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Mask of male face representing Maru Sanniya, the deamon of death, and also Riri Yaka, the deamon of blood. The face has protruding eyes, thick red lips, large white teeth and fangs, a moustache, and a long, pointed beard. The nose is slightly squared, and the face is painted black overall with white used to outline wrinkles on the forehead, and to highlight the nose, cheeks and eye sockets. Crescent shaped openings are located at the lower rims of the eye sockets. A cord is threaded through two holes either side of the mask, and one in the forehead.

History Of Use

Worn during curing ritual of the Sanni Yakuma ceremony, part of the Tovil series of dramas performed by Sinhalese ritual specialists and dancers. The Sanni Yakuma is intended to combat diseases and afflictions caused by the Sanni group of demons. These consist of 18 or more apparitions of the chief demon, Maha-kola-sanni. The officiating healer honours Buddha, then appeases the demons with offerings, dancing, and chanting. The mask characterizes Riri Yaka, one of the many apparitions of Maru Sanni.

Iconographic Meaning

The mask represents 2 different identities: Maru Sanni at one stage of the dance; Riri Yaka at another. Both are considered demons with combined human, animal and supernatural features. Most facial features are humanlike; the snout is bear or monkey-like. The exaggerated, supernatural, bulging eyes and fangs, and the colours are demonic attributes. The two creatures belong to a group of 18 demons which symbolize and inflict various ailments. These Sanni Yakas have faces of disease-stricken men/demons. Their colours, including black or earth brown symbolize death. Maru Sanni, the demon of death associated with madness and delirium, is often seen as a bear, or with a beard or moustache. Riri Yaka is a monkey with an insatiable thirst for blood. He personifies disease with loss of blood. Both demons haunt deathbeds.

Cultural Context


Item History

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