- If you've ever visited Sri Lanka, the odds are high that you've seen a Sri Lankan traditional mask; either in a museum or perhaps hung at the entrance of a local household. Mask carving is a local tradition in the southern coastal region in Sri Lanka and its used in various dramatic rituals. Though these colorful wood carvings are produced representing various local folk tales, the most popular of them all are the "Yakka" masks (Translation: Demonic masks).
- Each variety of mask depicts a different diety or spirit and is widely used in Sri Lankan culture to bring good luck and ward off evil. The idea of this project was to use the "Yakka" mask as inspiration and execute a completely comical character design for the Naga Raksha (Cobra Demon) that would reflect its nature as popularized throughout local folklore. .
- In the above sketch, much of the traditional elements of the Yakka masks were retained while trying to give it a cartoon twist. The body of the character was imagined to fit the head, as traditional wood carvings do not depict the bodies of the Yakkas.
- Though I had the blessing of a graphic tablet, painting a traditional wood carved Yakka mask is a lengthy process. Before a mask is painted, the finely carved wooden block is smoothed using certain leaves. Then a light-yellow (primary color) is applied on the surface of the mask. Colors are mixed with ‘Dorana oil’ to assure the durability of colors and each mask has its own particular colors to depict their characteristic features.
- The ferocious face with bulging, popping & staring eyes, a blood thirsty carnivorous tongue lolling out of wide mouth armored & armed to the hilt with set of fang-like teeth, & all topped by a set of cobra hoods; such are the qualities of the vibrant Naga Raksha a.k.a the Cobra Demon.
If you ever visit Sri Lanka, you can visit a mask workshop in the southern coastal region (more precisely; visit the town of Ambalangoda) to see the craftsmen employing their art. Or perhaps a museum where masks are on display symbolizing all the vivid characters, demons, gods, heroes & villains who appear in traditional mask dances. You will have an opportunity to delve into the beauty of the masks or more interestingly, the mysteries, legend, exorcism & psychology in the world of Sri Lankan Kolams a.k.a mask dances.