1. Introduction
  2. Historical Background of Traditional Masks in Sri Lanka
    • Origins of Traditional Mask Making
    • Role of Masks in Sri Lankan Culture
  3. Types of Traditional Masks
    • Devil Masks
    • Raksha Masks
    • Kolam Masks
  4. Symbolism and Meaning of Traditional Masks
    • Spiritual and Religious Significance
    • Representations of Good and Evil
  5. Traditional Mask Making Process
    • Materials Used
    • Techniques and Skills
  6. Traditional Mask Dance Performances
    • Ritualistic and Theatrical Performances
    • Folklore and Storytelling
  7. Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Masks
    • Cultural Institutions and Museums
    • Tourism and Economic Impacts
  8. Contemporary Use of Traditional Masks
    • Modern Art and Design
    • Festivals and Celebrations
  9. Conclusion
  10. FAQs

Traditional Masks of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, with its rich cultural heritage and vibrant traditions, is home to a fascinating art form known as traditional mask making. These intricately crafted masks have played a significant role in Sri Lankan culture for centuries, representing various deities, demons, and ancestral spirits. In this article, we will explore the historical background, types, symbolism, making process, performances, preservation efforts, and contemporary use of traditional masks in Sri Lanka.

Historical Background of Traditional Masks in Sri Lanka

Origins of Traditional Mask Making

The origins of traditional mask making in Sri Lanka can be traced back to ancient times. It is believed that these masks were influenced by Indian, Indonesian, and South-East Asian art forms, which were introduced to Sri Lanka through trade and cultural exchanges. Over time, local artisans developed their unique styles and techniques, giving rise to a distinctive Sri Lankan mask tradition.

Role of Masks in Sri Lankan Culture

Traditional masks hold immense cultural and religious significance in Sri Lanka. They are prominently used in various rituals, ceremonies, and performances, acting as a bridge between the spiritual and physical realms. Masks are believed to possess the power to ward off evil spirits, bring blessings, and cure illnesses. They are an integral part of festivals, dances, and theatrical performances, reflecting the island’s diverse cultural heritage.

Types of Traditional Masks

There are several types of traditional masks found in Sri Lanka, each with its unique characteristics and purposes. Some of the most notable types include:

Devil Masks

Devil masks, known as “Devi Yakuma” in Sinhalese, are among the most recognizable and popular traditional masks in Sri Lanka. These masks represent various malevolent spirits and demons and are often used in exorcism rituals and performances. Devil masks are characterized by their fierce expressions, bulging eyes, and elaborate ornamentation.

Raksha Masks

Raksha masks, also known as “Yakun Natima,” are another significant type of traditional masks in Sri Lanka. These masks are associated with folk tales and ancient legends. Raksha masks are used in dance performances to portray heroic characters, offering protection and blessings to the community. They often feature intricate designs, vibrant colors, and distinctive headdresses.

Kolam Masks

Kolam masks, known as “Kolam Natima,” are characterized by their comical and grotesque appearances. These masks are used in traditional village dramas and performances to depict comedic characters and provide light-hearted entertainment. Kolam masks are often adorned with exaggerated features, exaggerated expressions, and vivid colors, adding an element of humor to the performances.

Symbolism and Meaning of Traditional Masks

Traditional masks in Sri Lanka carry profound symbolism and meaning, representing various aspects of the spiritual, cultural, and social realms. These masks serve as powerful visual representations of good and evil, gods and demons, and ancestral spirits. They play a vital role in storytelling, mythology, and religious practices, bringing ancient tales and folklore to life.

Spiritual and Religious Significance

Masks are closely associated with religious practices in Sri Lanka. They are used in processions, festivals, and ceremonies dedicated to various deities and guardian spirits. The wearing of masks during these rituals is believed to channel the divine energy and allow the performer to embody the spiritual entity depicted by the mask.

Representations of Good and Evil

Traditional masks often depict contrasting forces of good and evil. Devil masks represent malevolent spirits and demons, symbolizing the darker aspects of human nature and the struggle between good and evil. On the other hand, raksha masks and other benevolent masks represent heroic characters and deities, embodying qualities of courage, protection, and blessings.

Traditional Mask Making Process

The creation of traditional masks in Sri Lanka is a meticulous and intricate process that requires skilled craftsmanship. The following steps are involved in the traditional mask making process:

Materials Used

Artisans use a variety of materials to create traditional masks. The base is typically carved from lightweight wood, such as balsa or kaduru wood. Natural pigments derived from plants, minerals, and clays are used for coloring. Intricate details are added using natural fibers, beads, and sometimes even real human or animal hair.

Techniques and Skills

The mask making process involves several techniques and skills passed down through generations. Artisans use traditional hand tools, such as chisels, knives, and rasps, to carve the wooden base. Intricate patterns and designs are meticulously carved and then smoothed using sandpaper. Once the carving is complete, the mask is dried and painted with natural pigments, creating vibrant and detailed artwork.

Traditional Mask Dance Performances

Traditional mask dance performances are an integral part of Sri Lankan culture, combining ritualistic practices, storytelling, and theatrical elements. These performances can be categorized into two main types:

Ritualistic and Theatrical Performances

Certain mask dances are performed as part of religious and ritualistic ceremonies. These performances are believed to invoke blessings, ward off evil spirits, and bring good fortune to the community. They are accompanied by traditional music, drumming, and elaborate costumes, creating a mesmerizing sensory experience.

Folklore and Storytelling

Another aspect of traditional mask dance performances is the portrayal of ancient folklore and tales. Performers skillfully narrate stories through their dance movements and expressions, captivating the audience and preserving the island’s cultural heritage. These performances often depict heroes, gods, demons, and legendary characters, conveying moral lessons and cultural values.

Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Masks

Efforts have been made to preserve and promote the art of traditional mask making in Sri Lanka. Cultural institutions, museums, and craft villages play a crucial role in safeguarding this unique cultural heritage. They showcase exquisite masks, organize workshops, and provide training to aspiring artisans, ensuring the continuity of this ancient tradition.

Cultural Institutions and Museums

Museums and cultural institutions across Sri Lanka display a wide range of traditional masks, educating visitors about their historical and cultural significance. These institutions also support research and documentation, enabling a deeper understanding of the art form. By preserving and exhibiting traditional masks, they contribute to the appreciation and awareness of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage.

Tourism and Economic Impacts

Traditional masks have become popular among tourists seeking an authentic cultural experience in Sri Lanka. The demand for traditional masks has led to the growth of artisan communities and craft villages, where visitors can witness the mask making process firsthand. This has not only created economic opportunities for local artisans but also contributed to the sustainable development of rural communities.

Contemporary Use of Traditional Masks

While traditional masks continue to be revered in their traditional contexts, they have also found a place in contemporary art and design. Artists and designers are incorporating traditional mask motifs into various mediums, including paintings, sculptures, and textiles. This fusion of traditional and modern aesthetics showcases the versatility and timelessness of Sri Lankan mask art.

Modern Art and Design

Contemporary artists often reinterpret traditional mask designs, incorporating them into contemporary artworks and installations. These creations celebrate the intricate craftsmanship of traditional masks while adding a fresh and innovative perspective. Through modern art and design, traditional masks continue to evolve and find new relevance in today’s artistic landscape.

Festivals and Celebrations

Traditional masks are prominently featured in festivals and celebrations across Sri Lanka. The vibrant colors, intricate details, and symbolic representations of masks add a festive atmosphere to these events. From religious processions to cultural festivals, traditional masks bring a sense of joy, spirituality, and cultural pride to the participants and spectators alike.


Traditional masks are an integral part of Sri Lanka’s cultural identity, representing its rich heritage and diverse traditions. From their historical origins to their symbolic meanings and artistic significance, traditional masks continue to captivate and inspire. Whether used in religious rituals, theatrical performances, or contemporary art, these masks embody the spirit of Sri Lanka and serve as a bridge between the past and the present.


  1. Are traditional masks in Sri Lanka only used for religious purposes?
    • While traditional masks have significant religious and spiritual associations, they are also used in theatrical performances, festivals, and cultural celebrations.
  2. How long does it take to make a traditional mask?
    • The time required to make a traditional mask varies depending on its complexity and the skill of the artisan. It can take several days to several weeks to complete a single mask.
  3. Can I purchase traditional masks as souvenirs in Sri Lanka?
    • Yes, traditional masks are widely available for purchase as souvenirs in Sri Lanka. Craft villages, markets, and specialized mask shops offer a wide range of options for visitors.
  4. Are traditional masks used in other countries as well?
    • While traditional masks are found in various cultures around the world, the Sri Lankan mask tradition has its unique characteristics and artistic styles.
  5. How can I learn more about traditional masks in Sri Lanka?
    • Visiting cultural institutions, museums, and attending traditional mask performances in Sri Lanka are excellent ways to learn more about this fascinating art form.

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