What is the Raksha Mask (Devil Dancing Mask)?

A Raksha mask (Devil Dancing Mask) is a mask that Sri Lankans use a lot in festivals and cultural dances and processions. 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 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)
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. 

Raksha masks, larger than the kolam and sanni types, are mainly used in festivals and processions, often to perform Raksha dances within the kolam. Although there are 24 masks of Rakshasa form, few are used in performances, such as the Maru Raksha (demon of death). Inter-related masks are the Naga Raksha (cobra demon), which has an aptly demonic face with protruding hood-distended cobras, while the Gurulu Raksha (bird demon) is of the mythical hawk-like Garuda, able to banish the cobra demon. The dance is apotropaic, its purpose being to avert the danger that venomous snakes pose to villagers.

Sri Lanka’s mask heritage has played an essential role in the country’s society, both in drama and healing, but the associated supernatural beliefs are now eroding, even though mask-making and special performances for tourists persist. Thus it is crucial that older masks are preserved in public collections, to enable future generations to marvel at their brilliance and meaning.

Devil dancing masks, used in a type of exorcism ceremony to heal people of persisting illnesses believed to be inflicted by demons.
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: 
  • Naga  – Cobra that captures its enemies and makes them slaves.
  • Gurulu  – Hawk or Eagle that rescues the captives from the Naga.
  • Maru – Demon of death.
  • Ginidal – Fire Devil that projects anger and wards off evil.
  • Mayura  – Peacock that brings peace, harmony and prosperity.
  • Dwi Naga  – Twin Cobra Devil that brings protection from all evils and danger.
  • Mal Guru – Flowery Eagle that brings fame and fortune.

 The Five yaku, Yaku ara a group of demons. Among them, five are particularly dangerous. They have the power to make people sick by looking at them.

  • Kalu Yaka, The Black demon Causes diseases to women and babies and evokes erotic dreams to young females
  • Riri Yaka, The Blood demon Causes diseases connected with the blood
  • Mahasona, The Great Cemetery demon Frightens people, causes and disorientates them
  • Suniyam Yaka Paralyzes people and is connected by sorcery
  • Ahimana Yaka Frightnes people too and causes mental diseases

In the hierarchy of beings, Yaku occupy a very low position because of their wicked and bad actions of their former lives.

The Yaku have to withdraw their evil influences when the patients give them offerings. Once the is done the demons are pacified and are sent away by the ritual specialist.

Those are the main types of masks that are made for Sinhalese healing rituals, And different masks do different activities. But today the art of masks is dying there are only few traditional mask makers left in the country.

Huniyam Yakka Mask

One of the masks that is used during the Devil Dance Ritual. 

This masks features are bulging eyes, big pointy nose and is very colorful. The mask hides the face of the Edura or the Shaman.  



Haniyan Yakka Mask


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