Land of the thousand dances – Devil Masks

by Dec 22, 2021

Home 9 Culture and Tradition 9 Land of the thousand dances – Devil Masks

The popular traditional dances have brought Sri Lankan culture to a wider international audience. The famous Kandy perahara is one of the events that the world can see all the traditional dances that Sri Lanka has.

The traditional “Devil masks” reveals a line of mythological legends in this land of thousand dances. There are many traditional dances in Sri Lanka and each dance has its own tale and cultural significance. The “Ves dance” or the “Mask dance” is one of the most unique dances that can be seen only in Sri Lanka. Mainly because of its colorful costumes topped with an elaborated devil mask. This dance evolved from an ancient time when people worshiped trees and animals. Masks were inseparable part of Sri Lankan rituals and ceremonies specially when it comes to ward off evil and sicknesses. Some masks are used during ancestor worship, certain spiritual rituals, and healing ceremonies. There are masks that are related to hunting, fertility and even exorcism. Centuries later they have become an interesting oddity. The traditional mask industry is still a thriving business that continues to fascinate both locals and tourists alike with their colorful facades, odd shapes, and intriguing histories. Devil masks have sinister features that make them interesting. Most masks feature gaping, misshapen mouths; sinister, bulging eyes; and bright, vivid colors.

The art of mask making is concentrated along the Southern coast mainly in Ambalangoda, Wathugedara and Benthara. Ambalangoda is the mask craving hub where the sinister exorcism and local demons unravels.

There are eighteen physical and psychological diseases attributed to the local demons and these diseases are exorcised by eighteen equalent masked dances. These demons would each be depicted through wood craved faces. Each mask is linked to a folktale and characters with which cravers must mentally connect a task that requires a traditional and philosophical education and understanding. The Devil dance, exorcism or the masked performance is three-fold. First, the specialist would lure in a demon with offerings, then the specialists would make the demon promise to leave the body of the victim and finally the demon would sent away politely with a final dance which involves loud traditional drums, chants, and fire.

The best place to visit to take a closer look at these vibrant mysterious masks is the Ariyapala Museum in Ambalangoda. Ariyapala family has been preserving the traditions of the “Devils masks” for five generations. The museum has its own mask showroom, workshop and a library, and the visitors are offered in depth commentary, enhanced dioramas giving a visual display of how they were used in performances. All masks that are on display and for sale have been patiently hand carved with very intricate designs and painted in vibrant colors which depicts the traditional inheritance that have been passed on along the years.

In Sri Lanka Devil masks has become a major icon. Mask depictions are used in fashion, Tattoos, brand logos. Locals hang masks in their homes as protection to ward of evil and sicknesses or just as a form of art. Write down Ambalangoda on your Sri Lankan bucket list visit because as the legends say Sri Lankans are descendants of a devil tribe that evolved.

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