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. Mahasona Yaka also appears in Kolam presentations, as well as the Sanni.

Cultural context


Iconographic meaning

Mahasona Yaka is chief of 70 thousand demons. He is so called because he frequents graveyards and feeds on carcasses (Sarachahandra 1966:28). According to a Kolam enactment, Gothayimbara, a famous warrior under King Dutugemunu, severed the head from the body of a warrior called Jayasena in a fight. The planetary deity, Senasura, seeing this, seized a bear, tore off its head, and placed it on Jayasena's body who then became a demon with the body of a man and the head of the bear. Thus, the bear head symbolizes this demon.

Physical description

Mask depicting Maha Sohona (a major devil with the head of a bear), also known as Valas Paliya (the bear apparition). The mask has a rounded snout with large nostrils, protruding eyes with black pupils each surrounded by a ring of red and with a hole under each as well as between the eyes. The mouth has red lips and jagged white teeth with a long tongue that protrudes out the front of the mouth and curls back under the chin. There are two small ears at the sides of the head, and the top of the head has an arched crest, below which is another crest with three ponts and incised vertical lines. There are two small protrusions at either side of the jaw, each with vertical incised lines. Label across inside above eyes reads, "MAHA SOHONA: Major Devil with Head of Bear. Also called Valas Paliya or Bear Apparition."