The art of Sri Lankan Masks was existing from time immemorial. Mask carving is a local tradition in the southern coastal region in Sri Lanka. Ambalangoda is well known for traditional masks carvings and masks dancing. The present institution named ‘Ariyapala & Sons’ passing through their fifth generation of traditional masks carving and dancing is a very popular cultural center in Ambalangoda. It was named after “Ariyapala Wijesuriya Gurunnanse”, one of the greatest master craftsmen in Sri Lanka.
Masks are mostly turned out from the timber of a tree locally Known as ‘Kaduru’ (stychnos nux vomica). This tree grows in marshy lands bordering paddy fields. This wood is light, soft, and easy to carve.
Firstly, the trunks of felt tree are kept under hot sun to dry and to drain out the sticky juice. Thereafter it is measured and cut into pieces of required sizes of the various masks. Then the carver gives the basic shape of the mask to the piece of trunk with the help of chisels and a mallet. These measurements of carving have been given in ancient manuscripts. After this, the mask is kept on a stall of a hearth (Dum Messa) for six or seven days to get the smoke to season the wood. This is a very important step as well as a traditional method to keep masks free from the insects’ attack that we still follow. Subsequently, mask is taken out from the smoking stall and gradually shaped the face to epict specific expression by using various types of chisels and mallet.
Before a mask is painted, it is smoothen with Motadelia leaves and Delsavaran which is obtained from the Breadfruit tree. As a first step of painting, light-yellow (primary colour) is applied on the surface of every mask. Here onwards colours are applied according to ancient manuscripts of our forefathers of our family. Colours are mixed with ‘Dorana oil’ to assure the durability of colours. Each mask has its own particular colours to depict their characteristic features.
This museum is designed to introduce into the richness of the mask tradition of Ambalangoda and to strengthen this cultural heritage. The museum, the workshop and the small library (containing all available anthropological literature on masks performances) may serve as a centre for traditional arts and crafts and for research as well. The Karava people (fisher community) living in the western and south-western coastal areas of Sri Lanka have developed a great variety of social customs. The south-west coast area, es-specially Ambalangoda is particularly well known for its masks plays and rituals that are performed on different accasions. Among these performances there are two famous ones, the Kolam Maduwa and the rituals to expel evil demons which cause diseases. For many decades, the famous masks have been highly appreciated by private and museum collectors and other experts. But for economic reasons mainly especially the Kolam Dances fell into disuse during the last 3o to 5o years and were performed only very seldom, on the other side, mask carving has now developed into a cottage industry. Of all the well known carvers of the area, only the Wijesooriya family is now preserving the elaborated traditional art of carving masks. In order to save the local cultural heritage, the Wijesooriya family has under¬taken the tasks to carve a complete set of all masks, 12o in number. For lack of space, how¬ever, not all these masks can be exhibited here. To illustrate this revival in traditional car¬ving and mask performances two sets of masks are exhibited here. They belong to the Kolam Maduwa and to the Sanni Yakuma ritual as per¬formed in Batapola and Ambalangoda in 1985 and 1986.