Traditional Devil Masks

The art of Sri Lankan Masks was existing from time immemorial. Mask carving is a local tradition in the southern coastal region in Sri Lanka. Ambalangoda is well known for traditional masks carvings and masks dancing. Masks are mostly turned out from the timber of a tree locally Known as ‘Kaduru’ (stychnos nux vomica).

This tree grows in marshy lands bordering paddy fields. This wood is light, soft, and easy to carve. Firstly, the trunks of felt tree are kept under hot sun to dry and to drain out the sticky juice. Thereafter it is measured and cut into pieces of required sizes of the various masks. Then the carver gives the basic shape of the mask to the piece of trunk with the help of chisels and a mallet. These measurements of carving have been given in ancient manuscripts. After this, the mask is kept on a stall of a hearth (Dum Messa) for six or seven days to get the smoke to season the wood. This is a very important step as well as a traditional method to keep masks free from the insects’ attack that we still follow. Subsequently, mask is taken out from the smoking stall and gradually shaped the face to epict specific expression by using various types of chisels and mallet.

Before a mask is painted, it is smoothen with Motadelia leaves and Delsavaran, which is obtained from the Breadfruit tree. As a first step of painting, light-yellow (primary color) is applied on the surface of every mask. Here onwards colors are applied according to ancient manuscripts. Colors are mixed with ‘Dorana oil’ to assure the durability of colors. Each mask has its own particular colors to depict their characteristic features.

Expressions of masks varied from one to another because each and every mask has its own characteristic role that links with folklore stories. Most of the times masks have hidden expressions. So, to depict those particular expressions, carver should enter mentally to the character of the mask. Because of this, mask carving is not merely a practice of chisel and mallet. It should have a wide traditional and philosophical training background.

Masks are classified as • Gods • Human beings • Raksha • Yakksha (Demons) • Animals• Composite masks