In the 1800s, the tradition of unique Sri Lankan masks created to portray various characters in popular folk tales and for devil dancing. It has been influenced by these traditions of mask making and devil dancing, mainly from the cities of Kerala and Malabar in India. Ambalangoda is well known for its mask making. Sri Lankan artisans have excelled in adding more decorative techniques and colors to today’s masks. The bright color is a unique souvenir for any tourist visiting this beautiful island Sri Lanka.
The older versions found in the shade of red, yellow, black, white, and sometimes a dark green obtained from mixing yellow and black. Blue used very rarely.
According to conventional beliefs, hanging masks in the household cast off the evil eye. Masks are used for traditional dances more often in Southern regions of Sri Lanka. Traditional Sri Lankan mask is hand-carved by an exorcist, out of local wood, polished using specific plant leaves and painted using natural organic and mineral-based pigments.
Some masks used during ancestor worship, certain spiritual rituals, and healing ceremonies.
There are three types of mask dances. Different types of masks have different meanings and can be different shapes and sizes, but the looks of it depend on the ritual or dance.
In Kolam, masks are used, called kolam masks, for storytelling dances. According to the belief, Kolam masks originated from the time of King Maha Sammatha. When the queen was pregnant, she had a strong desire to watch kolam performance, but there was none knew how to craft. As the queen was suffering due to her unfulfilled desire, God Sakra asked artisans Vishvakarma to provide the masks and the lyrics for such dance, which found in the royal garden. The king ordered to perform the mask dance in front of the queen, and her desire fulfilled. In every kolam dance, two characters wear King and Queen masks to show the ancient story. The family ‘ Ariyapala Wijesuriya ‘ is one of the families of a few groups who perform traditional kolam dances from the beginning to the present day.
There are some characters in kolam dance.
Panikkala, Nonchi Akka, Hewa, Jasaya, Lenchina, Mudali,
Raksha means demons. Those masks use to ward off evil as well as an aid in festivals. According to legends, Sri Lanka earlier ruled by Rakshasas, The devils, whose king was Ravana of the name Ramayana, could assume 24 different forms. But only a few of these forms are performed.
- Naga Raksha (Cobra Mask).
- Maru Raksha (Mask of the Demon of Death).
- Gurulu Raksha (Mask of the Bird).
- Rathnakuta Raksha.
- Purnaka Raksha.
Sanni masks use in healing ceremonies to drive away evil spirits and curing specific illnesses. Sanni Yakuma is the most elaborated healing ritual in Sri Lankan Sinhalese tradition. Ceremonies are still held in certain parts of the island and can be quite interesting to watch. An exorcist or the artist wears the mask. This healing way is related to man’s body’s demand and supply. If the mental or physical state of the man gets upset by a delay in the process of digestion of food, or wrong actions or wrong thoughts psychologically, man will be exposed to illness according to rituals, which are brought to them by the demons according to rituals. So ancient people personified these diseases in the form of the demons.
There are 18 different Sanni masks, each specializing in curing illnesses.
- Deva Sanniya – causes measles, mumps, smallpox, typhoid fever, and cholera.
- Vata Sanniya – causes diseases caused by air in the body, also paralyze.
- Pith Sanniya – causes diseases of the bile.
- Amukku Sanniya – causes stomach pain vomiting.
- Naga Sanniya – the vision of the demon causes poison like cobra poison in the body blister, swellings.
- Ginijala Sanniya – causes heat similar to fire in the body and burning sensation.
- Selesma Sanniya – causes headache, overproduction.
- Kapala Sanniya- causes phlegm, cough, sneezing.
- Maru Sanniya – causes the fear of death, also death.
- Kadawata Sanniya – is trying to break down the barriers which separate him from the patient.
- Kora Sanniya – causes lame limbs, swollen joints.
- Buhutu Sanniya – causes temporary madness.
- Kana Sanniya – causes temporary blindness.
- Jala Sanniya – causes unbearable cold and shivering.
- Bihiri Sanniya – causes temporary deafness.
- Golu Sanniya – causes temporary numbness.
- Vevulum Sanniya – causes shivering and fits.
- Gedi Sanniya – causes Furuncles.
The Ariyapala Mask Museum Officially name Ariyapala & Sons: a mask museum locate on Ambalaangoda, Sri Lanka. Over five generations, the Ariyapola family retains the traditions of masks and dancing. The family set itself the task of recreating a complete collection that reflects the rich culture.
Watch here the Denna Dena (Studio Live) Performed By – Bathiya & Santhush
Each Sri Lankan mask and dance has its cultural depth and contemporary significance.