Ambalangoda Mask Museum
The city of Ambalangoda is renowned for producing traditional Sri Lankan masks, which are hand-carved and hand-painted. Performers wear masks in southern dance forms such as Kolam masked dance/drama, Kandyan and Sabaragamu dances. The Ariyapala & Sons Mask Museum displays a comprehensive collection of masks used in low country dances, where one can also see how they are being made in the workshop adjoining the museum.
The Significance of the Ambalangoda Mask Museum
The Ambalangoda Mask Museum plays a vital role in introducing visitors to the diverse and vibrant mask tradition of Ambalangoda. It serves as a platform to educate and raise awareness about the cultural heritage of masks, providing a deeper understanding of their significance in Sri Lankan society. The museum aims to preserve this unique art form and ensure its continuity for future generations.
The Rich Mask Tradition of Ambalangoda
Ambalangoda, located on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, is renowned for its rich mask tradition. The Karava people, a fisher community residing in the western and southwestern coastal areas, have developed various social customs. Masks play a significant role in various performances and rituals conducted in Ambalangoda, making it a hub for mask-related cultural activities.
The Kolam Maduwa Performance
The Kolam Maduwa holds a prominent position among the numerous performances involving masks. The Kolam Maduwa is a traditional dance form accompanied by mask-wearing dancers. These performances, once highly appreciated, experienced a decline in popularity over the past few decades due to economic reasons. However, the Wijesooriya family, known for their expertise in mask carving, has taken up the task of preserving this traditional art form.
The Rituals to Expel Evil Demons
Another significant aspect of Ambalangoda's mask tradition is the rituals performed to expel evil demons believed to cause diseases. These rituals serve as exorcism and are deeply rooted in Sri Lankan culture. The masks used in these rituals are unique and carry symbolic meanings associated with the ailments they represent.
Economic Factors Impacting Mask Performances
Despite the historical significance of mask performances, economic factors have influenced their frequency and popularity. The decline in the Kolam Dances can be attributed to the changing economic landscape and the shift in people's preferences for entertainment. However, mask carving has evolved into a cottage industry, helping sustain the tradition in a different form.
The Wijesooriya Family and Preservation of Traditional Mask Carving
To safeguard the local cultural heritage, the Wijesooriya family has taken on the task of carving a complete set of 120 masks, showcasing the intricacies and beauty of traditional mask carving. While space limitations prevent the exhibition of all the masks, the museum proudly displays two sets: one belonging to the Kolam Maduwa and the other used in the Sanni Yakuma ritual performed in Batapola and Ambalangoda in 1985 and 1986.
Exhibits at the Museum
The Ambalangoda Mask Museum offers visitors a glimpse into the fascinating world of traditional masks through its exhibits. The collection includes masks from various categories with unique symbolism and cultural significance. Let's explore some of the key types of masks found in the museum's exhibits:
Traditional Masks of Sri Lanka
Raksha masks are used in festivals and ceremonies. These exotic demon masks have bulging eyes, bloodthirsty expressions, and protruding tongues. They are often adorned with elaborate designs and colors, creating a striking visual impact. Some notable Raksha masks include:
This mask represents a cobra that captures its enemies and makes them slaves. It exudes power and dominance, symbolizing the triumph over evil forces.
The Naga Raksha mask features a serpent with multiple heads. It is associated with protection and rescue, specifically saving captives from the clutches of the Naga, a mythical serpent creature.
The Gurulu Raksha mask depicts a hawk or eagle, known for its ability to rescue captives from the Naga. It symbolizes liberation and freedom from the forces of darkness.
The Maru Raksha mask represents a peacock, a majestic bird associated with peace, harmony, and prosperity. It is believed to bring positive energy and ward off negative influences.
Used in perahera rituals to cure sickness and other ailments, the Mayura Raksha mask embodies the healing and protective qualities of the peacock.
The Gara Raksha mask, often associated with fire and anger, serves as a guardian against evil forces. It projects a fierce and intimidating presence, driving away malevolent spirits.
This mask embodies the essence of a fire devil. It represents the projection of anger and serves as a protector against evil influences.
Kolam masks, born during the colonial period, serve as satirical representations of early colonial society. While they may have appeared funny in the past, today they evoke a sinister aura with their fixed stares, bulging eyes, and ghastly smiles. Some prominent Kolam masks include:
Known as the panikkalaya or panikkirala, this mask portrays a comedic character that adds humor to performances.
Nonchi Akka Kolama
This mask represents the wife of an official drummer announcer. It carries elements of traditional comedy and plays a significant role in the performances.
Jeydi Vidane or Rada Kolama
This mask has become well-known as Jeydi Vidane or Rada Kolama. It holds cultural and historical significance in its portrayal of comedic elements.
Jasa Kolama embodies the comedy associated with village chiefs. It adds a touch of humor to the performances, entertaining the audience with its unique character.
This mask depicts comedy revolving around a soldier, reflecting the social dynamics and narratives prevalent during the colonial era.
Hewa Kolama showcases the comedic portrayal of a character's wife. It brings forth laughter and adds depth to the performances.
The Lenchina Kolama represents comedy centered around grandparents. It portrays the humorous side of elderly characters and their interactions.
Aththa Muththa Kolama
This mask embodies the humor derived from portraying Negro characters. It serves as a testament to the diversity and inclusivity of Sri Lankan mask performances.
The Kapiri Kolama presents a comedic portrayal of Muslim characters. It adds a touch of cultural diversity and social commentary to the performances.
Marakkala Kolama represents Tamil comedy, showcasing the rich cultural tapestry of Sri Lanka through mask performances.
This mask embodies the comedy associated with kings and queens, presenting entertaining narratives centered around royalty.
The Raja Kolama mask resembles the face of a beautiful woman, with the upper portion resembling a crown. It adds elegance and grace to the performances.
Known for resembling a full moon, this mask holds a special place in the performances, exuding a sense of mystique and enchantment.
Deva Giri Kolama
The Bahirawa mask portrays the handsome face of a prince, surrounded by the faces of women. It represents love, attraction, and desire.
The Sanni masks are an integral part of exorcism rituals aimed at treating specific ailments. Each mask embodies a particular ailment and plays a role in the healing process. Here are some notable Sanni masks found in the museum:
This mask represents a demon associated with diseases such as measles, mumps, smallpox, typhoid fever, and cholera. It serves as a means to seek protection from these ailments.
The Vatha Sanniya mask embodies diseases caused by air in the body and can also result in paralysis. It seeks to provide relief from such ailments.
Causing heat similar to fire in the body and burning sensations, the Ginijala Sanniya mask represents diseases related to the bile.
The Pith Sanniya mask is associated with diseases of the stomach and is often linked to symptoms like stomach pain and vomiting.
Amukku Sanniya causes individuals to become mute, unable to speak or communicate. The mask represents the ailment and is used in rituals for healing.
Abhutha Sanniya is associated with supernatural diseases and possesses a unique presence among the Sanni masks.
The Naga Sanniya mask embodies ailments related to snakebites and seeks to provide protection from the venomous consequences.
Murthu Sanniya represents ailments caused by witchcraft and evil forces, offering protection and healing.
The Demala Sanniya mask is associated with diseases related to the head and brain. It is used in rituals to alleviate such ailments.
This mask represents diseases related to mental health and psychiatric disorders. It seeks to bring balance and healing to the mind.
Golu Sanniya is associated with diseases related to bones and skeletal disorders. It is used in rituals for healing and relief.
Butha Sanniya represents diseases caused by elemental forces, including wind, rain, and lightning. It aims to provide protection from these ailments.
Kana Sanniya is associated with eye diseases and visual impairments. It seeks to alleviate and heal such conditions.
Jala Sanniya represents diseases caused by water, including waterborne illnesses. It serves as a means to seek protection and healing.
The Bihiri Sanniya mask embodies ailments related to deafness and hearing impairments. It is used in rituals for healing and restoration.
Vedi Sanniya represents diseases caused by insects, such as mosquito-borne illnesses. It seeks to provide protection and relief.
Maru Sanniya is associated with diseases related to fever, heat, and the effects of the sun. It aims to cool and heal such conditions.
Gulma Sanniya represents diseases caused by tumors, cysts, and growths. It serves as a means to seek relief and healing.
The Ambalangoda Mask Museum is a testament to the rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions of Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. It showcases the diverse and intricate masks used in performances, rituals, and healing ceremonies. Through preserving and promoting traditional mask carving, the museum ensures that this unique art form continues to thrive for future generations to appreciate and cherish.
Visit the Ambalangoda Mask Museum to explore the fascinating world of Sri Lankan masks, delve into their cultural significance, and witness the artistic mastery that brings these masks to life.
1. Where is the Ambalangoda Mask Museum located? The Ambalangoda Mask Museum is located in Ambalangoda, a town on the south-western coast of Sri Lanka.
2. What is the significance of the Kolam Maduwa performance? The Kolam Maduwa is a traditional dance form accompanied by mask-wearing dancers. It holds historical and cultural significance and is a prominent part of the mask tradition in Ambalangoda.
3. What are Raksha masks? Raksha masks are used in festivals and ceremonies. They are demon masks with striking appearances and elaborate designs, representing different aspects of Sri Lankan folklore and mythology.
4. What are Sanni masks? Sanni masks are used in exorcism rituals aimed at treating specific ailments. Each mask represents a particular ailment and plays a role in the healing process.
5. Who is the Wijesooriya family? The Wijesooriya family is known for their expertise in mask carving and their efforts to preserve the traditional mask carving art form in Ambalangoda.
6. How can I visit the Ambalangoda Mask Museum? To visit the Ambalangoda Mask Museum, you can travel to Ambalangoda in Sri Lanka and locate the museum in the town. It is recommended to check the museum's operating hours and any visitor guidelines before planning your visit.