Ariyapala Mask Museum


Sinhalese has variety of traditional healing rituals

Expressions of masks varied from one to another because each and every mask has its own characteristic role that links with folklore stories. Most of the times masks have hidden expressions. So, to depict those particular expressions, carver should enter mentally to the character of the mask. Because of this, mask carving is not merely a practice of chisel and mallet. It should have a wide traditional and philosophical training background.

Masks are classified as:

  • • Gods
  • • Human beings
  • • Raksha
  • • Yakksha (Demons)
  • • Animals
  • • Composite masks

Those are utilized for traditional Sinhalese healing rituals like Sanni Yakuma as well as traditional comic folk plays like Kolam Dances.


Sinhalese has variety of traditional healing rituals. Among them ‘Sanni Yakuma’ is the most elaborated ritual. This healing way related to the equilibrium of the body of man. If the mental or physical equilibrium of man gets upset by a trouble in the process of digestion of food, or wrong actions or wrong thoughts (psychologically), man is exposed to sickness. Which according to the traditions is brought to them by the demons. So ancient people personified these diseases in the form of the demons. There are 18 diseases attributed to 18 demons (Sanni) in Sanni Yakuma.

1. Deva Sanniya - causes measles, mumps, small pox, typhoid fever and cholera.

2. Vata Sanniya - causes diseases caused by air in the body, also paralyses.

3. Pith Sanniya - causes diseases of the bile.

4. Amukku Sanniya - causes stomach pain vomiting.

5. Naga Sanniya - the vision of the demon causes poison like cobra poison in the body blister, swellings.

6. Ginijala Sanniya - causes heat similar to fire in the body and burning sensation.

7. Selesma Sanniya - causes headache, overproduction.

8. Kapala Sanniya - causes phlegm, cough, sneezing.

9. Maru Sanniya - causes the fear of the death, also death.

10. Kadawata Sanniya - is trying to break down the barriers which separate him from the patient.

11. Kora Sanniya - causes lame limbs, swollen joints.

12. Buhutu Sanniya - causes temporary madness.

13. Kana Sanniya - causes temporary blindness.

14. Jala Sanniya - causes unbearable cold and shivering.

15. Bihiri Sanniya - causes temporary deafness.

16. Golu Sanniya - causes temporary dumbness.

17. Vevulum Sanniya - causes shivering and fits

18. Gedi Sanniya - causes Furuncles


Kolam is a traditional folk play in the west and in the south-west coastal regions in Sri Lanka. Masks are utilized in Kolam called as kolam masks ‘Ariyapala Wijesuriya’ family is one of the families among few groups who perform traditional kolam dances from the beginning till today. According to the mythologies, kolam masks were originated from the period of King Maha Sammatha, the first King of human beings. The queen of this King was pregnant and she felt a strong desire to see mask-dances. But no one knew how to perform it and queen suffered more and more. Finally God Sakra concern about her and asked God Vishvakarma (God of craftsmen) to provide the masks and the lyrics for such dance. Next morning the masks and verses provided by God Vishvakarma were found in the royal garden. After King’s order mask dances were performed in front of the queen.Then she was highly pleased and satisfied, and her pregnancy cravings disappeared. This mythological aspect is referred to in every Kolam dance by arriving two characters wearing masks of King and Queen. But the Kolam dance depicts not only mythological aspects but also the aspects of lives in traditional Sinhalese society by performing various stories of royal servants. Among the Kolam mask, prominence is given to characters like Panikkala, Nonchi akka, Hewa, Jasaya, Lenchina, Mudali, etc.


Raksha masks are also used to perform Raksha dances in Kolam Maduwa. According to legends, Sri Lanka was earlier ruled by a race called Rakshasas whose king was Ravana of the Ramayana. Rakshasas could assume various forms. Although we have 24 forms of Rakshasas only few are performed in Kolam dance. Those are:

  • • Naga Raksha (Cobra Mask)
  • • Maru Raksha (Mask of the Demon of Death)
  • • Gurulu Raksha (Mask of the Bird)
  • • Rathnakuta Raksha
  • • Purnaka Raksha