Wooden Masks

Wooden Masks

The Sinhalese have always used wood for their mask-making. The mask-makers have found wood to be a very suitable medium for carving out the images of demons, devils, sannis, divine beings, legendary creatures, humans, and animals. The artistic tendencies of the mask makers are revealed through these objects meant for magical, curative, and entertainment purposes. The woods preferred were of the lighter variety as they would be easy to carve and lighter to wear.

In Sinhalese traditions, face and head masks are described as: 'A new form of face and head artificially produced and meant to be worn to alter the appearance and effect of the wearer in a deliberate and definite manner.' Masks are generally used to conceal the identity of a person to create another personality. Vesmuhana, for the Sinhalese, represents wearing of the mask and/or disguising the face. Masks are usually worn in a manner that allows the entire face to be completely covered; they are worn at a downward slant over the forehead.

The Sinhalese wear masks during (1) Devil dancing - dancing with masks associated with exorcising rituals (removing devils and sicknesses from people) (2) Kolam dancing - masked dramatic performance through presentation of human and superhuman characters restricted to the rural areas and (3) Sokari dancing. Masks are also worn during theatre performances or devolmadu ceremonies (ves pema and amba vidamana), as part of public rituals prevalent in Sri Lanka.

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