via Rice Media, 2 September 2022: Kuda Kepang is a Javanese dance form that is practiced in Singapore containing elements of trance. Despite its origin and practice among Malays in Singapore it is disavowed as against the tenets of Islam.
Kuda Kepang, also known as Kuda Lumping, is a traditional Javanese dance art form that originated from Kediri, Indonesia. It has been practised in Singapore by Javanese immigrants as early as 1948—the year a Kuda Kepang performance was first documented here.
The dance was adapted and localised when it arrived in Singapore, performed at Malay Weddings and functions.
According to Iswandiarjo, a Kuda Kepang troupe has about 50 to 60 people, and one performance accommodates nine performers. In its heyday, a Kuda Kepang troupe could perform at weddings or functions multiple times daily.
Since knowledge about the art form is passed down from senior members of different groups, the Kuda Kepang dance has various forms depending on the troupe. Despite these subtle differences, the dance somehow always manages to capture the same intensity and regalness that has come to be associated with Kuda Kepang.
Centre to the controversy and misinformation about Kuda Kepang is the impression of bodily harm—some self-induced. The most visual aspect of this spiritual masochism is the three-metre-long whip used.
“The whip has two purposes. As a calling to get the performer’s attention and a warning to discipline them. Sometimes the ‘inner person’ is very fierce,” Iswandiarjo explains as we walk back to his flat, whips and horse puppets in hand.
The ‘inner person’, Iswandiarjo tells me, is the unseen spirit that enters the performer’s body while in the trance state. The same state allows them to perform grand feats of endurance and strength.