The Ambalangoda Mask Museum.

The Ambalangoda Mask Museum.

This museum is designed to introduce into the richness of the mask tradition of Ambalangoda and to strengthen this cultural heritage. The museum, the workshop and the small library (containing all available anthropological literature on masks performances) may serve as a centre for traditional arts and crafts and for research as well.
The Karava people (fisher community) living in the western and south-western coastal areas of Sri Lanka have developed a great variety of social customs. The south-west coast area, es-specially Ambalangoda is particularly well known for its masks plays and rituals that are performed on different accasions. Among these performances there are two famous ones, the Kolam Maduwa and the rituals to expel evil demons which cause diseases.
For many decades, the famous masks have been highly appreciated by private and museum collectors and other experts. But for economic reasons mainly especially the Kolam Dances fell into disuse during the last 3o to 5o years and were performed only very seldom, on the other side, mask carving has now developed into a cottage industry.
Of all the well known carvers of the area, only the Wijesooriya family is now preserving the elaborated traditional art of carving masks. In order to save the local cultural heritage, the Wijesooriya family has under­taken the tasks to carve a complete set of all masks, 12o in number. For lack of space, how­ever, not all these masks can be exhibited here.
To illustrate this revival in traditional car­ving and mask performances two sets of masks are exhibited here. They belong to the Kolam Maduwa and to the Sanni Yakuma ritual as per­formed in Batapola and Ambalangoda in 1985 and 1986.

Recommended review time for sightseeing: 1 h

Tourist reviews about The Ambalangoda Mask Museum.

One room, with about 20 historic masks - but it is free!
Simon B [TA], , Agde, France

The shop contains a wide variety of masks to buy, decent quality and not bad prices. The museum downstairs is free, which is good as it's basically just one room with four tableaux, which the host explains and which are interesting and worth seeing. I dropped 100LKR each into the Donations box, I think it was worth 33 centimes each!

Just okay
NswAustra... [TA], , NSW AUSTRALIA

I would not travel specifically to Ambalangoda to see a mask factory, whilst it was interesting for a minute or two to watch the painters copy from a page that was all. Then the must do shop visit, a huge array of masks in natural colours and lacquer, all sizes. But they were expensive, just made us all the more pleased with the price we paid for a mask at Laksala in Kandy.

Scary faces
Mark T [TA], , Adelaide, Australia

Fascinating insights into the provision of masks according to a formatted pattern and characters for a Sri Lankan folk story. We got to see the museum and the actual manufacture of the masks and browsed a very interesting collection in the museum. Again well worth a visit.

Good memories
Jleaney [TA], ,

My husband and i first visited this place 17 and a half years ago and bought our first mask , we have visited 4 times altogether, it never changes, great place and great craftsmanship!! Wouldn't buy a mask from anywhere else the quality is far superior to anywhere else!!
Will definitely return when we visit Sri Lanka in the future !!

Interesting visit
340tina [TA], , Mirissa, Sri Lanka

It was interesting and beautiful to see the masks and learn a bit about their history. Many different styles, materials, ages....

Best Place for seeing the Sri Lankan Traditional Masks
Madhawa_h [TA], , Colombo, Sri Lanka

"Ariyapala Mask Museum" and Handycrafts Store, located near the main road is a great place to see and understand about the Sri Lankan Traditional Masks as well as the culture behind those masks.
Other than displaying masks of famous "Daha Ata Sanniya" there are illustrations and Detailed texts related with the masks, how they originated, what are their details, etc.

The entrance and viewing of the Museum is free of charge but they welcome donations. There are also books sold at the counter on Sri Lankan Traditional Masks and the related culture.

There is a store also. The main items in the store are wooden handy crafts. Masks, elephants, other wooden crafts, carvings, statues, etc.
Also you can see how they are making those handy crafts / carvings at their workshop located beside the store.

Great artwork!
Karolina... [TA], ,

Amazing artwork made by local people, so talented and skilled! The place takes you back in time and gives you loads of stories about traditional Sri Lankan culture. Very interesting spot to stop at when you're around.

Traditional Marks Sri Lanka
chef s [TA], , Galle, Sri Lanka

The large store of traditional masks and museum there makes very quality but prices was high and there was masks making work shop also you can see how to do there masks

the best masks museum and shop in sri lanka - nothing comes close
PrinceAnu... [TA], , Kolkata (Calcutta), India

this is the best place to see, study about and even purchase authentic hand made masks.

it was obviously more expensive than the masks some other local shops sold, but this was the real deal.

would highly recommend this place -- very very immersive experience - dont visit the free tour guide who describes some of the more interesting masks on display

Really worth it
Sarah_Kau... [TA], , Delhi, India

I went around looking for Masks all over Ambalangoda. While they are all really intriguing, the music has some of the bestest ones! The quality is just better, although it is more expensive too.

Best mask museum of Sri Lanka
Agampodi [TA], , Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Do you like folk music, drama and stories....?This is an ideal place for you to visit. This is the best Mask museum in Sri Lanka. You can not only see the museum but also see how those things are created...

Mask my enthusiasm
colinrbus... [TA], , Sheringham

Worth the visit except it would be better if they didn't rush you through the creation stages. The museum, whilst very small, is very interesting and informative with a few 200 year old exhibits. The shop has lots of goodies and not really that expensive. I would have bought but with the restrictions placed on tourist baggage it really does now become unfesible to buy large souvenirs. Good place though.

Interesting museum and great to see the pieces being made and painted
Gladman20... [TA], , Farnborough, United Kingdom

Interesting visit to the small museum to find out a little more about the history of these Sri Lankan masks. The staff will talk you through the exhibits which brings the stories to life a little more. Enjoyed seeing the production process from the initial carving of the balsa wood through to the hand painting. The shop contains many pieces with something for most budgets - visit this after you've been through the museum as it puts a different perspective and understanding on the pieces you'll see. Well priced, and good quality.

Worth a visit
Eric754 [TA], , London, England, United Kingdom

Gives an idea of how the masks you see everywhere are part of the life of rural folk. The staff are not helpful so you need to read the information, spend some time and do some thinking.

Nice Place
Harrythev... [TA], , New Delhi, India

It is worth a visit if you want to know about different masks, Nice place as I was able to purchase some souvenir for my son and he loved it.

Worth a visit, certainly seemed informative about the history of the masks.
Hallie_Br... [TA], , Birmingham, United Kingdom

Worth a visit, certainly seemed informative about the history of the masks when compared to when I asked other so-called mask experts. Of course, ends with a mask shop. Decided to buy one here in preference to some of the other places I visited.

Interesting history of masks
Grumpybro... [TA], , Dubai, United Arab Emirates

An interesting place and compact. The museum is small, but does contain a good number of exhibits of masks across history. If possible take the time to read the plaques listing the stories after the narrative by the guide.

The workshop round the back is also worth a visit to see masks being made.

Worth a visit on the way to Colombo
noplanes [TA], ,

We stopped at the Mask Museum on our way to Colombo. It was an easy 45 mins bus ride from Unawatuna.
The little museum is quite interesting and the ladies providing the description run through the different masks fairly quickly. They do like it if you ask questions, and spend a bit more time if you are interested. We did the tour with them to get a quick orientation, and then went around once again to get a better look at the masks. Worth making a small donation as the museum was set up with funding from the German govt and not sure it gets any more funding now.
The workshop was interesting but nothing special - felt like the workers were placed there for the sake of the tourists. The shop is pretty good, but feels too commercial after hearing about the history of the original mask-maker and his family. Nevertheless a good place to pick up a special souvenir especially as the price and quality are good.

An ok experience
StanleyPu... [TA], , Pune, India

We stopped by this museum en-route to Galle. While the name is very catchy, it is not really a museum but more of a workshop and shop where once can see how masks are prepared. There are a few puppets also in the shop.

There is quite a variety at the shop but the prices are very touristy, to be honest. Total time taken by us to see everything was 15 min.

Good place to visit while in ambalangoda
aadhuu [TA], , Male

This is a nice small musuem about maskas that's well worth a visit if you are in ambalangoda. The workshop where the masks are being made is an interesting place to sit down for awhile.

Excellent Museum
herewardw... [TA], , Ely, United Kingdom

This was an excellent museum, which I wish they would have charged for rather than expecting us to visit the shop. The moment we arrived we were being hurried to visit the shop. It was as if the shop was a compulsory part of the experience. The masks in the museum were great and rightfully recognised for this by a number of anthropological institutions in Europe. The visit to the workshop where masks were being made was a disappointment. Clearly the skill and craft of making masks is probably dying out. The tourists just want to buy the cheaply made masks.

Puppets and Masks!
EPabalu [TA], , Colombo, Sri Lanka

This is one of those places you get to see almost all kinds of Sri Lanka's traditional masks and puppets. many items are for sale and also you can get a demo puppetry experience if the time is right! dont miss this place of colors, characters and culture.!

A small but informative museum cum workshop
YTCHENG [TA], , Hong Kong, China

On our way to Galle, we stopped over at the museum by the roadside and visited the workshop downstairs and the museum cum souvenir shop upstairs. We learnt a lot about the history and development of the masks here which were mainly used in functions and festival times. You can buy some gifts at the shop prior to departure. Worth to come.

Unique Sri Lankan heritage
Prasanna... [TA], , Panadura, Sri Lanka

A must visit for those who love exploring folk art. Traditional ancient masks used for rituals, devil dances and processions and various entertainment activities of by gone era by Sri Lankans.
One can by replicas made and visit the factory down to see wood carving and transforming them to beautiful masterpieces. Really colorful insight to rich folk art heritage Sri Lanka

Ariyapala Mask Museum
lgcarroll [TA], , Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

I had read about this museum on Tripadvisor, and decided to stop in. I am ever so glad that I did! The museum actually sits in a small building-with the museum and the workshop downstairs, and (a few steps outside) the store is located upstairs. The museum was fascinating. The young lady that gave me the tour could not have been kinder. She spoke English, and took time to explain and answer all of my questions. The tour was short-no more than 15 minutes, but very informative.
There is no fee for the tour, however donations (of any amount) are gratefully accepted. Following the tour, I was able to observe the mask carvers at work. It's amazing to watch these artisans at work-- from the hand carving to the hand painting--incredible. And yes, photos are allowed.
Next I went upstairs to the store. What an array of masks ! All in various sizes, shapes and colors. The shop owner was very knowledgable, and extremely patient. I was able to bargain with him for a simply beautiful mask (which is symbolic of good health). My mask was wrapped so carefully, that even going through customs, overhead compartment, and taxi ride, it was still in perfect condition when I unwrapped once I arrived back home.
Al in all, Ariyapala is a wonderful little shop/ museum filled with treasures. A must do ! !

DianeDown... [TA], , New York City, New York

Very small museum with really beautiful traditional masks. We enjoyed the brief tour. The shop selling masks above is great and we found the prices very reasonable.

Interesting and informative workshop with small 'museum'
TiggerInI... [TA], , Forest Row, UK

This is not so much a museum as a workshop with a sales area and a small museum attached.

Our visit lasted about 20 minutes and it was an interesting experience. The lady who showed us round explained the symbolism and purpose of the various masks (there are hundreds), and it was also interesting to see the carving and painting of balsa-wood masks in the workshop.

I wouldn't recommend anyone to go out of his way to visit this museum (even if it has the largest collection on the island), as you can see much the same thing in handicraft shops in other towns - but if you are passing through Ambalangoda on the Galle road it is definitely worth a stop.

Boy are there a lot of masks!
melsays [TA], , nyc

This is a small, well-used building. The "museum" is a couple of small rooms in the basement. Upstairs is a shop that sells dozens and dozens of different types and sizes of masks. A workshop is attached to the side of the building. Definitely worth a visit, but unless you're buying, expect to be done in about 15 minutes.

Masks are made of light balsa wood, so buy away!
SheilaKim [TA], , Dubai

We read the reviews and were wary of pushy sales, but when we got there we didn't experience any more than any other place.
Before we went into the shop we were taken round the small museum and made a voluntary donation afterwards. The guide explained the masks and drama of the displays and she did a very good job. When we went into the mask shop we knew which were the ones we wanted to buy for health and posterity!
We bought three masks and a carved elephant ashtray. We bartered a little bit and got a good price. The side 'ears' of the masks come off for packaging and the wood is very light balsa, so will not make a real impact on your luggage allowance.
There is a toilet in there, but I'd recommend you 'go' before you go.
Our masks are a great colourful reminder of our Sri Lankan holiday.

Interesting ...
DEUCE66 [TA], , London, United Kingdom

& worth a visit. We had a good look around at the many masks & took pics but we didn't buy. Imagine trying to get through customs in your mask! I asked to have a look at the elephant fridge magnets & I bought 1, they appeared shocked that I only wanted the one but I have no use for any more.

Worth a short stop only
amalan_20... [TA], , Chennai (Madras), India

The mask museum is touted as Sri Lanka's original/oldest by most people. It's located on the Galle Road and is a fairly small joint. A garage type workshop where one can do a very quick walk through seeing the artisans at work is the primary feature. The museum is a very small gallery depicting the culture and details on masks (nothing much to write home about). The staff make a very hesitant request for donations (albeit the large signboard that clearly specifies that the museum has been sponsored by a german agency). They are not pushy though. There is no entry fee (some places in Sri Lanka can hit you with a very high fee is you dont ask upfront).

Interesting experience
Achibitsy [TA], , Bucharest, Romania

We bought a lot of boxes and a wooden mask that makes our day now in the house :) The place has also a museum and the lady there is very helpful in offering details and explaining all about masks. They have a lovely shop, very well provided and on its right side you can see the real-time work of children and people overthere. A lot of work though...

Interesting if staying nearby
Anne A [TA], , Bath, United Kingdom

Our guide appeared rather bored by the whole thing but there were some interesting masks and the shop was good with no pushy sales pitch.

Intersting Stop in Sri Lanka
mamayer10... [TA], , Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

As we headed out of Colombo south along the coastline to the Galle Fort, we stopped at the Ariyapala Mask Museum. As you enter the shop, a docent will take you on a very quick tour of the museum's collection of antique masks, explaining what they represent, and then, as always in Sri Lanka, you're asked for a donation. Next is the gift shop, which was filled with all sorts of masks and baskets and trinkets. I just loved this gift shop and found the prices were ok -- no bargaining though!! I am pleased with my purchase of a colorful peacock God mask (the God of good humor, good look and harmony ... good choice!) and two beautiful masks of a Sri Lankan antique king and queen made from balsa wood. In Sri Lanka you're are constantly bombarded with hard core sales people, many seemingly untrustworthy, but this gift shop was not bad and I enjoyed my visit.

Wood masks in the Sri Lankan tradition
luizdutra... [TA], , Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

On your way to Galle, you may make a quick stop at Ambalangoda, visiting the Ariyapala Mask Museum. Well, calling it a museum may be too much ... There, you will be able to see the woodshop with a few artisans working on future masks; the so called Museum itself, with a nice collection of masks, all related to Srin Lankan folklore; and, of course, the Museum Shop. Avoid it! Prices are extremely high and you may be tempted to buy a mask that will be a burden to carry during the rest of your vacations. The entrance is free but you won't escape of being asked to make a small contribution to the Museum maintenance. Enjoy!

Faces, faces everywhere
BRBhan [TA], , Albany, New York

Liked: makes possible a successful bank heist.

Disliked: The thoughts of conducting a bank heist :)
Use of masks is ingrained in local culture. One is exposed to the real as well as surreal when browsing the factory.

These are the real masks
Pete M [TA], , Sydney, Australia

It was interesting to find the history of the masks and to see real artisans making them. These are the real mckoy, not the flat, factory made ones you see all over Sri Lanka

Mask Mania
KatielouA... [TA], , Hobart, Australia

This was not on our itinerary but our guide offered to stop for us to have a look and I am so glad she did. The museum is free and the lady in charge will provide you with information on the history of each exhibition in English. It was very interesting to learn about the masks and the history and cultural significance attached to different ones in the collection. i particularly liked the ones associated with medicine and "cures" for certain diseases!!

There is a shop attached to the museum but this is a very expensive place to purchase masks so I would advise giving this a miss. There are plenty of places throughout Sri Lanka where you can buy the same masks for about half the cost.

vayudoot [TA], , Pune

Admission is free and while there are small signs in the display cases, it is difficult to understand the history of masks and the cultural association without a guide.

Everykind of mask there
RobertSer... [TA], , Gdynia, Poland

Unbeliveable collection of masks not to be seen elsewhere

Ryeaan C [TA], , Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan

wow it was great amazing masks on display and they were truly amazing

Interesting Museum!

We visited this delightful museum on the advise of our guide. It was a highly entertaining and informative visit. We saw the whole process of mask making from scratch. The museum educated the kids about the various forms of masks and their significance in the Sri Lankan lives.

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