Ambalangoda, located in Sri Lanka’s south-coast and nearly 100 km away from the commercial capital Colombo, is a well-known village for the mask making industry. Handed down from generation to generation, the customs of making traditional masks are considered as having a healing and protective capacity. It’s evident that masks are used in living traditions such as dance, drama, and also in exorcism rituals in the current context.
Making of masks and traditions, such as devil dancing and decorative techniques are said to have been influenced and inherited from neighbour India. It is also a proof for the existence of certain clans such as the ”Yakka’s” who are known as demon-worshipers” and ”Naga’s” – the snake-worshipers in the ancient times of Sri Lanka.
Traditional masks are usually classified into three categories and they are Raksha, Sanni, and Kolam. Raksha mask is used to perform in Kolam Maduwa as it signifies the race of Rakshasa’s – the clan which led by king Ravana. Sanni Masks are used when performing ”Tovil dance” which is also known as the ”Devil dance”. Tovil dance is performed to drive away evil spirits and sicknesses. It’s notable that there are nearly 18 Sanni masks are in use in the present. Kolam Mask is more often used in drama’s while Lenchina and Jasaya being the popular ones.
Those interested in discovering these fabulous and colourful masks can visit the Ariyapala Mask Museum which is located down the Colombo-Galle coastal route on the seaside. The museum is not that hard to find, however you can find hotels in Galle such as the Cantaloupe Hotels who will be ready to provide tours to the museum. This privately owned museum which is run by a popular family in Ambalangoda conducts a mask making workshop to educate and to create awareness. Each and every exhibit showcased at the museum contains a brief description giving an insight to the item.
Fritzjames Stephen is a travel writer, who writes content based on the myriad of experiences and indulgences that the world has to offer travellers across all walks of life.