The word purwa, which has the meaning of 'first' or 'early', is used in the mention of Wayang Purwa to distinguish it from Wayang Kulit Wahyu, Wayang Sadat, Wayang Gedhog, Wayang Kancil, and so on. Purwa means early, Puppet Purwa is estimated to have the oldest age among other shadow puppets. In Empu Kanwa's Kakawin Arjuna Wiwaha (1030), in verse 59, the words Hanonton ringgit crying asekel Muda hidepan are written, huwus wruh towin jan walulang inukir molah angkata ('some people see wayang cry, are amazed, and are sad. that what you see is only skin that is carved into the shape of people who can move and talk')
The Wayang Purwa play depicts a story taken from the Mahabharata with the core story of the war "Barata Yudha", namely the civil war of Barata's descendants, between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in fighting over the kingdom of Amartapura. The story of Wayang Purwa was originally in the form of a painting made on palm leaves by Prabu Jayabaya, the king of Kediri. Then during the Majapahit Kingdom to Demak there was a change in the shape of the wayang, both related to the technique and raw materials for making wayang, namely through the process of sculpture, painting with a side view, and made of buffalo or cow skin.
The Wayang Purwa collection in the Sonobudoyo Museum is a collection of Wayang Purwa based on various styles, mostly puppets in Yogyakarta style, Surakarta style, East Java style, Cirebon style, Kedu style, Kaligesing style, Balinese style, and Betawi style.