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Face mask representing Hevaya, the soldier from the kolam play, Sri Lanka, 1771-1900

Covered in bites and leeches, this carved wooden mask represents Hevaya, the soldier from the masked kolam plays of Sri Lanka. There are over fifty characters in the plays and Hevaya represents a figure of fun. ‘Kolam’ literally means appearance or impersonation and it is thought that the plays began as an ancient fertility ritual. The plays may also be a prelude to the exorcism of demons, which are believed, in parts of Sri Lanka, to be the cause of disease.

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Glossary: mask

A covering worn on or held in front of the face for disguise, to amuse, terrify or to symbolise.

Glossary: leech

A type of worm that possesses suckers at both ends of its body. Formerly widely used for letting blood, the medicinal leech may now be used following microsurgery to encourage the growth of new capillaries. Leeches are found in tropical forests, grasslands and in water.