Masks of the South- By Rajiv Welikala

Masks of the South- By Rajiv Welikala

Ambalangoda has always been the center for the manufacture of traditional masks in Sri Lanka. Used in a variety of dance forms from the devil dances, to the entertaining Kolam or comedy performances. Masks are used in varying degrees in Sri Lankan culture and an intricate part of the nation’s folk lore. We visited the Ariyapala and Sons mask museum to learn more about this traditional art.

The museum is well maintained and showcases a vast variety of unique masks from the fearsome Mahasohon (a name of a demon with a bears head) Mask fully dressed on a dummy to the bizarre Kolam masks with their misshapen faces. The carvings and final touches on these masks are truly intricate and only a skilled hand can create such amazing works of art. One of the most stunning pieces on display are the giant masks depicting the King and Queen. Not only does it take great skill to create such a masterpiece but only true dance masters could perform with such heavy props.

Up in the main showroom we were entertained to a puppet dance, all carried out manually by a skilled master puppeteer who manipulated the strings to the rhythm of the music. Down at the workshop one gets to see the transformation of a bare block of wood into the intricate complete work of art. These artisans are a last of their kind who struggle to maintain their traditions and skills in an era of modern technology.

We were humbled to have witnessed this dying art which showcases a side of Sri Lanka which needs to be preserved in order to maintain its identity as an art form for the world to see.

Words and Photos by Rajiv Welikala

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