Traditional Wooden Masks in Sri Lanka

masks in Sri Lanka

When we heard the word masks, the thing which comes into our mind is a piece of clothe like material attached to a piece of elastic is to wear preventing insertion of the unwanted harmful materials into the respiratory system

But the story of Sri Lankan masks is not the same and it is not that simple. Those masks are made by a piece of wood and painted abstractly to catch any eyesight. The history of the making of masks in Sri Lanka is back to the 1800s. People in that era somehow able to carve a face on a piece of wood with sharp rocks. After the carving happens, those faces were painted by colors which were prepared by using herbals. Evolving of making masks showed the path of making process towards some specific trees. “Kaduru” (Cerbera odollam) known as suicide tree and “Ruk Attana” (Alstonia scholaris) known as Devils tree were the main source of wood which created those masks. Those plants growing preferentially in costal salt swamps and marshy areas. So, the people who lived in coastal areas in Sri Lanka such as Ambalangoda, Benthara were experts in making of masks. Nowadays anyone who can visit those areas can meet those generations descend from founders of art of the masks

Traditional Masks in Sri Lanka
Traditional Masks in Sri Lanka

As mentioned earlier, Kaduru and Ruk Attana woods are used to carve masks. After cutting down the trees, the wood must be dried up in sunlight enough to craft. After drying, using special tools which are to carving woods such as keyhole handsaws, planes, hand files, hammers, mallets, etc. carving starts. Never met any machinery equipment in Sri Lankan masks history. All the work done by hand. That is a main reason to gain a such kind of attention to masks among other arts. After the carving happened, ancient creators used paints which were made by using herbal plants to draw patterns on the masks and popping facial reactions on masks. These days normal rubber paints which make commercially use to paint masks. Ultimately a scratch and insect resistant colorless varnish like paint apply to protect those masks.

making masks
making masks

There are three main categories of Sri Lankan traditional masks.

Raksha Mask

raksha masks


These types of masks used to wear when perform dances in a festival called “Kolam Maduwa”, which performed to entertain people who are monotonically live in while doing their household works. In this category, there were 24 various masks. But few of them wore in Kolam Dances.

Sanni Masks

sanni masks

This type of masks was worn in performing a “Sanni”. That was kind of a healing process using witchcraft. The performer of a Sanni called “Yakadura” wore a Sanni mask and danced in front of the patient while questioning about the illness. There were 18 Sanni masks in performances.

Kolam Masks Ceylon Art shop - Wood Carving in Sri Lanka -for better handicrafts


Kolam masks were not like above two categories. These masks were worn during dramas which called as “Kolam”. That was why they called these mask as “Kolam Masks”

Some of the traditional masks were worn during performing an exorcism and spiritual rituals. The most common ritual performed in Ceylon was “Thovil” which was combined with devils and spiritual forces. The reasons to wear those masks in that kind of ceremonies were having big eyes, large mouths with long teeth, huge ear lobes, vivid color using could be signaled the brain to dispel illnesses.

If you are strongly favorable about Ceylon masks, one of the best places to visit is the Mask Museum in Ambalangoda.Ceylon Art shop - Wood Carving in Sri Lanka -for better handicrafts


That is a private owned museum which is not only a museum, but also it consists with mask making workshop and a mask showroom. So many masks of ancient Sri Lanka can be seen in the museum and vast knowledge about mask can be collected when you once visit it. A detailed sheet of each and every mask which displayed in there can be found in front of every showcase of the museum. Anyone who visit there can be eye-witnessed how the mask preparing process carry out by professional mask craftsmen. The showroom is loaded with huge number of masks to purchase. And also the beautiful carving of wooden Masks can also be found in many shops(Ceylon Art Shop, Laksala and Oakray Wood Carving are very famous) in Sri Lanka.








If you feel that you want a mask elegantly showing Sri Lankan culture to your wall, we can fulfill your desire with number of designs collaborating with you. Delivery can be made to the doorstep worldwide. Or you can gift one of our masks to your relation, neighbor, or friend to show how you care about them and that will be a great present. We are ready to handcraft your masterpiece either a traditional Ceylon Mask or a custom built with our professionals.

watch How to Make Wooden Handicrafts

ceylon art shop


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