Inna lillahi wa inna lilahi rojiiun. I received a text message today from my friend Purjadi that Ki Dalang Abihudaya from Palimanan, Cirebon, passed away on 5 February 2011.
Udaya, as he was better known,was one of the most respected puppeteers in the Cirebon area. After the death of his father, Abyor, and his two uncles, Wari Priyadi and Akirna Hadiwekasan, Udaya took charge of the running of the Sanggar Wening Galih, a small arts centre located in the shadow of Palimanan's factories. This sanggar was best known to puppeteers for its annual 'tutup panggung,' a collective end-of-season ritual where puppeteers performed for puppeteers for free. I contributed to the tutup panggung on a number of occasions. The sanggar also trained many musicians.
Udaya prided himself on being the people's puppeteer. He spoke primarily through the straight-thinking Cungkring in performance, and used wayang as a vehicle for the expression of lower class aspirations. He was not liked by many wayang patrons. He disrupted song requests with battles, as he believed wayang was a verbal art form that should not be compromised by songs. He was a great storyteller and the source of many, many stories. He was known to challenge his assistants to pull out any wayang in the puppet chest, which he would instantly deploy as the main character in the first scene of a newly created story.
I devoted a chapter to his work in my PhD thesis, An Inheritance from the Friends of God (Yale, 1997).
Udaya was one of my 'sesepuh' or elders in Cirebon, somebody I regularly turned to for artistic inspiration, advice and philosophical engagement. Too many of these are now deceased - Saal, Darmabakti, Wartaka, Sujana (Gegesik Kidul), Basari. Yet they live on still in the region's arts.