Srilankan art Archives - Sala Global

Traditional Arts and crafts Collection in Sri Lanka

Jewellery, masks, lacquerware and more – discover the colourful and creative arts and crafts unique to Sri Lanka.

Colour, creativity and commerce abound when it comes to arts and crafts in Sri Lanka. Tradition and heritage are king, and people have been creating everything from jewellery to masks, lacquerware and ceramics here for time immemorial. While it hurts a little to bring the word ‘souvenir’ into such a proud piece of cultural heritage, sometimes two plus two equals four. These distinctive mementoes are available throughout the stores of Colombo but travel outside the capital to see the work that goes into making them. Prepare to be spellbound as deft hands weave intricate lace patterns out of nothing, or be amazed as the pottery wheels of Molagoda do their thing.

 

Masks

Masks are deeply connected to Sri Lankan folk-lore and take on a functional role where they are used in healing rites and rituals. Known popularly as devil dances, some are dance-drama performances that tell an elaborate story and is enacted by experienced dancers and actors wearing these masks.

One of the most popular and ancient acts is the 18 Sanni that are thought to represent diseases or ailments caused by yakkas (devils). Eighteen masks carved to represent the torment felt through these diseases are worn by an exorcist and a tovil, a devil dance, is performed. Other popular mask dances or dramas are Kolam and Raksha, one a comedic performance and the other masks mainly used in festivals and processions.

Ambalangoda is known to be the heart of mask carving with many shops dotting the roadside as you drive along this coastal town. If you happen to pop into one of the stores, you will be able to see how these masks are carved and painted with brilliant colours and take one along as well.