Mask art has a unique place among the traditional art forms of Sri Lanka. The use of masks in tree, animal, or deity worship, as well as the practice of masking, has become an integral symbol in local and global cultural contexts. The genuine Masks and mask industry in Sri Lanka are a remarkable cultural phenomenon and a significant contribution to the Asian Cultural Spectrum made by Sri Lanka.
History of the mask industry in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan mask history dates back centuries. Legend has it that King Ravana also used masks to tame his enemies. Accordingly, it is not fair to say how far back in the history of this art of masks, but it is probably a few centuries old. It is a fact that these masks were also associated with the Vedi people, who are considered to be the ancestors of Sri Lanka. History testifies that they painted their own body and face to perform their puja rituals.
How do Sri Lankan artisans create masks?
The mask industry uses durable, lightweight woods. They use Vel kaduru and tree branches. They also used Kaduru wood more because you can keep Kaduru timber for about 300 years without being harmed by animals like gulls. Because this kaduru tree grows in association with the vel, it is also known as vel kaduru. Artisans often treat these woods with wood coatings to protect them from insects and create an attractive finish, using synthetic lacquers to color them.
Sri Lankan mask types
There are several types of faces created in mask art. Among them are,
- Divine Faces
- Kolam Faces
- Rakshas Faces
- Yaksha Faces
- Naga Faces
- Sanni Faces
- Various mythical faces
Sri Lankans used these faces for various peace ceremonies, upland, lowland, and Sabaragamuwa dances. Apart from that, they also used masks to decorate houses and buildings. For example, They create the 18 incarnations of the great ‘Sanni Kola Yaka.’ They are used for pacifications (‘Shanthikarma’).
Sri Lankans used Kolam masks to create comedy. The Kolam drama tradition is used in Sri Lanka to satirize various characters found in society and to satirize imperial rule. In addition, Ambalangoda mask artists create masks belonging to the kolam drama tradition, such as Arachchi kolam, Hewa kolam, Sinha kolam, and Maname are the masks required for the story.
Raksha mask Sri Lanka
A famous Sri Lankan mask name that comes to locals’ and tourists’ minds is the raksha mask. Most festivals and traditional dances in Sri Lanka feature raksha masks. The word “demon” in the word “raksha” denotes the masks’ intended purpose: to ward against evil. They are painted in vivid colors, with swollen eyes and protruding tongues, representing many kinds of demons. The Rakshasas, a race that formerly governed Sri Lanka and was capable of taking on 24 distinct forms, are honored by the Raksha masks, which are the ritual’s last component. Few of these forms are used, including some of the following,
- Naga Raksha
- Gurulu Raksha
- Maru Raksha
- Rathnakuta Raksha
- Gara Raksha
- Ginidal Raksha
- Mayura Raksha
- Dwi Naga Raksha
- Mal Gurulu Raksha
What are the Sri Lankan mask meanings?
The masked dancer enhances the spooky look by performing long yagahoma, a variety of songs sung by the masked people. Removal of ghosts and demons The peasants thought that the devils and ghosts’ influence was to blame for the earlier scarcity of food and fear of disease in rural areas. Around the world, in prehistoric times, people used masked dances, songs, and funerals for fertility purposes.
Which areas are popular for the mask industry?
Mask cutting and kolam dance related to masks are widespread in the southern and southwestern coastal areas of Sri Lanka. However, artisans practice these arts and crafts in areas such as Bentara, Mirissa, Pitigala, Matara, etc. Even historically, Ambalangoda was one of the areas that received the most attention.
Tourists affect the mask industry in Sri Lanka.
Tourists play a vital role in developing the art of masks in Sri Lanka. Ambalangoda is very famous among tourists not only for carving masks but also for selling masks. Masks in this area of Ambalangoda have become very popular among local tourists.
Some foreigners believe in the Sri Lankan wooden mask hanging in their homes. Foreigners purchase masks for many reasons other than just their originality and sense of tradition. The masks draw outsiders in with their vibrant colors and expressive features. Many extremely ancient, authentic traditional masks are on display at the Ambalangoda Masks Museum, and the museum staff educates visitors about the history and specifics of the masks. This greatly aids in raising marketing and awareness of foreigners’ masks. The affordable traditional mask price in Sri Lanka is another reason for the tourist attraction. Mask prices range from 600 Rs – 13,000 Rs (1.64USD – 35.56USD)
Bringing more income to the country
Additionally, Ambalangoda hosts concerts featuring mask dance for overseas visitors. Once they witness dancers wearing masks, foreigners are more drawn to masks. It also increases their comprehension of the significance of various masks. The masks industry is a significant source of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka. Furthermore, it creates a lot of employment chances. Jobs are available from vendors of Kaduru trees, various painting supplies, craftspeople, mask painters, sellers, dancers, tour guides, shipping companies, etc.
Masks were a crucial component of Sri Lankan rituals and festivities during a time when the people worshipped trees and animals. They are now more of an intriguing curiosity than they were centuries before.
The mask industry in Sri Lanka is still booming and continues to captivate locals and visitors. It’s common to see traditional Sri Lankan masks on the walls of nearby homes, each with a colorful facade, an odd shape, and an intriguing past. They are also great souvenirs. All masks have horrifying characteristics that add to their allure.