Unique to the Sinhalese culture, the rakshasa masks expresses Sri Lanka's rich and vibrant cultural heritage.
The craft of making raksha masks originated from the southern coastal areas of the island. The history can be traced back to pre-buddhist era agricultural society. The masks represent a race of mythical beings called Rakshasa. These beings are mentioned in the Indian epic or Ramayana. Several different rakshasa masks can be found, each with its own characteristic facial features and coloring. They all have a central figure accompanied by supporters on either sides and above. Most common central figures are dragon like mythical creature, a bird or a frog. Then there are snakes, flowers, peacocks, flames etc. adorning the central figure on three sides. Both the central figure and the accompanying supporters are painted at high level of detail.
|A collection of rakhsasa masks|
These are worn during Natuma (theatrical dance) performances or for exorcism. They are also believed to hold the power to ward off evil or bring certain blessings when hung in the house. There are several different rakshasa with different attributes. The Mayura (peacock) brings peace, the Mal Gurulu (flower bird) brings fame etc. A raksha mask makes a good souvenir and the locals seem to be well aware of the fact. Many souvenir shops have raksha masks hanging outside and more inside the shop. The challenge is in finding a good piece of craftsmanship. A good mask should have a matted finish and good level of detail in painting as well as curving. There are also cheaper masks of slightly inferior quality.