A Raksha mask is a mask that Sri Lankans use a lot in festivals and cultural dances. Raksha means “demon” and the masks are apotropaic which means that it is intended to ward off evil. They are painted in vibrant colors, with bulging eyes and protruding tongues and they depict various types of demons. Raksha masks are the final aspect of the Kolam ritual, and they are a tribute to the Rakshasas, a race that earlier ruled Sri Lanka and could assume 24 different forms. But only a few of these forms are performed, some of which are Naga Raksha (cobra mask), Gurulu Raksha (Mask of the Bird) and Maru Raksha (Mask of the Demon of Death).

What is the history and development of this mask?

This ritual has been created to heal the sick, and so this is how the Raksha masks were created. The Raksha masks were first made for the uses of those rituals. The witch doctor wears these masks to imitate the imaginary faces of the devils which were known as the cause for the disease. The doctor then dances to the rhythm of the drum and wore the demons away. Raksha masks were and 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. Now the Raksha masks are used in a lot of festivals, cultural dances and are also sold to the tourist trade and institutions for display. 

What are the common characters in this mask form?

Different types of masks have different meanings. Some of these types of masks are religion, ritual, secular, exorcist and exorcist with ritual overtones. These masks also have different uses to them like healing or spiritual uses. They are made to represent different types of demons. The masks can be different shapes and sizes, but the looks of the masks depend on the ritual or dance it is used in.

Mask carving is a local tradition at the southern coastal region of Sri Lanka in Ambalangoda. Ambalangoda is known for their traditional mask carvings and dancing. The present institution known as Ariyapala & Sons which passed through their fifth generation mask carving and dancing is very cultural in Ambalangoda.

The Raksha masks are nearly entirely made out of a light, soft wood called kadura, which is smoke-dried before the mask is carved, with a hollow inside so you can put the mask on your face. Other material are used for additional details. The teeth are made from shells and the eyes from glass. Often the eye openings are left bare to allow the wearer’s eyes to be seen, and this gives an appearance of real life to the mask. Color had an immense importance and there are prescribed color-schemes or masks. The older masks are found in the color or red, yellow, black, white and sometimes a dark green obtained from mixing yellow and black. Blue was used very rarely.

The color of the masks usually represent the color of the demon which they believed it looked like. The masks often had the same shape style, which was long, narrow and pointy. Facial expressions on the mask are quite strange. Some would look foolish whilst others intimidating. Intimidating masks would have sharp, pointy teeth with bulging eyes while foolish masks would have less intensifying eyes and smiling with human-like teeth. 

Fire

The Ginidella Raksha mask is a Raksha mask which is means its job is to ward off evil. This mask is representing the emotion anger which is why the colors are red, orange, and yellow. The patterns on the ears are warding off all evil. The patterns on the ears and the face really draw your attention which the Sri Lankan people found really important.

Snake

The Naga Raksha mask, also known as the Snake Demon, uses a lot of colors and patterns to it. The most noticeable and attractive pattern is the hair which is shaped into cobras, therefore the name Snake Demon. It has a very long Tung to smell its enemies and the teeth to eat them which in this case are the Sri Lankan people.

Peacock

The Peacock mask is supposed to bring peace and harmony, therefore the bright beautiful colors white, and blue. A peacock is also know to bring peace and harmony. This mask also wards off evil spirits and ghosts. 

What are the Common Characters Behind the Masks

There were different types of masks that had different meanings. These types of masks are:

1. Religion/magical

2. Ritual/spiritual

3. Secular/spiritual

4. Exorcistic

5. Exorcistic with ritual overtones 

The masks have different uses to them, like spiritual or Healing uses. THe masks of Sri lanka(no matter what they are used for) are made to represent different types of demons. The difference in the masks is color and aesthetics. 

One mask can have a face of a bird, another can be a face with big teeth and tongue sticking out. The looks of the mask depends on which ritual/dance it is used in

What is the Cultural Background behind Masks

The masks come from originally from South East India. Not only Sri Lanka has strong Indian cultural influences, but also Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and Thailand do.

The Sinhalese further developed the masks into their own characteristic styles. Sinhalese people, an ethnic group which is native to the island of Sri Lanka. Nearly 75% of Sri Lanka’s population are Sinhalese with over 15 million people. 

Sri Lanka is well-known for worshipping demons, hence they created a variety of devil masks for ungodly practices. Masks in Sri Lanka are also based on mythological, animal-spirit and human figures for the sole purpose of rituals.

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