topeng is a theatrical form of indonesian dance where performers wearing masks and flamboyant costumes act out traditional narratives of fabled kings, heroes and myths. all these are accompanied by gamelan music.
is indonesian masked dance has been in existence before hindu-buddhist influences. native indonesian tribes still perform this customary dance to symbolise nature or ancestor spirits. the most popular performance is an extract from the locally developed javanese panji cycles, tales and romance of prince panji and princess chandra kirana, set in the 12th century, kadiri kingdom.
in the 14th century in nagarakretagama, the earliest written record of topeng dance was found. it described of an accomplished topeng dancer, king hayam wuruk of majapahit, wearing a golden mask. the prevalent topeng dance we see now arose in the 15th century in java, bali and other indonesian islands. the more famous topeng dances and styles were developed in cirebon, yogyakarta, malang and bali which are now studied in universities in europe and america.
it is said that masks were used due to relations to the cult of the ancestors which considered dancers as gods’ interpreters. there is also a conscious effort to comprise lots of, and sometimes conflicting, aspects of the human experience in topeng.