August 4, 2022

Crafting Hands of the South

Deeply connected to Sri Lanka’s ancient history and folklore tales, the art of wooden mask making is a craft that has been passed down generation by generation. Masks are also a distinct element in traditional processions and festivals. Elaborate stories are typically related by dancers wearing masks and are often used during healing rites as well as rituals.

The small coastal town of Ambalangoda in the south, close to Cape Weligama, is well known for traditional mask carving and mask performances. These masks in particularly are used in healing rites and rituals, and include 18 different types, each focused on a specific illness.

The art of mask making in itself is quite a complex process which requires a great deal of skill and patience. Guests at our resort Cape Weligama will experience this first-hand as part of our Crafting Hands of the South workshop. The timber used for the purpose is known as vel kaduru — a tree which is found close to paddy fields or marshy lands. The manner in which a small tree log becomes a mask is quite a fascinating process.

A block of wood lays on the table and our host, Tharanga begins to explain mask making and its uses. A hammer of sorts and an assortment of chisels begin its work after drawing a rough outline of a face on the block. It’s a lot of hammering and chipping away at this point. There’s an art and technique to it too; hammer and chip too hard and much, you’ll lose too much wood. It’s all about taking your own time and being patient in order to intricately add depth to the mask.

Once a basic outline has been created, it’s time to sand in order to create smooth and curvy features. The final step is paint. There are other masks to use as a guide, although the fun and thrill is to veer off the original design and inspire change. This is an engaging activity for the entire family to round out the perfect cultural immersion.

If you would like to learn more about the Crafting Hands of the South experience, kindly email us at