Ambalangoda is located on the South West Coast of Sri Lanka between Bentota and Hikkaduwa in Galle District, Southern Province. It is approximately 107 kilometers south of Colombo and is situated at an elevation of 13 meters above the sea level. Ambalangoda is a sweaty, workaday town, which is completely overshadowed by nearby Hikkaduwa as a tourist destination. White, un-crowded beaches are only a fraction of what beauty of Ambalangoda has to offer. The main reason for visiting the town is to discover the magical meanings behind the ancient devil masks and devil dancers.
Mask making is a popular tradition in Sri Lanka. Many Sri Lankan mask artisans ply their trade along the Western, South Western and Southern coasts of the island. Of these, the masks industry in Ambalangoda on the South Western coast of Sri Lanka is renowned for its talented artisans. Ariyapala and Sons is an important landmark in the town of Ambalangoda that famed for its history and expertise mask carving and culture.
Masks produced by Ambalangoda artisans plays the main role in attractions of Ambalangoda. These masks made by artisans fall into three categories: ‘Kolam’, ‘Raksha’ and ‘Sanni’. ‘Kolam’, which tell mocking stories of traditional Sri Lankan colonial life; ‘Sanni’, or devil dancing masks, used in a type of exorcism ceremony to heal people of persisting illnesses believed to be inflicted by demons; and ‘Raksha’ masks, which are used in festivals and processions. The Naga Raksha (Cobra demon) mask of the ‘Raksha Kolama’ (demon dance), consists of a ferocious face with bulging, popping & staring eyes, a bloodthirsty carnivorous tongue lolling out of wide mouth armored and armed to the hilt with set of fang-like teeth, all topped by a set of cobra hoods.
The traditional masks are carved from light Balsa like Kaduru wood (Nux vomica). Kaduru trees grow in the marshy lands bordering paddy fields. The wood is smoke-dried for a week in preparation. Then work begins with chisel and mallet. Both in carving and painting, the artisan obeys ancient scriptures, which give stringent guidelines. The hand carved and hand painted masks in traditional dance dramas are both vibrant and colorful.
Puppetry, or “rukada”, was not born in Ambalangoda, but it was in this town the craft reached its supreme height in Sri Lanka. This puppetry and mask making activities in Ambalangoda are special arts handed down over generations. You can see many workshops still specialized in this trade. Families of local puppeteers still travel the country with their shows. Podi Sirina Gurunnanse was a legendary puppeteer of puppetry industry of Ambalangoda. It was Gurunnanse who produced the Ehelepola play, based on the tragic story of the aristocratic family. At the peak of his career, he performed before the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s son, when he visited Ceylon in the late 19th century. A cast of 47 puppets was used in the performance, and the royal duke gave Gurunnanse a gold medal and a cash prize of five hundred rupees.
As the center of the traditional mask and puppet carving, you can see many workshops still specialized in this trade which directly affect to the tourism in Ambalangoda. And the best place to get your fill of mask lore is the Ambalangoda Mask Workshop and Museum in Sri Lanka. 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 center for traditional arts and crafts and for research as well. On display at museums are masks symbolizing all the vivid characters, demons, gods, heroes & villains who appear in traditional mask dances. This happens to be one of the major reasons for the most people attraction to Ambalangoda. Once practiced in the hinterland villages in Sri Lanka, mask dances are now performed mostly for the purposes of tourism of Ambalangoda.
Towards to the South from Bentota, the road & railway line run close to the long & continuous stretch of beautiful coast to arrive at the town of Ambalangoda. Ambalangoda provides a feeling of seclusion & opportunity to explore its long stretch of whitish beach mostly for the tourist attraction of Ambalangoda. And also it offers adventurous experiences ranging from turtle hatcheries to guided nature tours and scenic lake safaris. As a result of all these interesting landmarks and traditional importance, Ambalangoda has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. You can find any affordable accommodations and hotels in Ambalangoda to stay in and to make the most out of your holiday in Ambalangoda.