About this object

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. This mask is that of Devi Sanni, the only female among the demons. The word devi means goddess.

Cultural context


Iconographic meaning

Yellow colour of face may be associated with benevolent demons, or with royalty.

Physical description

Mask depicting Devi Sanniya (which represents smallpox, cholera, typhoid, and all epidemic diseases). The face is female with a small green crown outlined with closely spaced white dots as well as thin black lines, and there are three small lobes at the top centre of the crown. The face has been painted yellow with thin black eyebrows, a nose with flaring red nostrils, and closed red lips. Cotton and plant fibre strips are knotted through holes on either temple. The label on the reverse reads, "DEVI SANNI: smallpos [sic], cholora [sic], typhoid, all epidemic diseases" and has "17" written at the bottom centre of the label.