Traditional Masks of Sri Lanka
Masks are created for three different types of dancing rituals ‘Raksha’, ‘Sanni’ and ‘Kolam’. The origins
of Raksha and Sanni masks run far into history.
Raksha are exotic demons, with bulging eyes and bloodthirsty, protruding tongues. Some are crowned with seven-headed serpents and others have parrot-like beaks of ‘Gurulas’ (a race of mythical birds). All have been carved and brilliantly lacquered to produce a striking effect, with something majestic about them despite their demonic nature. These Raksha masks are used in festivals and ceremonies.
The Sanni masks are more distorted and disturbing. There are 18 of them, each mask an embodiment of a particular ailment, as ‘Sanni’ is essentially an exorcism ritual. There is one for vomiting and stomach diseases, one for temporary insanity and one for nightmares.
Kolam, (Comedian) the last category, was born during the colonial period. They are satires, and hit out at that early colonial society in subtle, refined ways. When they were conceived, the masks may have appeared funny, but to us today, with their fixed stares, bulging eyes and ghastly smiles they look sinister