LIFE is never static for it constantly evolves giving it dynamism and providing initial impetus to move from a simple to a complex structured construct.
Thus, various life experiences and manifestations undergo mutations and transformations causing changes in lifestyles, which encompass the instruments of survival that are patterned on ideological and religious beliefs.
A facet of man’s life that succumbs to these impetuses is his cultural manifestations as in his aesthetic expressions.
Traditional aesthetic expressions are constantly evolving as a result of man’s artistic ingenuity as well as his draconian dictates, which are based on his ideological and religious beliefs.
Usually man’s creative ingenuity expands the horizon of his artistic expressions enabling a varied spectrum of aesthetic appreciation.
On the other hand, ideological and religious beliefs could engender both positive and negative effects in the transformation of art forms.
For example, our traditional theatres such as wayang kulit, mak yong, menora, mek mulung, jikey as well as dances and music have changed with the times as a result of ideological and religious beliefs.
Wayang kulit was transformed from a Hindu-based art to a local one to be consonant with Islamic teachings by including prayers (doa) in the opening and closing ceremonies as well as many other aspects of the performance.
However, the aesthetic and structural format was retained with stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata but with the addition of localised names and local branch stories.
Likewise, mak yong had undergone changes from a court entertainment to a rustic folk performance and in the process its courtly finesse was replaced by rustic sensibilities, wit, humour and farcical actions.
Kelantan was the home of these traditional Malay theatres, music and dances. These art forms were popular and enjoyed royal patronage.
But these arts started to decline when Pas ruled Kelantan with the government labelling everything as either halal or haram according to ideological and religious dictates.
They were draconian in their efforts to sanitise Kelantan from the so-called pollution of both traditional and contemporary forms of entertainment.
They have been puritanical in their actions and express disdain for those who indulge in legal forms of entertainment.
To them, such enjoyment is sinful and courts hellfire.
Thus, to save the Kelantanese from such a predicament in the hereafter, they ban most forms of traditional entertainment, including mak yong.
What brought about this change of heart to lift the ban on mak yong was not so much the criticism of the United Nations Representative on culture at the recent World Cultural Forum, as such a suggestion had been ignored before.
In all probability it has to do with the new-found façade of Pas in adapting to Umno’s culture that has led them to form a pact to oppose the Pakatan government.
It is in the face of political reality that the Kelantan government has lifted the ban on mak yong. But it will allow only syariah-compliant performances. These conditions will adversely affect the traditional, structural and aesthetic sensibilities of mak yong.
Among the conditions are that the dress must cover the aurat, men and women must be separated on stage and in the audience, stories must reflect Islamic elements as well as the elimination of some dance elements, probably the opening “mengadap rebab” and Tari Inai, which are exclusively performed by women.
Also, the invocation in the opening and closing ceremonies, which is not so much religious as the expression of the beauty of mak yong language, will be dispensed with. These conditions will literally alter the identity, character and aesthetics of traditional mak yong.
As it stands, Pas has inflicted irreparable damage on mak yong and other traditional art forms. It would be well-nigh impossible to revitalise these performances from years of neglect.
This sentiment is borne out by some practitioners and mak yong connoisseurs who are sceptical about the lifting of the ban, as the syariah-compliant conditions will pose insurmountable challenges in staging a performance. However, others, out of desperation, are willing to experiment in such restrictive conditions.
Perhaps it is too late to resuscitate mak yong even in its traditional format, what more to restage a syariah-compliant performance, as the interest in these performances has waned due to neglect that has resulted in a dearth of young performers.
It was Pas that put mak yong in dire straits and now it is trying to lift it out of its predicament not because of sincerity in the conservation of traditional art forms but more out of political expediency.
Thanks to Pas, mak yong will soon enough be reduced to a diorama in the museum.
The writer is Emeritus Professor of Performing Arts Centre for Policy Research and International Studies Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang