  The Characters

The heroes of these plays are the models after which the Balinese pattern their behavior and judge their neighbors and colleagues. Each character, whether a hero or a villain, is sharply defined by means of his headdress, color, garments, shape of eyes, and so on.

The noble characters of the Right speak in Kawi, and the gruff ogres, raksasa, and demons of the Left speak in the Low Balinese tongue, or even in Indonesian. Whichever language is used, it's always spoken in the appropriate speech level, style, and accent.

The comic retainers of the heroes remain the most popular and amusing of all the 'wayang' personalities. While the august figures of Hindu origin wear the Indian dhoti, hold themselves aloof, and speak with airs, these indigenous clowns, with no apparent counterpart in the Hindu pantheon, wear the Malayo-Polynesian sarong and behave ludicrously, yet possess great magic and power.

Two righteous clowns and two wicked clowns are always pitted against one another in a jocular bawdy rivalry. Twalen and his son Merdah, on the side of truth and goodness, are in constant and hilarious conflict with their antagonists, Sangut and Delem, flying across the screen, jabbing and knocking into each other, alternating biting insults with riotous good-natured exchanges.

They parody the poetic love scenes, employ spells on their foes, change into old women, and mutter cynical jokes, as spectators hold their sides in laughter. The clowns also play a useful dramatic role by translating from Kawi into the vernacular.

The Balinese say that Twalen is actually the son of the god Tintiya Himself, but since he liked his worldly pleasures so much he renounced his right to be deified in exchange for the freedom to eat, drink, and make merry as much as he wished. Beloved, impudent, and faithful Twalen is the Sancho Panza, the Poncho, and the Falstaff of Balinese Theater.

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