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Masks and puppets tell Sri Lanka's ancient tales

Local performers battle to keep traditional art forms relevant

Puppets from the Ehelepola Kumaraya play, the story of a nobleman's son resisting a Sinhalese king influenced by the colonizing British (Photo by Rajpal Abeynayake)

AMBALANGODA, Sri Lanka -- In Ambalangoda, a vibrant Sri Lankan coastal town of fishermen, sunshine and traditional mask makers, two unique and ancient art forms are battling for survival. One, known as rukada, uses almost life-size puppets to thrill and amuse audiences.

Its not-so-distant cousin is the art of masked drama called kolam, which translates best as "farce." In kolam, costumed men wearing masks act out ancient stories, often to raucous effect. What unites these two art forms are the traditional masks made in Ambalangoda and other maritime towns of Sri Lanka's south, such as Balapitiya.

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