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Traditional Approaches – Ariyapala Mask Museum Ambalangoda

Masks were an integral part of the rituals that accompanied the lives of the people of Sri Lanka from the country’s pre Buddhist days. They were a fact of life almost until the mid 20th century. The main types of masks in use were the Kolam, Sanni and Raksha. The Kolam masks were used in traditional satirical dramas in southern Sri Lanka. They portrayed a range of people from the nobility to various colonial administrative officials. Sanni masks were used to treat a range of illnesses, 18 in all and the Raksha masks feature animals and birds such as the peacock, cobra and gurula, a mythical creature, or a combination of several animals and birds. They were worn by dancers in processions and were used by persons conducting rituals to cure the sick and to chase away evil spirits from homes and whole villages.

Ambalangoda has been associated with the prolific production of masks for a several hundred years and the Ariyapala family has been engaged in making them since the late 18th century. The Ariyapala Mask Museum, a well known place on the Colombo – Ambalangoda highway, is the effort of its current family members to preserve this art form of southern Sri Lanka for posterity. Two family members have crafts shops and museums on either side of the road. The larger museum displays an extensive collection of masks including examples from the 18 sannis depicting common and not so common illnesses and disabilities, characters from kolam dramas, animal masks and costumes worn at rituals and photos well labelled in Sinhala and English. The museum has even produced a booklet explaining the mysteries and rituals behind the various types of masks. Visitors to the museum are shown the whole process of mask making and informed on their importance in the lives of locals.

These artistic creations worn on the face are made from a light wood locally known as ‘Kaduru’ which is found along the coast. Once a tree is felled, it is kept in the sun to dry out the sap. Thereafter the wood is cut up according to various mask sizes and a basic carving done after which it is put on a smoked stack, a sort of treatment to prevent insect damage. It is refined and finished thereafter. Masks are now made for tourists and as decorative pieces for homes.

Enjoy the sun, sea and sand at Avani Bentota Resort, after all that is what the town is famous for! Stay in spacious, contemporary accommodation with all modern amenities at your fingertips. Partake of scrumptious international and Sri Lankan cuisine at the excellent food and beverage venues at this Bentota hotel. As one of the most popular resorts in Bentota the hotel is known for its friendly and efficient service, informal, relaxed atmosphere and excellent value.

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