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Indonesian Gamelan
Picture Credit: Dr. Han Kuo-Huang

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Balinese Gamelan                                     Javanese Gamelan
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greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) Introduction               greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) The Beliefs             greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) Functions of Gamelan

greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) Balinese Gamelan                                       greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) Javanese Gamelan    

greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) Acknowledgements greybullet.gif (1005 bytes) References

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Gamelan is a term for various types of orchestra played in Indonesia.  It is the main element of the Indonesian traditional music.  Each gamelan is slightly different from the other; however, they all have the same organization, which based on different instrumental groups with specific orchestral functions.  The instruments in a gamelan are composed of sets of tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, drums, one or more flute, bowed and plucked string instruments, and sometimes singers.  In some village gamelan, bronze is sometimes replaced by iron, wood, or bamboo.  The most popular gamelan can be found in Java, and Bali.


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The Beliefs

In Indonesian traditional thinking, the gamelan is sacred and is believed to have supernatural power.  Both musician and non-musicians are humble and respectful to the gamelan.  Incense and flowers are often  offered to the gamelan.  It is believed that each instrument in the gamelan is guided by spirits.   Thus, the musician have to take off their shoes when they play the gamelan.  It is also forbidden to step over any instrument in a gamelan, because it might offend the spirit by doing so.  Some gamelan are believed to have so much powers that playing them may exert power over nature.  Others may be touched only by persons who are ritually qualified.  In Javanese gamelan, the most important instrument is the Gong Ageng.  The Javanese musicians believe that Gong Ageng is the main spirit of the entire gamelan.


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Functions of Gamelan

Gamelan is a way of linking individuals in social groups.  Gamelan music is performed as a group effort, and so there is no place for an individual showoff.  Traditionally, gamelan is only played at certain occasions such as ritual ceremonies, special community celebrations, shadow puppet shows, and for the royal family.  Gamelan is also used to accompany dances in court, temple, and village rituals.  Besides providing music for social functional ceremonies, gamelan also provides a livelihood for many professional musicians, and for specialized craftsmen who manufacture gamelan.

Today, although gamelan music is still used for ritual ceremonies and the royal family, it is also performed as concert music at social and cultural gatherings to welcome guests and audiences.  Gamelan is also used to accompany many kinds of both traditional and modern dances, drama, theatrical and puppetry.  In modern days, gamelan can be kept in places such as courts, temples, museums, schools, or even private homes. 


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