Mask of Sri Lanka suggest dramatic and varying meanings to the visual image, hopes and imagination arising from the atavistic beliefs and fears of the rural folk. These are consider to be part of religion, ritual dramas and folk theatre mostly secular but with ritual overtones.
The Sri Lankan masks or “Ves Muhunu” in its vernacular version meaning “character face” is used in three (3) distinct situations: Ritual masks in God and Demon rituals, theatre mask that enhance the theatrical, visual and the symbolical effect f the character and carnival, festive or ceremonial masks. Mask such as the “Gara” are used in all three (3) contexts. Behind the carving of many masks is a traditional tale, an age old belief structure.
Kolam refers to a dance drama with the central theme and a series of inter-connected episodes enacted by dancers wearing masks culminating in a drama based mainly on the birth stories of the Lord Buddha. The masks featured in the picture are of the supernatural type. Among them are a variety of masks whose crowns are decorated as Cobra hoods.
What is Raksha, Naga Raksha (Cobra Masks)
Legend record that Sri Lanka was once ruled by king Ravana whose race Rakshashas. These could achieve different forms of character one being the cobra. Once such a form is achieved the serpents carry their frightened prey as their slaves. Victims then plead with another Rakshas a kind of bird – a hawk. This is called Gurulu Raksha in the mythical story. The hawk is the enemy of the cobra and usually it preys on this serpent.
Maru Raksha – Mask of the Demon of Death
It is this Raksha who decide on the life and death of an individual. People believe that by invoking the blessings on the Maru raksha through a ritual dance, death could be delayed. There are numerous other Raksha masks used in processions and festivals. They are follows:
v Naga Raksha – Cobra Mask
v Gurulu Raksha – Hawak or Eagle Mask
v Maru Raksha – Mask of the Demon of death
v Ginidal Raksha – Fire Devil
v Mayura Raksha – brings peace, harmony and prosperity
v Dwi Naga Raksha – Twin Cobra Devil, brings protection from all evils and danger
v Mal Guru Raksha – Mask of the Flowery Eagle, bring flower and fame