Ariyapala Workshop and Mask Museum

Possessing some of Sri Lanka’s more forgotten cultures, the Ariyapala Workshop and Mask Museum in Ambalangoda, is one such unique establishment in the country, which attempts to keep the fast disappearing Sri Lankan mask culture, by educating the masses of its role in island folklore. The Ariyapala Worskhop and Mask Museum is a treasure trove of intricately carved intriguing, colourful and at times grotesque masks on display. It also comprises of a library and a workshop showcasing the origins, purpose and the birth of the mask. It is the perfect place for the history buff to learn and understand the significance of this little piece of traditional culture, that makes Sri Lanka all the more unique.

Best Known For

  • The workshop and mask museum is famed for being one of the few dedicated museums in the country that showcases a comprehensive collection of Sri Lankan masks, enabling one to understand why and for what purposes these unique masks have been created.
  • Moreover, the complex is also known for being one of the few mask workshops that is open to the public for visitation, making it possible to witness the various intricacies that go into the manufacturing of Sri Lankan masks.

Interesting Facts

  • The Ariyapala Workshop and Mask Museum was established by Ariyapala Wijesuriya Gurnnanse and is currently run under the supervision of his children, making the ‘Wijesuriya’ family one of the few famed families that still continue the traditional art of Sri Lankan mask making.
  • The primary objective of establishing a museum and workshop is to showcase the ancient Sri Lankan village folklore, which was common during the pre-colonial and colonial era.
  • The museum is a personification of the various uses of the masks, namely the Kolam Maduwa and the Sanni Yakuma.
  • The Kolam Maduwa is a genre of traditional play that incorporates the different masks of village folk reflecting village life in a satirical manner.
  • The Sanni Yakuma though, is a darker dance that is used for ritualistic purposes as well. Utilising more grotesque looking devilish masks, such as the Raksha masks, dancers would perform exorcisms for the village people who are afflicted with evil spirits or suffer from serious illnesses.
  • All in all, there are a total of 120 variants of masks created by the workshop, however, not all of them are displayed in the museum due to the lack of space.
  • The library that is situated in the same complex, allows you to delve deeper into the origins of mask making and its uses, as the library contains anthropological records on the history of mask making, making it all the more educational for the history buff.
  • The workshop too is an interesting area, as you can easily witness each and every step of the creation of the masks, by the hands of artisans, making it all the more intriguing.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The mask museum is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, however, the ideal time to visit the museum is during the mornings or afternoons, as there is no substantial crowd within the premises, making it easy to explore.
  • There is no particular season to visit the museum, as it is open throughout the year.
  • There is no entrance fee either, however, a donation to the museum would go a long way, as the manufacturing of such unique Sri Lankan masks are a dying craft.
  • Apart from the museum, do take the opportunity to visit the workshop and witness the makings of some of the most intricately designed masks you would ever see. Go ahead and buy one of the finished products, as a memento of your trip around the Paradise Island.
  • Moreover, visiting the museum’s library is another great opportunity to delve into the origins and significance of Sri Lankan mask culture, making it quite a well-rounded knowledgeable affair.
  • Please do keep in mind that the exhibits in the mask museum are priceless, therefore its best to keep a safe distance from them.

Ambalangoda may not be known for the same attractions of its neighbouring towns of Hikkaduwa or Mirissa, however, the little attractions it does possess hold a significant place in Sri Lanka’s rich culture and heritage; the Ariyapala Workshop and Mask Museum of Ambalangoda does just that. Therefore, making it all the more important to visit, should you be journeying down the southern coastal belt of the Paradise Island.

Title image by: KNOWSL The information displayed is provided by Ariyapala Workshop and Mask Museum
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