Wooden Masks


Wooden Masks

The Sinhalese have always used wood for their mask-making. The mask-makers have found wood to be a very suitable medium for carving out the images of demons, devils, sannis, divine beings, legendary creatures, humans, and animals. The artistic tendencies of the mask makers are revealed through these objects meant for magical, curative, and entertainment purposes. The woods preferred were of the lighter variety as they would be easy to carve and lighter to wear.

In Sinhalese traditions, face and head masks are described as: ‘A new form of face and head artificially produced and meant to be worn to alter the appearance and effect of the wearer in a deliberate and definite manner.’ Masks are generally used to conceal the identity of a person to create another personality. Vesmuhana, for the Sinhalese, represents wearing of the mask and/or disguising the face. Masks are usually worn in a manner that allows the entire face to be completely covered; they are worn at a downward slant over the forehead.

The Sinhalese wear masks during (1) Devil dancing – dancing with masks associated with exorcising rituals (removing devils and sicknesses from people) (2) Kolam dancing – masked dramatic performance through presentation of human and superhuman characters restricted to the rural areas and (3) Sokari dancing. Masks are also worn during theatre performances or devolmadu ceremonies (ves pema and amba vidamana), as part of public rituals prevalent in Sri Lanka.

In all probability, the need for masks arose as a primeval response to the forces of nature. Initially, masks were believed to be the heads of animals, depicted as outgrowth of designs on shields and painted designs upon the face. They represent men, animals, abstractions, spirits, and demons. They thus range from keen representations of natural forms to complex abstractions. Among the traditional beliefs associated with masks is that they are tools that can help man overcome evil spirits, or that they act as a means of contact with spiritual powers of one kind or another. Therefore, the depictions on masks span a wide range: gods, demons, devils, goblins, animals, birds, nagas, kings, queens (royalty), old people, gluttons, miserable servants, young heroes, and even abstract forms and shapes. There is a generally accepted belief in the country that the traditional makers of masks recognise the face-forms of demons, devils, mythical beings, and human prototypes like kings and queens. The majority of the masks in Sri Lanka are malefic demon masks; a few, however, are believed to be beneficial.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, where the introduction of Buddhism in 248 B.C. arrested the spread of Hinduism. However, since Buddhism did not interfere significantly with existing beliefs and practices, a lot of pre-Buddhist beliefs and practices continued in Sri Lanka. Beliefs about rakshasas and demons spread to Sri Lanka from the eastern and south-eastern parts of India, especially tribal areas. Among these groups, masks were associated with (a non-Hindu) tradition of spirit cults. Easily identifiable are the yakshas and yakshinis associated with the hills, the monstrous demons or rakshasas; the nagas and naginis, male and female semi-human serpent spirits of the water; and the pretas and vedalas, spirits of the dead. Several of these beliefs and concepts travelled from India to Sri Lanka.


  • Ritual masks are used for exorcising evil spirits and to cure ailments. These include masks used for tovil (devil-dancing) as well as sanni masks.
  • Devil Dancing masks include a wide range of masks associated with demons. The three generic categories under which individual masks can be slotted are masks of rakshasas, yakshas, and sannis. Each larger group has several sub-groups, associated with a demon. Some of these include naga raksha or snake-demon, gurulu raksha or the mythical bird form, and masks of the four rakshasas who control the four directions – yama hin, kala hin, vayu hin, and murtyu hin.
  • Dance-drama masks are used in folk-plays and playlets. They include the kolam dancing masks, the kolam neteema and sokari.
  • Pageant masks are extremely large; made of light wood or paper pulp, they are used, as indicated, in pageants and processions.

Devil-Dancing Masks:
The yakas or devil-forms known to the Sinhalese are the rakshasas (demons) and yakshas (devils); these are represented by devil dancers wearing masks. The masks are large and usually carved out of light wood. The demon masks have faces with telescopic eyes and a protruding tongue. The face is covered with intertwining snakes with hoods appearing above the head. In some masks, large tusks jut out from the corner of the mouth. Crowns are worn and the ears are adorned with ornaments. Large masks are about 3 feet in height and have a high crown. The ears are wide and sometimes circular. Sometimes the ears are carved out of a separate piece of wood in the shape of a lotus. In some masks the lower jaw is moveable. The faces are painted with bright colours and varnished: the colours used include yellow, fire-red, and grass-green. The jewellery, head-dress and ornaments help identify the mask type and category.

Diseases & Curative Masks:
The belief that illnesses, dangers and difficulties were caused by demons with malefic intentions, is critical in the use of masks in Sri Lanka as a ritualistic part of curing diseases and warding off ill-health. A classic example of this is the composite mask of 18 sannis (daha-ata-sanni-yaka). This is a huge composition representing the chief demon flanked on each side by nine sanni demons, considered responsible for causing 18 kinds of illnesses. There is a separate mask for each illness, and the masks are worn during dances of exorcism.

The sanni masks are devilish in appearance with protruding tusks and startling eyes. They are bright and gaudy in colour and have jaws that are movable. They resemble dragons and certain demons that are believed to cause disease and even death. The diseases are cured by offering blood sacrifices at rituals in which dancers wear the demon masks. The demon priest dances wearing the masks and disguise(s) appropriate to the demon believed to be responsible for causing the disease. By retreating to the edge of the village and feigning death for a short while the demon dancer rids himself as well as the invalid of the baleful demon.

The sanni masks used to remove illnesses are of 30 types. They are small in size (6 inches x 9 inches) and light in weight and can be worn for a long period of time. These masks have protruding eyeballs characteristic of devils and some even depict the physical deformities and deficiencies of the sense-organs pertaining to a particular illness. The sanni masks lack aesthetic value and artistic quality; however, this has to be seen in context of he fact that they were made to rid people of ailments and were not intended as formal pieces of art.

Theatrical Kolam Masks:
In the early European period in Sri Lanka (c. sixteenth century), a form of mask dancing known as kolam dancing (kolam neteema or Burlesque) was introduced into the country from south India. In this, masks were used for theatrical purposes: by the actors on the stage. The masks usually had a king’s name to honour it. The performances of these masked dancers were mainly for the royalty and the masks were carved by the carpenters specially retained by the king. These beautifully made and preserved masks, used for folk theatre, are distinctly different from devil-dancing masks. Such masks depict the faces of kings, queens, princes, ministers, men, and animals.


    Masks are usually made in three sizes.

  • Large masks: These are over five feet in size are used for exhibitions. In this category are the masks of Dahi-Ata and Sanni-Yaka, of kings and queens, and of Mahabamba. The ideas to make masks of this size may have come from the wall paintings where the size of Bodhisatva or Buddha is much more prominent compared to the others in the composition. The mask of Mahabamba or Mahabrahma covers the entire body of the wearer.
  • Medium-sized masks: There are usually masks of demons. These cover the full face; the ornate ears and lower jaw are detachable. The masks of garayaka, rakshas, nagas, and gurula birds are of this size. Medium-sized masks with a group of faces on it are also made.
  • Small Masks: These masks are hardly sufficient to cover the face fully; they are, however, adequate to create the impersonation desired by the dancer. The sanni masks and the kolam masks of the characters of less importance feature in this category. However, one of the composite masks, the mask with the 18 sanni demons, though small, is strikingly colourful and vibrant and has a gamut of expressions and features.

The making and wearing of masks in Sri Lanka is suffused with ritualism. An auspicious moment of an auspicious day is selected to begin the work of making a mask. Before the work of mask making begins, vows are made to the gods. After bathing and wearing clean clothes the mask-maker goes to the devale or temple to offer flowers and make vows.

Certain rituals are strictly observed during the process; also, there are some restrictions and taboos surrounding the mask makers. As the form of the mask begins to assume an identity, it is believed to acquire some power; if all the rituals are strictly observed then the mask is said to have supernatural powers. The conception and rendering involve belief in a spirit.

Mask-makers are restricted, aesthetically, in the rendering, as masks meant for different purposes have pre-decided designs. These designs are adhered to fairly strictly by mask-carvers to avoid the wrath of the spirit power of the mask. Creative interpretations are thus limited to predetermined frameworks.

Even those who wear the masks have to follow certain conventions and procedures in putting on and removing the masks; this is especially so regarding the masks worn by the devil-dancers to exorcise illnesses and bad spirits.


A variety of light woods were selected from the areas in which the mask makers resided to make the masks. The kinds of woods selected included vel kaduru or goda kaduru (Striychnox Nux Vomica), samadara, danga, ruk attana (Alistonia Scholaris), erabadu (Erythinia Indica) sandalwood (handun), margosa (kohomba), neem wood, iron wood (na), jak (kos) and a variety of acacias like killa. Vel kaduru is available easily and is a common fence tree grown on river banks or on the edges of paddy fields; it is softer and easier to carve than goda kaduru, which is grown on land as part of the forests or small thickets. Vel kaduru is perhaps the most widely used in mask-making; it is not only light but also durable. In remote villages sheaths of areca branches and cardboard are used sometimes, but not paper and husks.

A range of materials are used for the additional details. The teeth are made from pieces of shell and the eyes are made from glass. Often, the eye openings are left bare to allow the wearer’s eyes to be seen: this gives an appearance of real life to the mask. Monkey skins are used for the eyebrows. The moustache, beard and the hairs are made from the fibres of the niyanda plant or gonigas (Sansiviera Zeylanica) or hana (Cassia Junica) plant. Sometimes horse-hair is used for the moustache or beard. Pieces of leather, dyed red, are used for the tongue. Dry gourds or vetakolu or casava (manioc) tubers and coconut shells are used to depict body parts when needed. The leaves of the niyanda are plucked when green and cut and soaked under water to stagnate. After a few days the leaves are taken out of the stagnant pool, washed and beaten like soaked coconut husks. The fibres are then allowed to dry in the sun. The fibres are first knitted and dyed before being used on a mask.

Colours hold immense significance, and there are prescribed colour-schemes for masks. The older masks are found in the colours of red, yellow, black, white, and sometimes a dark green obtained by mixing yellow and black. Blue was used very rarely. They appear dull and earthy as lacquer or varnish was not used; initially earth and vegetable colours were used. The later masks sport more glossy colours, often imported ones.

In earlier times, locally obtained earth was used as were vegetable dyes. (The same pigments were used by the Sinhalese for wall paintings in temples and rock caves.) White was obtained from kaolin or makulu; red from cinnabar (gurugal i.e., sadilingam); yellow from orpiment or hiriyal; black from soot obtained by burning cotton cloth or charcoal; green from the leaves of kikirindiya or kirindiya (Ecliptex Erecta), ranavara (Cassia Auriculata), and mi creeper (Vigna Luteela) or by mixing blue with yellow; and blue from the ripe fruit of the bovitiya (Obsakia Aspara).

Pertold, who studied the colours used in the masks of Sri Lanka in 1929 has given the list of colours used according to the practices prevalent at the time of his study.

    According to Pertold:

  • White: was used for faces of nobles, gods, goddesses, celestial beings, and naga women; and for teeth, fangs, eyeballs, and the plumage of birds.
  • Yellow (light): was used for supernatural beings, foreign kings, and vaisyas.
  • Yellow (bright): was used for the golden faces of gods and the faces of disease demons.
  • Yellow (muddy): was used for the demons of disease, short breath, and cough.
  • Red: was used for demons, bloodthirsty men, devils, warriors, and hunters.
  • Pink: was used for kings, high-castes, supernatural beings, semi- demons (dedi-munda) and Europeans.
  • Black: was used for wild men, evil devils, Yama, low castes, and Moors.
  • Blue: was used for old, foreign, ‘non-Aryan’ aboriginals, tribesmen, and their deities, foreign demons, the devil, and Vishnu.

(See Wolfgang Mey, Martin Prosler, & Anna Wischkowski, The Ambalangoda Mask Museum, which sources O. Pertold’s ‘The Ceremonial Dances of the Sinhalese’, Oriental Archives, 1925, p.207)

Nowadays, the masks are painted in brilliant colours made from imported material. Varnish or valicci is made from the resin of hal trees (Vateria Umnata); known as hal dummala, this is a combination of the resinous oil extracted from the dorana tree (Diptero Carpus Gladulosus) and bees wax. The ingredients are boiled to the required strength and then applied with a brush. The same preparation is applied in lacquer-work, painted boards, and painted cloth. This varnish acts as a protection against the weather and insects. It gives a fresh tone and a lively finish to the entire surface of the mask.

The traditional method of mask-making is long and elaborate, involving several steps. The wood is first sawn into blocks and then cut into smaller sizes (gana kepeema). The bottom of this log is then cut to a flat surface so that it can be kept firmly in place when the carving is done. The outer surface of the wood is trimmed to the required thickness. Then appropriate blocks are selected according to the size of the desired masks (padam sahima or bara gahima).

At this stage the mask-carver conceives the exact proportions of the mask to be made as described in the treatise Ambun Kavi which gives the details on the delineations of the features of the mask. The Ambun Kavi, preserved in a manuscript-form by the master-carvers, has the traditional formulae for the carving of various types of masks. Variations do occur in the iconographic details, perhaps due to differences in the interpretation of formulae or due to the stylistic variations of master-carvers in different regions. However, the essentials in the delineation of the features of particular masks cannot change much. (These sacred traditions hold good for the carvers of traditional masks and not for some of the present day mask-makers who cater to the tourist market and experiment with details.)

The block of wood is then hollowed out. This is done very carefully to prevent the wood from cracking. The hollowing, especially in the bigger masks, limits the weight of the mask. This is necessary as the mask(s) have to be worn for long periods during ceremonial dancing. This crude outline is smoked for several weeks to dry up the moisture contained in the wood. After this, the main features are demarcated on the face before the mask is put back for further smoking. After the mask has been smoked adequately, it is dried in the open so that the wood absorbs air and sunlight.

The masks are then minutely chiselled according to the design (bara-maram-geheema). The features are delineated with a smaller chisel or knife. The carving is simple. The oldest masks do not represent the whole face but only the very essential features of the character (lakunu kepeema). Certain parts – like the ears, protruding tongue, jaws, tusks, snake-hoods and the beaks of birds – are added later on. These are carved out separately and fitted to the main mask by means of tenons and sockets. Openings are made for the eyes and slots for the ears. Holes bored on each side of the mask help to tie the mask.

The next stage involves smoothening the surface of the mask. This is done using a local abrasive leaf – korossa, motadeliya, or kotakimbulla. In contemporary times sand-paper is used for this purpose. Once the surface of the mask is smooth, it is ready for painting. The surface is then first given a coating of white kaolin or makulu; this is called alliyadu. A second coat is put after the first has dried. The other colours are painted on only when the second coat is completely dry. All the pigments are given time to dry. The process of drying is critical for the paint to settle as well as for better preservation of the masks. After the paint has dried, a coat of varnish made with dorana oil is rubbed with fingers over the entire face; this is known as valici. The final details involve the fixing of hair, beard, fangs, teeth, and ears.

The tools and equipment that are used for mask-making include a hand-saw to cut the log to pieces of the required size. Chisels are required for outlining and smaller chisels and sharp knives are used for delineating the features. Sand-paper is required for smoothening and paints are required to colour the masks.

The crafts of making Bali images (see ‘Earthenware Craft of Sri Lanka’), temple painting and carving of masks are closely related, in that the stages of making, painting, and glossing are similar to one another. In the making of masks, the Sinhalese artisan has expressed with immense skill the moods and emotions of his characters. The sculptured designs range from free and complicated interpretations that are often almost fantastic to the most rigid, austere, and geometrical delineations. A good carver is an artist who has a wide knowledge of the potentialities of his material and the medium, subtle use of colour and a capacity for a good portrayal of form.

The art of carving masks has always been restricted to a special group of craftsmen; the craftsmen who have been traditionally involved in mask-carving are fine artists, who have acquired their skill under the guidance of master craftsmen. Traditionally, it was laymen and monks who made masks. The centres of mask-making were Bentota and Ambalangoda, both on the south-western coast of the country close to Colombo the capital of the country. The monks are, however, no longer involved with the craft; mask-carving is being carried out by a few families in the western and the southern provinces.

Mask-carving is widely prevalent in the following areas:

  • Anuradapura district: Anuradhapura town, (about 270 kilometres from Colombo).
  • Colombo district: The villages of Maharagama, Homagama, Kaduwala, Ranala, and Piliyandala.
  • Galle district (in the southern part of the country, about 150 kilometres from Colombo): The villages of Ambalangoda, Robolgoda, Talpitiya, Suddegoda, Unawatuna, and Baddegama. Galle is a very important centre for the carving of traditional masks; mask carving is a rich age-old tradition that has been carried on for centuries. Some of the grandest, traditional masks are found here.
  • Gampaha district (near Colombo district): The villages of Welgama, Kotugoda, Opatha, Weke, Weliya, Ranwela, Kirindiwela, Minuwangoda, Horampella, Totugoda, Rukgahawila, and Nittambuwa.
  • Hamabantota district (southern-most tip of the country): The village of Pahala Beligalla. Like Galle, Hambantota is a traditional mask-carving centre; this craft has been practised over there for centuries.
  • Kalutara district (south-western coast): The villages of Gonapola, Olaboduwa, Batuwita, Kothlawala, Haltota, Nagoda, Balabotuwa, Ratiyala, Welipenna, Raigama, and Hirana.
  • Matara district (in the south of the country, about 310 kilometres from Colombo): The villages of Dondra, Kolavenigama, Denagama, Henegama, Walpita, Mirissa, Yayawatta, Kiralawella, Gandara, Batadura, Angunbadulla, Bopagoda, Malimbada, Polwatta, Wewurunkannala, and Wavita. This is a centre where the craft has been practised for centuries, perhaps owing to its proximity to two other traditional centres of mask-making, Galle and Hambantota.
  • Trincomalee district (north-eastern coast, about 265 kilometres from Colombo): In Trincomalee town.

The craft of mask-making continues in contemporary Sri Lanka; the chief reason for this is not its use in rituals, ceremonies, and festive occasions but its rising demand as a marketable handicraft product. Ritualistic mask-dancing has decreased in contemporary times but versions of the same are very popular with tourists, especially due to their unusual appearance. They also have a special appeal for art connoisseurs and foreign buyers.

The new generation of mask-makers make masks in all variations of format, design, colour, and iconography. A lot of their work deviates from tradition, chiefly to cater to the market. This has, however, given the artisans an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and artistic flair, denied to the craftsmen of old who had to restrict themselves in terms of design, colour, and other parameters, especially for the masks used for devil dancing, to escape the wrath of the spirit.

A contemporary innovation is to make masks that are exquisitely beautiful and uncoloured (retaining the wood colour) with innovative designs. Masks of this kind command very high prices.

In Sri Lanka

  1. Ola Mss. Collection, Colombo Museum
  2. Ambalangoda Museum, Sri Lanka

Overseas Museums with Sinhalese mask collections (approx. number 1,500)

  1. Hugh Nevill collection at the British Library, London.
  2. Statliche Museum, anthropological section, Berlin
  3. Museum Fur Volkerkunde, Basel, Switzerland
  4. British Museum, London
  5. Ethnografiska Museet, Stockholm
  6. Stadt Koln Museum, Germany
  7. Hamburgishe Museum, Germany
  8. Vorgesischte, Germany
  9. Musee Guimet, Paris
  10. Museum D’ Historie, Berne
  11. Basel Museum, Switzerland
  12. Museum de L, Homme, Paris
  13. Prague Museum, Czeckoslovakia
  14. Danish National Museum, Copenhagen
  15. Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
  16. Rijksmuseum, Netherlands
  17. Medicine Historische Museum, Sweden

Masks are also found at Museums in Sydney; Brussels; Antwerp; Berlin; Bremen; Koln; Hamburg; Leipzig; Rotterdam; Munich; Glasgow; Liverpool; Sheffield; Budapest; Chennai; Stockholm; Berne; Geneva; Vienna; Washington

Private Collectors (some have subsequently donated pieces to prominent museums)

  1. Freudenburg 1880
  2. Riebeck 1883
  3. Sarasins 1886
  4. Chrysty 1886-88
  5. Hugh Nevill 1893-98
  6. Burton 1893
  7. Loventhal 1898
  8. Umlauf 1900
  9. Hildburg 1908
  10. Dr. Peralte 1908
  11. O. Pertold 1926
  12. W. Hagenbeck 1927
  13. P. Wirz 1937
  14. Madame Thioller 1937

1. HUNIYAM YAKSHAYA (yaksha or devil)
Also known as ‘Ceylon devil dancer’s mask’, often known, in contemporary parlance, as the kola sanniya. This mask belongs to the Hugh Nevill collection of 1898.

Dimensions: Height: 12.0” / Width: 6.00” (face) / Width: 9.5” (ear to ear)/ Depth:5.0”

Description: This is a fairly heavy and large mask, beautifully carved, with a great deal of detailing done in a single block of wood. Five snake hoods, all at the same level, are portrayed, with two facing sideways in and three facing front. The ears are depicted as a demon-face, carved on both sides. The face is carved in front and few inches behind are the ears and the snakes. From the mouth of this head issues the snake facing sideways, a fairly unusual conception. The eyebrows are shown as decorated, using a leaf decoration that is well depicted to indicate eyebrows. The protruding large eyes have light below them and the short chubby flat nose with open nostrils is in two tiers. There is a decorative border on the nose and at the bridge of nose. The lips are very broad and the slightly open mouth has a set of five evenly placed teeth on each jaw. No tusks are carved. The shape of the face is broad and cylindrical. There are seven openings on the face: two below the eyes, two in the form of nostrils, two in the ears, and one below the mouth.

The face is painted black or dark green. The nose is also dark green and the eyes are protruding, with black eye balls. The two demon faces on the sides have a reddish colour, the lips are red, and the teeth are white. The eyebrow decoration is painted black, red, and yellow (in the temple style). Similarly, the three snake hoods in front are black, red, and yellow, while the two on the sides are red and yellow. The area under the chin is painted black.

2. DALA RAKSHA (name given to a rakshas /evil personage or demon)
This mask – belonging to the Hugh Nevill Collection of 1897 – was named dala raksha by the original collector.

Height : 16.0” / Width: 10.75” (upper portion)/ Width: 9.5” (lower portion):/ Depth: 4.0”

This is a most unusual mask in shape, features, and configuration: the particular arrangement of the various parts of the face is not seen in other masks. No head, chin, or ears are portrayed. Black buttons are fixed as eye balls. This mask is the only one of its kind.

Neither the forehead nor eyebrows are shown. Small vertical grooves mark the head area. The eyes are very large and carved in the shape of a woman’s breasts, resembling them in shape and contour, with nipple-like eyeballs. The nose is smooth and prominent. The teeth though small and regular are beautifully carved; at the corner of the open mouth are two holes intended for fixing tusks. Lips are marked and the moustache depicted as two circular markings; the tongue is jutting out. There is no chin; instead the lower end is a flat base. There are no openings for vision or for tying the mask.

The hair on the head is depicted, with red being used to mark the grooves that represent the head area. The outer area of the eye is coloured chocolate. Then a black ring separates the next area painted verdure. Black eyeballs are well marked. Triangular shaped patches of black indicate the hair of the moustache. The lips are coloured red, the teeth are white, and the lower gum is black.

3. NAGARASSAYA (mask based on a naga or snake)
Also known as ratnakuta, the most identifiable feature of this mask are the three painted cobra hoods that it is famous for. This mask is on exhibition at Museum of Mankind No. 6, Burlington Gardens, London. The British Museum acquired it from Christy in 1888. This is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved masks found in Europe.

Height : 26.0” / Width: 29.5” (ear to ear)/Width of upper snake hood: 15.5”/ Diameter of ear circle: 9.5”/ Width (snake hood to snake hood on either side): 32.0”

The mask has seven snake hoods: one rising at the centre; two rising above the ear circles; two twisted above the forehead; and two issuing from the nostrils. Its facial characteristics are quite terrifying and demonic in appearance. The nose is flat and the eyebrows are prominently raised. The round large eyes are telescopic. A snake is coiled around each. The cheeks, moustache, and beard are black, with the beard depicted through thick flecks of black paints. The large mouth is open, the lips are thick, and the teeth pointed. The teeth, interestingly, are spaced and gaps are left between them. The tongue is depicted jutting out of the gums. Two pointed tusks protrude down from the upper jaws. The ear ornaments are circular, and painted like lotuses in black and red.

The mask is beautiful and glossy, with the prominent colours being red, black, yellow, and white. Yellow and black lines are employed to portray the leaf designs along the eyebrows. The thick lips are red, as are the gums, and the tongues jutting out from them. The teeth are white, and the circular ear ornaments are painted in black and red.

4. MARUVA OR MARAKA (Demon of death)
This is a mask carved in well-preserved wood, with dull colours, and little gloss.

Height: 23” /Width: 11” /Depth: 6”

Description & Colours:
This mask is carved out of light wood – sooriya or ruk attana – and has demon characteristics. Above the forehead is a hood-like piece decorated with lozenge patterns, while over the eyebrows are clusters of leaf patterns in yellow and black. The detailing inside the lozenge include dull black lines, red blobs, and sloping figures. The eyelids are surrounded by lines, and the eyes are white and large, with protruding black eyeballs. There are two openings below the eyes. The nose is flat and spread out with large nostrils. The effect is of a terrifying stare.

The small flat face as a whole is marked by prognathous jaws resembling that of a hog. The mouth is broad and gaping, with 26 even teeth set on each jaw. The lips are thick and blood red in colour, bordered by brown or light chocolate lines, as well as black and white ones. The mask has two large rectangular slits as well as two holes on each side for fastening it to the wearer’s head. A third opening is at the top, intended to hang the mask from a peg on the wall.

The wood of the mask is well-preserved and the carving is of excellent quality. The colours used are dull and mineral in nature. These colours have been used very cleverly without any gloss showing. This mask is of the demon of death called maruva or maraka which has also been noted by Pertold in his study of Sinhalese masks of 1929 – ‘The Ceremonial Dances of the Sinhalese’.

5. BALAGIRI YAKA (Mask used to cure diseases in children caused by the demon Balagiri Yaka)
This is a rare mask in which a demon’s face is superimposed on a larger demon mask below. Both are cut out of one block of wood.

Height: 11.00” / Width: 5.5” (face only)

The main face is that of a demon with curved tusks. The mouth is open, showing a regular set of teeth on each jaw. The ornamented lotus shaped ears are detachable, with the lotus being quite crudely carved. The mask has a beard and moustache, as well as eyebrows decorated with leaf design.

The smaller face resembles the large face under it, but has an expression of wonder. It has a beard and teeth on the upper jaw. Two straight short tusks issue from the corner of the mouth and there are two snake hoods on each side of the small face.

The face in the small mask is painted green. The ear lotus is a combination of white, red, and black, painted crudely. The larger face is salmon pink in colour, with a black moustache and beard. The eyes are white and the eyeballs black.

6. GARA YAKA (Devil dancer’s mask)
This mask has the terrifying appearance of a demon, well expressed and enhanced by the detailing of the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Height: 9.0” / Width: 6.0” / Depth: 4.0”

The small and light mask is carved out of a single one piece of light wood. Three cobra hoods rise from the middle of the forehead; the two side ones rest above the eyebrows. (A leaf pattern arrangement serves as eyebrows.) The hoods are painted with criss-cross patterns and bands. The central hood is marked with two ‘S’ signs, and the telescopic eyes create a terrifying stare. The lotus shaped ornamental ears can be detached. The mask has a round broad nose with two broad nostrils. The mouth has an evenly arranged row of 12 teeth, six on each jaw, set in a grinning expression. A sort of dotted pattern runs all along the border of the broad lips. Two tusks seem to have been fixed, but have only cavities to prove this. The lower jaw is not detachable. The chin is broad. Eight openings are visible on the face (two for ears, two below eyes, two at nostrils, and two for tusks).

The painting is well done and well preserved. The snake hoods are painted in blue, black, white, red, and yellow. The nose is painted with horizontal bands of yellow, blue, and red, and the lips are red. The base for the face is black.

There is a mask known as Maha Kola Sanni Yaka mask which incorporates all 18 sannis into one and is a life-sized mask.

7. DAHA ATA SANNI YAKA (Sanni masks are worn during the disease-removing devil dancing rituals only)
This large mask, with skilfully executed decorations and beautiful painting, is in an excellent state of preservation. In this figure, a demon stands on the head of another demon at its base.

Height: 44.0” / Width on top: 28.0” / Width at bottom: 26.0” / Width of central panel: 12.0” / Width of each side panel: 8.0” / Height of each side panels: 37.0”

The upper demon has a ferocious face with long pointed teeth. The upper set of teeth is cracked into two. The black-painted face has no eyeballs. The nose is small and black. The lower demon has a roughly carved face; however, the teeth are clearly carved. The face is dark pink, with a large, pink nose.

The composition contains 18 such hoods: five on the crown of the upper head, two at the shoulders, two over the side panels, five small snake hoods over the heads of the tiny sanni figures on right panel, and four small snake hoods on left panel over the heads of tiny sanni figures. Several of the 18 small sannis on the two side panels can be identified. A snake stretches vertically along the outer side of each panel, showing its hood over the shoulders.

The body of the central figure is squat and ugly. The upper body is bare, and painted black. A short cloth, with acanthus leaves and grey and white roses, is worn from waist down to the knees. The borders of the cloth are yellow. The floral decoration on the red cloth is in yellow and grey, arranged symmetrically. The ear decoration is the fairly typical painted lotus roundel, as is the right bottom. The central demon does not hold any human corpses.

This is a medium sized mask carved of light wood, which is worn during sanni devil dancing. This mask is used for small-pox removal and is used during sanni devil dancing.

Height : 14.0” / Width: 6.0” / Width (ear to ear): 9.0” / Depth: 3.5”

The features in the mask are clearly detailed. The eyes are large, and the nose is broad, large, and cut-out. The face has thin lips and a closed mouth: no teeth are visible. The chin gives an oval effect to the face.
A sort of tiara covers the full head; the ends of the tiara drop down the cheeks. The band over the head is decorated with leaf patterns, and the lower end has criss-cross designs with leaf edgings. The ears are cut-out and the carved eyes, with two slits below them, create a slight stare. The cone shaped head is tall, fluted, and beautifully carved. Two spaces on each side are left without decoration; the remaining six spaces on the head-dress are decorated.

The base is red. The eyes are white with black eyebrows, and black pupils. Black lines are painted below the eyes. The ears are painted red or black. The six fluted spaces on the head-dress are painted with black curves and yellow blobs. All borders are black. The style of decoration, designs and painting are those employed in temple paintings.

The bheeta sanniya is a mask representing fear. A demonic expression of the eyes, mouth and tongue conveys the feeling fairly accurately.

Height: 6.0” / Width: 4.75” / Depth: 2.75”

The small mask is carved out of hard black wood and well preserved. Over the head is a slim covering fixed with nails. Along each eyebrow is a row of 10 borings, into which pieces of wood have been driven. The forehead area is narrow and the mouth bulges laterally. Small protruding almond shaped eyes effect a staring look. The large nose is well shaped, with distinct nostrils, and the cheek bones jut out. The mouth is open, exposing two sets of evenly spaced teeth along the two jaws; two tusks had been fixed into rectangular slits on the corner of the upper jaw. The lips are broad and the tongue juts out. The narrow slits below the eyes and the two at the nostrils, along with the three holes at the back are for tying.

The colour of the wood is black and that of the skin covering cream. However, most of the colour has faded. The eyes are white with black eyeballs, and the lips and tongue are red.

Height: 7.5” / Width: 5.0” / Depth: 2.0”. This is a mask used for a delirious fever.

This is a vividly expressive small and light mask. In this, the small ears are cut out in the style common for sannis. Almond shaped eyes convey a staring expression, while two large slits below the eyes are meant for looking through. The short, small nose has wide nostrils. The special feature of this mask is the detailing of the mouth. Seven long teeth stretch from jaw to jaw covering the entire open mouth. The thin lips form an oval, and the chin is flat and not shaped. The face resembles that of an ape. Two openings on the side and another on top are for tying.

A white line separates the dark blue forehead. The face is deep blue. The eyebrows are painted white, red and white lines mark the borders of the ears, and the eyes are white with black pupils. There are red bands on the eyes, and red and white lines are marked on the face and below the slits. Nostrils are marked with paint. The teeth are painted white and the gums black. Black lines also separate the row of teeth. The lips are red, and no moustache or beard is painted.

Height: 7.0” / Width: 5.5” / Depth: 3.0”. This is a mask used for stammering.

This is a small mask with a peculiar expression on the face. The left eye is different from the right one, which protrudes abnormally. The mouth is in two halves with only one tusk. The head is flat. The ears are small, flat, and unshapely. The nose is continuous with the right eyebrow. The lips are broad, and have teeth (white) only along the upper jaw. The mouth is closed and slanting. Three are two slits below the eyes and three openings, one on each side and one on the top.

The head is black, and the face and forehead are painted red. The eyes are white, with black eyeballs and black eyebrows. There is a black strip below the slits. Red and black stripes mark the ears. The nose is red, the border of the upper lip is black, and the lips are red. The teeth and the single tusk are white.

Height: 8.0” / Width: 5.5” /Depth: 2.5”.

This is a small mask typical of the sanni group. The face conveys the expression of a blind person. This is a mask used for the cure of blindness.

The hair on the head is black. The forehead and face are painted dark green. The eyebrows are black. Eyes and lips are red. Few black hairs indicate the moustache. Teeth are clear white.

This is a devil dancer’s mask.

Height: 6.5” / Width: 4.75”/ Depth: 2.00”.

This is a very small mask, light in weight with a very uncommon shape. It is carved out of hard wood. Part of the left chin is chipped. The forehead is shaped like the heart. The face is warped on its right side so it looks crooked and irregular. The right side is smaller than the left. The mouth is twisted to the right and the nose is bent on to its right. Strips of skin are nailed on the forehead, left cheek, chin, and right cheek. A feature of the later sanni masks of the smaller variety is the presence of pieces of skin pasted and nailed to the forehead and face. The nails used are made of tintax. The mouth is open, but the teeth are not clearly visible as these are covered with a patina of smoke. The broad thick lips, however, are visible. A series of small openings are found all along a line below the lip; these are for fixing a beard of hemp; the moustache is shown by fibre tied to the upper lip. There are two slits below the eyes and three other openings for tying the mask.

The mask lacks the terrifying appearance of a demon but has a devilish look of a mild nature. The facial features depict the look of a paralysed person.

This mask is used in a dance-ritual after the cure of dumbness. The word ‘golu’ stands for ‘dumb’. This is a mask belonging to the Hugh Nevill Collection of 1898.

The mask is light but is unusually large for a sanni mask. The shape is peculiar with the mouth having shape and form. The hair on the mask is parted in the middle and falls over the cheeks on both the sides. The ears are small in size and the eyes are also small but bright, marked with prominent eyebrows. There are two slits below the eyes. A beard is also found on the mask. The nose is depressed, narrow and long but not very prominent in appearance. The mouth is wide open and has a set of evenly placed teeth set on the jaws. The outer line of the lips is very clearly defined.

The hair is well-portrayed with red, yellow and green paints. The eyebrows are black. The eyes are white with black eyeballs. There are a few wavy lines found at the bridge of the nose and red lines run along the ears. The entire face is green. The hair of the moustache is black and the teeth are white with red lips.

15. BEERI SANNIYA (Devil dancer’s mask)

Height: 7.75” / Width: 5.25” / Depth: 3.00”

This is a small, light, and well-carved mask. This sanni mask is very broad in structure. A special feature of this mask is the carving of a hooded snake issuing from the right nostril up to the head. This mask does not have a left ear and left eye. The right eye is carved out while the right ear is painted on. There is one slit below the right eye and no slit found on the left side. The flat nose is linear in two places and well-defined. The mouth is closed showing upper and lower sets of teeth. The chin is not marked.

The head is painted black to show the hair. The forehead and the face are coloured red. The broad lips are painted red; the gums are black. The teeth are painted in regular shape. The eye is white with black pupils. There are a few lines marked on the eye. The moustache and beard are marked in paint.

The snake is painted yellow with red and black spots. The mouth is shown on the figure and the figure is well-painted and has the shape of an S. There are spots on the hood and the belly of the snake has red and black semi-circles. This mask is sometimes called kana sanniya or blind devil due to the absence of the eye. The traditional carvers believed that the symbol of snake always represented deafness as the snake has no ears to hear with. This, along with the missing ear, has given the mask the name of beeri sanniya or deaf demon.

This is a devil dancer’s mask used for the cure of rheumatism.

Height: 9.0” / Width: 5.0” / Depth: 3.5”.

This is a small and light mask, peculiar in form and shape. The head and forehead are small and narrow, and the almond-shaped eyes are carved boldly. The carved ears are small and the nose is long and broad and big. The cheek bones are prominent. The mouth is portrayed in a fairly atypical way. There are two slits below the eyes and two openings on either side of the mouth. Five long walrus like teeth protrude from upper jaws. There is no chin.

A white band separates the head from the forehead; another white band serves as eyebrows. The eyelids are red, bordered with white. The borders of the eyelids are marked in thick blue. The eye is white with a black pupil. Red bands are marked on the white area of the eyes. Two white lines delineate the border of the ear and ear hole. There are a number of red and white bands below the eyes and nostrils, and on the lips. Red and black lines separate the lips. The long narrow teeth are white; the gums are black.

A terrifying mask, its telescopic eyes emphasises the staring gaze. This mask is a devil dancer’s mask used for the cure of a hot fever known as ginijala sanniya.

Height: 8.75” / Width: 5.75” / Depth: 3.00”

This is a small mask with a well-shaped head. The forehead is shown. The eyes are large and almond shaped. Tiny ears are carved; however, they are not proportionate. The nose is large and has open nostrils. A moustache is painted on the face. The lips are thick and broad. Large teeth, six along each jaw, are delineated in the closed but wide mouth. Two tusks issue from the corner of the upper jaw. There are two slits below the eyes and three small openings for tying.

The head is painted black. The face is yellow but faded in areas. Yellow and red lines mark the ears. The eyes are white with black eyeballs, and the eyebrows are black. The nostrils are red and the lips are deep red. Black hair covers the upper lip by way of moustache. The teeth and the tusks are white.

18. NAGA SANNIYA (Mask with the appearance of a snake)
Height: 10.0” (Chin to tip of snake hood)/ Width: 5.0” / Depth: 2.5”

This has one snake hood over the head, telescopic eyes, a wide mouth, and tusks. Between the hood and the ears is a series of lines. The eyeballs are large, while the ears are small. The nose is large and chubby and the cheek bones are prominent. The mouth, which stretches the full breadth of the face shows thick broad lips. There are seven large teeth along each jaw and two long pointed tusks on upper jaw. There are two slits below the eyes and three holes for tying.

The prominent colours are red and black, used mainly in the line decoration. The snake is painted red and white with black mouth. The face is black, as is the nose. The eyes are white with black eyeballs. The lips are red and the teeth and tusks are white.

Height: 9.5” / Width: 7.75” (ear to ear)/ Depth: 4.5”. This is a devil dancer’s mask from the collection of Hugh Nevill 1893.

This is a medium-sized, well-carved, light mask with rugged features. The forehead is flat, and has five grooves carved on it. The nose is broad and large. The eyes are carved, with semi-circular slits below them. The carved ears are long and narrow. The thick lips are prominent, the mouth is closed, and no teeth are visible. There are two holes for tying the mask.

The grooves on the forehead are painted red, and red lines run along the ears. The eyelids have a red line on the border. The eyes are white and marked with a red circle around the black pupil. The entire face, including the forehead, chin, and cheeks are painted a shining green. The lips are red. No moustache or beard is painted.

This is a devil dancer’s mask used for the cure of delirious fever.

Height: 8.5”/ Width: 6.5” / Depth: 4.0”.

A small and light mask, this oval-shaped mask is carved in a style quite distinct from the rest in the series. The hair is shown by cutting rectangular blocks. The eyes are large and the nose is long and big. No ears are carved. The characteristic feature is the chin. Two openings on either corner of the upper jaw may have been intended for tusks. No lower jaw is visible and no teeth are present. There are two slits below the eyes.

The face and the forehead are painted brown, and the hair black. Eyebrows are shown by white lines; the borders of the eyelids are red. The white area of the eye is marked with black bands. The eyeball is black, and there is a white and black band below each eye. The lip is red and has a white band around it. The gums as well as the spaces between the white teeth are black.

This mask, though named for the cure of fever called ginijala sanniya, is actually for the cure of deafness.

Height: 13.0” / Width: 17.0” (ear to ear) / Depth: 5.5”.

This is a fairly large and heavy mask. The carving is poor and the painting is careless. The demonic face, with a wide nose and tusks, has a ferocious look. The saw-edged head-dress resembles that of the demon of death (maruva).

The crown is in three tiers: the first and second tiers resemble a leaf pattern, while the third is triangular. The trunk is open with the tongue pointing within the space. Two tusks issue from the upper corner of the mouth and curve upwards. The eyebrows are decorated as are the lobe-shaped detachable ears. The face sports a beard and a moustache. Two slits are cut below the eyes. There are no openings to help tie the mask on the face.

The paint, clayish in colour, appears to be carelessly applied. The face is yellow and the eyebrows, moustache, beard, and eyeballs are black. The mouth, lips, and tongue are red, while the teeth and the tusks are white. A combination of white and black, with red lines, can be seen on the face, nose, and cheeks.

This devil dancer’s mask is for the cure of a simple fever known as abhuta sanniya.

Height : 9.0” / Width: 5.5”/ Depth: 3.0”.

This is a medium-sized mask, somewhat more expressive than other sanni masks. The general impression is that of an old person. The large eyes are wide open, staring as if in surprise; the small ears are cut-out but not shaped as in other masks; and the mouth is small with thin lips. Seven small teeth are painted along the lower jaw and also along the upper jaw.


The face is painted red, with a few black lines marked on the face to convey an old look. Curved eyebrows are marked in paint, while the lips are red and the gums are black. The chin is delineated.

This is a mask used for the cure of boils.

Height: 6.5” / Width: 4.5”.

This is a small mask that appears to be old. The face is flat, with an opening for the mouth. No teeth are shown on the lower jaw; the long teeth are cut on the upper jaw only. The eyes are protruding, and the cheeks are prominent and jut out. There are two openings, one on either side to fix the mask with.

The face is painted black, with a black head, nose, and mouth, as well as black eyeballs. The beard is also painted black.

This is a devil dancer’s mask which is used to represent the Vedda manifeststion or Vedi Sanniya, one of the traditionally known 18 sannis or disease-causing devils or spirits.

Height: 8.75” / Width: 4.0” / Depth: 2.0”.

Small and light like most sanni masks, this has a three cornered head-wear cut out of the wood itself. A band is shown over the head. Strips of leather are nailed across the forehead and along the chin, sideburns, and beard. Bits of fibre are used for the moustache. The mouth is small, with teeth cut out of the wood, showing along the upper jaw. No ears are indicated. Lips are depicted, but are not very prominent. There are two slits below the eyes and two openings on the sides.

The head-dress is painted white and so is a band over the head; the leather bands are brown. The face is black, with the teeth painted white. White paint is also visible over the eyes and the mouth. Much of the face has become scaly due to smoke.

This mask is one of the 18 in the Sanni group and is a devil dancer’s mask.

Height: 7.0” / Width: 5.0” / Depth: 2.5”

A piece of skin is pasted and nailed on to the thin head and forehead up to the position where the ears should be (no ears are actually portrayed). Another piece of skin is pasted and nailed from ear to ear (position) covering cheeks and chin. The skin has worn off in places but the nails are still in position. No traces of beard or moustache can be found now. The mouth is wide open, showing pointed triangular shaped irregular teeth on both jaws. The two tusks are long and pointed. The tongue is cut out of wood and juts out of the mouth. Gums and lips are visible. The appearance and expression are those of a demon. The nose and eyes are cut in linear form, quite unlike the natural shape. The openings below the eyes are rectangular. The eyebrows are indicated.

The colour of the skin is brown. The face is black and brown in places. The gums and lips are red, as is the tongue, while the teeth are white.

This is a devil dancer’s mask used for the cure of fever or shivering fever. This mask is from the collection of Hugh Nevill, 1898.

Height: 9.0” / Width: 6.5” / Depth: 4.0”.

This is a heart-shaped light mask. There is no resemblance of a demoniacal appearance in any of the features. The eyebrows are decorated. The eyes are almond shaped and not protruding. The nose is narrow and short with wide nostrils. The lips are prominently marked. Thick and long walrus-like six teeth are marked on upper jaw. The tongue is jutting out, and the cheek-bones are prominent. No beard or moustache is shown. There are two openings below the eyes; there are no other openings for tying up the mask.

The colouring has been done carefully, with a brush. The hair on the head is shown by pointed leaf shapes that are yellow in colour. The eyebrows are decorated in red and yellow. The border of eyelids is red, and the eyes are white with black pupils. The nostrils are red, as are the lips and the mouth. The colour of the face is dark green.

Height: 6.00” / Width: 4.00” / Depth: 1.50”

This is a very small and light mask, with two snake hoods over the head, one of which is now broken. The hoods are arranged in a coil over the head. The eyebrows are marked. The staring eyes are round, set in deep sockets; the eyeballs are protruding. There are two openings below the eyes. The nose is short and bony. The moustache and beard are made of hemp, tied to upper and lower lips. The mouth is wide open, showing two sets of pointed teeth. The lips are broad, and no chin is shown. The general appearance is that of a wild man with a stare in the eyes.

The face and the forehead are black, as are the snakes and their hoods. The eyes are white, and the eyeballs are black. The colour of the hemp used for the beard and moustache is brown. The teeth are white and the lips are red.


28. KING
This is not a demon mask and is never used in devil dancing. It is used in Kolam (folk theatre) to act the part of the King in the story.

Height : 19.0” / Width: 8.0” (inside) / Depth: 11.0”

Description & Colours:
This mask is well carved and beautifully painted: the colours used are somewhat dull. The face is somewhat green; the hair, moustache, and long whiskers are black. There is very little hair by way of beard.

The crown (8” in height) is beautifully decorated with acanthus leaf in green, blue, yellow, and red. The forehead band has lines of red and yellow. A red line marks the eyes. The ears are clearly portrayed. The mouth is closed, the and the lips are thin and red. The mask has a dignified majestic look, portraying royalty. Two slits are cut below the eyes. All around the face is a stylised leaf decoration.

On either side is the face of a lion’s head, with an open mouth. The teeth are clearly shown. The ears are visible, as is a red tongue. There are green spots on the head.

29. RAJA
This is another ‘royal’ mask that can depict a king or queen.

Height: 11” (Face only) / Width: 9” (Ear to ear) / Total height: 24” /Depth of face: 3.5”

Description & Colours:
The decoration of this mask is not particularly beautiful. The halo is not particularly high; the dagaba-like crown is better. It is painted with blue, white, and red lines. The face is painted pale yellow, and has red lines on it. The eyebrows are black and the eyelids are red, with black lines. The eyes are black. The nose is narrow but not prominent. The ears are long with a distended lobe having an opening. Ear ornaments are on the extra flap behind the real ears. The face is flatter and broader, and presents a more masculine appearance. The cheeks are broader.

30. BISAVA (Queen)
Height : 29.5” / Width: 13.25” ear to ear / Width: 12”

The mask is carved in one piece of light wood sooriya or rukattana. The face alone is 12” in height and 12” from ear to ear. The expression is solemn, dignified, and regal. The wooden frame behind the ears is continued in one piece to include head-dress and halo. The outer face of the ear is ornamented; the ear lobe has a large opening for big ear scrolls. The dagaba shaped head-dress is tall and beautiful and it is carved in firm sittara style. The whole halo has curvilinear panels painted in red and dull blue and ornamented in leaf, flower, line, and check patterns. The crest carved on the forehead has bands of decoration in red, white, and yellow.

The eyes are white with the eyeballs having light black and red lines. The lips are thin and red, and the beautiful nose is also painted red. The face is light mustard yellow or deep yellow in colour. It resembles a sculptured work of classical art in clay. There is no gloss or shine but the surface is well-polished though not varnished. There are two slits below the eyes and two holes for tying the mask on to the head.

31. EMATI (Minister)
Height: 24”/ Width: 12”

Description & Colours:
The crown alone is 17” in height, the face being only 7”. The crown is in 4 tiers, the uppermost is a conical shaped dagaba. Below is a five-tier area, containing leaf and flower decoration in red and yellow. Then come vertical bands, and the lowest tier has a pattern of leaves and flowers. Geometrical patterns predominate. The crown is painted both in front and at the back. The backs of the leaf decoration below the ears are also painted in yellow, red, and white. The motifs employed, the colour combinations, and the style of execution of the decorative patterns closely resemble temple paintings.

The face is small and well-carved, but the delineation is not natural; rather the appearance is stern and rough. Small ears are marked in paint. The hair is black and falls up to the ears. The rest of the face is painted in light mustard yellow with touches of rouge in places. The lips are closed, thin, and red. The nose is pointed and sharp. The eyebrows are black, the eyes white, and the eyeballs black. A band of black colour runs from the ears up to the chin.

The mask is carved in one piece of hard wood, including the crown, head, and ears. The inside is hollow and smooth. There are no holes for tying the mask to the head.

32. KUMARAYA (Prince)
This is not a devil-dancing mask; it is used instead in folk theatre for portraying characters. This specific mask represents a prince (kumaraya).

Height: 17.5” / Width: 11.00” (top to crown)/ Width: 7.5”/Depth: 3.5”

The crown is beautifully decorated with two acanthus leaves on each side of a tall crest shown by a separate piece of wood. These measure as follows:

  • Wooden piece 5.00”
  • Crown: 3.5”
  • Forehead: 3.0”
  • Bridge of nose to bottom of chin: 6.0”

This fairly large mask is cut from one piece of hard wood. The carving itself is simple. A band separates the crown resting on a head of black hair. The face is oval in shape. The almond shaped eyes are long and nicely shaped, and there are two slits below the eyes. The nose is well carved, as are the thin lips. The mouth is closed. The tip of the chin is curving inwards. No ears are carved. The general impression is one of nobility.

The crown is beautifully painted with an arrangement of lozenges, diamonds, and circles in the middle. On each side is a series of painted curved lines. The acanthus leaf is painted on each side of the top crest. The entire face is yellow with red streaks in it. Black paint is used to depict the hair on the head and the eyebrows; long, black sideburns extend almost up to chin. The lips are red.

33. BERAKARAYA (Drummer)
This is a kolam Mask representing the drummer.

Height: 10.25” / Width: 6.00”/ Depth: 4.00”

This mask is large but light in weight. The most arresting feature is the fine facial expression of the drummer in action. The head-gear of the drummer consists of a dotted piece of cloth tied round the head: known as the talappava, this is like a turban, and is carved out of one piece of wood. The short ears are also carved. Grooves mark the unevenness of the rugged structure. The nose is large and well shaped. The pointed and deep chin is uneven and the cheek-bones are prominent. The mouth is open with two long teeth jutting out of the upper jaw. The lips are well marked, and there are two openings, at the corners of the mouth. Large eyeballs are cut into sunken eye sockets. There are two slits below the eyes, over two holes on the sides for tying the mask. The carving imparts an old-looking appearance to the mask.

The face is coloured in deep red, with black lines painted on it; these black lines are also painted on the eyebrows and around the mouth. The head-gear is dotted with red; each strand of the head gear is separated by a red band and groove. A black dot indicates the ear hole.

34. LIYANA APPU (Clerk)
Height: 10.0” / Width: 8.0” / Depth: 4.5”

This is a medium sized mask, well carved, painted, and polished. The ears are long but not shapely, and the nose is chubby. The eyes are almond shaped and well carved; there are two narrow slits below the eye. Two holes are bored on the ear lobes. The lips are clearly defined and shaped. The mouth is closed, with four teeth showing along the upper jaw. A nicely painted moustache is also depicted. The chin is not pointed. The face has a slight look of surprise on it.

The painting is quite meticulous. The hair on the head is shown as black, and five black lines are painted on the forehead to indicate wrinkles. The eyebrows are black, as is the moustache. The nostrils and the lips are red, and the teeth are yellow. The entire face is yellow with cheeks roughened.

The animal heads found in various collections of masks are not usually used in devil dancing (with the exception of the bear for mahasona). Most of them are worn in kolam dancing.

This mask depicts the King of Snakes (Na gurula). This belongs to the collection of Hugh Nevill 1898 and is a devil dancer’s mask.

Height of face area: 11.5” / Width: 8.25”/ Depth: 8.00”/ Total height up to tip of snake hood: 25.0”/ Width around snake hoods: 23.5”

The two features emphasised by the carver in this large-sized mask are the snakes and the demoniacal beaked mouth of the mythical bird (gurula). Six snake hoods arranged in a row over the head form a special feature. The hood on the extreme left has broken off from the neck. Two of the snakes issue from the corners of the mouth, two from the cheeks, and two along the forehead. All of them are intertwined in a creeper-like design. A small cobra hood is placed between the eyebrows, which are decorated with a petal pattern. The large eyes are almond shaped, with two slits below them.

No ears are shown.

Two square holes on the sides serve to fix the detachable wings or ears. The nose is beautiful and well shaped. The wide, open mouth is the beak shaped with two rows of pointed teeth along the jaws. Space is left between each tooth. There are two holes on the sides for tying the mask and two small openings on the nostrils.

The colours of the mask have faded, and the appearance lacks lustre. The face has a yellowish tinge, the red probably having faded. The eyelids are red. The beard and moustache are painted with lines indicating scanty hair. The snakes are painted black; they have white dots on the body as well as white and red bands. The back of the hoods are marked with black dots and hood markings.

This mask is from the collection of Hugh Nevill 1898 and is the gurula or garuda raksha mask. This is a combination of a gurula bird and snake demon, suggesting the image of a demoniacal-mythical bird called the na gurula (na = naga or snake; gurula = mythical bird). It is a mask with the same name as the previous one but used in kolam dancing and not in devil dancing.

Height of face portion: 10.25”/ Width of face portion: 7.4”/ Depth of face portion: 9.5” / Height of snake hoods: 12.00”/ Width of snake hoods: 13.5”/ Depth of snake hoods: 7.0”/ Dimension around snake hoods: 38.0”

Description & Colours:
This is a fairly old mask, beautifully carved and painted. No ears are marked. The open mouth has teeth along both jaws. A snake issues from the side of the mouth. Five large snakes with raised hoods encircle the head. The eyebrows are large but well decorated. The telescopic eyes are those of a demon. The face portion is red in colour with red eyes. The eyebrows are black. The snakes are red, white, brown, and black in colour. The gurula bird, painted red, has faded with the rotting of the wood.

This is a kolam mask, depicting the royal gurula. The dagaba crown denotes its royal character. This is a mask belonging to the Christy collection at London.

Height: 23.0” / Width on top: 15.0”/ Width of face: 8.0”/ Height of upper piece: 13.0”/ Depth of upper piece: 6.00”

Description & Colours:
This is a very large mask carved out of a single block of light wood. The face is that of a gurula bird with a curved beak. There are no teeth in the mouth. The eyes are telescopic, and protrude a lot. The area between and above the eyes is decorated with horizontal bands of red and black. On the head is a dagaba, at the base of which is a leaf arrangement coloured black, red, and yellow. This is flanked by a leaf design in red and yellow. The decoration is stylistically similar to temple painting, both in design and colour. The predominant colours are red, yellow, and black. The eyes are black, and the face and beak are red.

Two large circular lotuses serve as ears, each 5.75” in diameter. These are fixed onto the rectangular opening of the mask, with a rectangular tongue 1.5” in length. The roundel is surmounted with a leaf design of yellow, black, and red lines. The petals are clearly shown. The height of the entire detachable piece 10.0”.

38. GONA (Bull)
This is a kolam mask representing the head of a bull and belongs to the collection of Burton 1893.

Length of head: 15”/ Vertical length of central horn: 11.5” (actual curved length is 15.0”) / Vertical height of central horn: 11.5” (actual curved length is 15.0”) / Width: 6.0”, narrowing to 3.0” / Depth: 4.0”

Description & Colours:
This is an old (and fairly heavy) mask. The eyes are carved, as are the nostrils. The central horn is painted with red and black bands. The mouth of the horn cavities is painted red. The heart shaped diagram on the forehead is red. The face is white, with red jaws and black pupils. The eyes are red with a black line bordering the eyes.

This is a kolam mask for a jackal from the collection of Hugh Nevill 1898.

Height: 10.00” / Width: 7.00” / Depth: 4.50”

The mask is well preserved, finely carved, and carefully painted. The mouth is not carved but delineated in colour. The eyes are almond shaped. The mask conveys the appearance of a timid animal. An opening is cut below the eyes and there are two holes at each end for tying.

The face is black and velvet in appearance. The mouth is red and there are red lines on the eyes. The eyelids are also red, and a streak of red is found on the ears. The separation of the upper and lower jaw of the mouth is well brought out by the use of shades of grey. Two red spots are painted on the snout showing nostrils.

40. DOG
This is a mask of a dog’s head worn by kolam dancers.

Length: 9.5” / Height: 7.0” (inside) / Width: 5.75” /Depth: 7.0”

Description & Colours:
This is an animal mask made of light but hard wood. The surface is smoothly polished. The features are well conveyed to be identified. There are two small holes on either side used for tying.

The ears are carved out of separate pieces of wood and fitted into square openings which are seen on the head. The oval shaped eyes are indicated with paint. The mouth is wide open showing a set of sharp and pointed teeth. The teeth are separated by a space. There are four canine teeth shown, two on either side of the jaws. The teeth are white and the gums are red. The colour of the face and eyes vary from light to dark brown.

This is a mask worn in kolam dancing.

Height: 6.0” (at neck) / Height: 5.5” (at mouth) / Width: 7.0” (inside) / Length: 8.5”

This is a well preserved strong mask painted in vivid colours, including red, black, and yellow. The whiskers are depicted as lines of paint arranged along the mouth and the eyes. The background is red on which yellow and black blobs are painted. The mouth is wide open with pointed teeth showing. Prominent are four hunting teeth, two along the upper jaw and two along the lower jaw. The red tongue is protruding. It is carved separately and nailed. Gums are red. The ears are erect pointing upwards.

All the masks described above are to be found at the British Museum in London; any mask indicated as being part of someone’s original private collection has been subsequently donated to the Museum.


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