Ariyapala Mask Museum – colour, character and mystery!

Published: 10th June 2011
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The coastal city of Ambalangoda, located in the southern province of Sri Lanka is popular for the production of a vibrant assortment of ancient devil masks and the devil dancing that is common among the local villages. A visit to Ambalangoda will treat visitors to intricately detailed and designed masks that are carefully carved by hand, reflecting the emotions of each character.

The wooden masks are completed in vibrant colours and figures that are carefully painted on the carved wood. Each colour too, may represent a certain feature of the character. These masks are worn during folk dances, folk theatre and dance forms that were performed to ward off evil spirits and illness. They are now a tourist icon of the region and therefore are mostly used as souvenirs or as home decorations. This has created a thriving cottage industry in the district. The masks are associated with legends and depict animals, demons and sometimes humans. Some patterns combine a variety of types like bird and demon.

Ariyapala Traditional Masks and The Ariyapala and Sons Mask Museum are now owned by the sons of a late master mask carver of the region, Ariyapala Wijesuriya. He is noted to be responsible for the prestige and reputation that was brought to the Ambalangoda masks industry and for preserving the cultural heritage of southern art.

They house more than a hundred and twenty types of masks in their extensive collection and it is the ideal location for the intrigued visitor. At the workshop, visitors have the opportunity to see the process of manufacturing these masks. The trunks of wood that are used to carve the masks are dried under the sun. Once the basic shapes are carved out of the trunk, it is placed in a hearth for approximately a week to season the wood, which prevents termite attacks. Detailed expressions are then gently carved into the wood and the masks are smoothed with Motadelia leaves. The masks are painted with durable paints that are mixed with "dorana oil" and each colour depicts a mask’s characteristics.

These brightly coloured masks are without a doubt the key appeal in this region drawing tourists to the area, reflecting the exotic vibrancy of the country’s culture.

Visitors travelling to the region to experience a tropical holiday will enjoy their stay at a Sri Lanka hotel that is truly made to suit the island paradise. Jetwing Lighthouse is an ideal accommodation solution for the discerning traveller. This Galle hotel provides exquisite cuisine, splendid views and tranquil experience.

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