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Performing Arts
Sri Lanka


Masked Folk Play (literally, disguise or masquerade)


(from left)
- Naga Kanya, Snake damsel.
- Lenchina, the dhoby's wife.
- Mudali the village chieftain and his attendant.

Kolam is a type of folk drama where all characters wear masks made of wood and gaily coloured. The masks are of three types: 1)semi-divine roles; 2)King, Queen and royal entourage; 3)normal social characters. Kolam has no central theme of a story, but consists of short humorous anecdotes. There is a certain amount of dancing too.

Reasons for selection

It is a type of folk dance drama. All characters wear masks made of wood. The dialogue in the drama is not audible, because of the mask. Yet the conversation is very important.

Area where performed

Village pockets along the Southern coastal belt of the Island, in regions like Mirissa, Ambalangoda, and also in the hinterland region of Horana.

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance, Theatre, Masks

Detailed explanation

The musical instruments in Kolam are, the Low country drum known as yak-bere and the double-reed oboe, the horane. There are songs also songs usually sung by an unmasked participant known as kariyakaravana-rala. In a Kolam performance there are about 15 to 20 characters. But there have been more than 50 characters in the past. These masks of Kolam drama are some of the most valuable artistic creations that Sri Lanka can offer to the world. The popular Rassa masked drama of the modern theatrical stage is performed with the mask belonging to the Kolam repertoire.

Publication and textual documentation

Available only in parts. A complete Kolam documentation has to be done. Scholars have written about Kolam and not the full script of the drama, the reason may be that there are regional differences in the order of the drama.

Goonatilake, M. H.
1965 Kolam Nataka Sahitya Literature on Kolam Dance .
Colombo: Institute of Aesthetic Studies. In Sinhala.

Audio documentation

Not available fully, only in parts. There is an LP printed by Barenreiter, Basal.
Sri Lanka, Kolam, the Masked Play printed by Barenreiter, Basal with recordings made by C. De S. Kulatillake, who has given the commentary to the LP too.

Visual documentation

This too has been done in parts, and not fully. Not even the State Television has a complete video.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

Not in full, a few episodes only. Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Music/Dance Research Unit. No. 21, Albert Crescent, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka

Data provider

C. De. S. Kulatillake
Consultant/Music Research
Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Kelaniya University
Address: 21 Albert Crescent, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka