Arts and crafts are an inherent part of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural and historic heritage. Popular handicrafts include gem works, mask making, pottery, sculpting, intricate lace crafting, lacquer work, and batik. These handiworks are also ideal souvenirs to take home as mementos and to share as gifts with friends and family.
A wide range of handicrafts are available in the shops and stores in and around Colombo, but no vacation in Sri Lanka is complete without seeing the hard work that goes into creating these iconic masterpieces, first-hand. Include an Arts & Crafts tour to your Sri Lanka itinerary for a comprehensive Sri Lankan experience.
Sri Lankan Masks
Sri Lankan devil masks are deeply connected to Sri Lankan folklore, and take on a functional role when they are used in rituals and ceremonies. The popular devil dances, which are dance-drama performances that convey elaborate stories, are enacted by experienced dancers and holy men while wearing these masks. The prominent categories of masks are the Raksha Masks used to perform Raksha dances, the Sanni masks used in healing rituals, and the Kolam masks which are used mainly in dramas.
Today, they are more of a symbol of Sri Lankan culture and adorn the walls of local houses. These masks with their colourful facades, odd shapes, and intriguing histories are ideal souvenirs loved by tourists.
Ambalangoda is the heart of the mask industry in Sri Lanka. The coastal town features mask shops by the side of the road. Pop into one of these stores to get a glimpse of how these masks are carved and painted with brilliant colours.
Sri Lankan Laksha (Lacquer work)
Lacquer work in Sri Lanka is a well-known, intricate craft that has been in practice for centuries. These handicrafts reflect the country’s rich tradition and are a must-see for all travellers and tourists longing for a collection of Sri Lankan souvenirs. Lacquer production originated in central Sri Lanka and has since expanded throughout the island. Reflecting local culture, the Laksha design is carried out in two splendid techniques which are nail work and lathe work.
Laksha is a wax derived from the larvae of an insect species and is manufactured with much hard effort by local craftsmen. While some choose to employ age-old processes, others prefer to use new tools and procedures created over time in the crafting of these exquisite patterns.
Colourful and vibrant walking sticks, flag and hand-fan handles, bowls, vases, containers, and ornamental objects crafted with lacquer work can be found all around the island.
Sri Lankan Drums
Music is at the very heart of the Sri Lankan culture; the famous local drums offer a glance into the country’s vibrant traditions when it comes to rhythm and dance. Traditional drums or ‘Bera’ play a distinct role in Sri Lankan history and culture, and can be heard at any occasion or event throughout the nation. Only a few villages in Kurunegala, Hodiyadeniya in the Kandy district, and Hikkaduwa have artisans with the specific ability and craftsmanship necessary to make these drums.
The drum’s body is generally constructed of Jack tree while the skin is made of animal hide. The attentive and detail-oriented drum builders provide attractively constructed drums with the right sound after many hours of arduous effort.
Batik is yet another exquisite tradition in Sri Lanka that brings to life the diverse arts of the island. The creation of Batik has become firmly established in Sri Lankan handicrafts since its inception many years ago. Batik workers incorporate many intriguing motifs and combinations of hues, some traditional, others contemporary and distinct. The designs offer a glance into the picturesque landscapes, flora, and Kandyan era designs from which most batiks are inspired.
Each stage of the production process of the Sri Lankan Batik is done by hand and is crafted entirely on pure cotton or silk fabric. The material made by batik makers is used to produce chic dresses, shirts, sarongs, and beachwear that are sure to turn heads.
Stone and wood carving/statues
The traditional craft of stone and wood carving has been around in Sri Lanka for centuries and is impossible not to notice when traveling across the island. The exquisite and intricate designs produced by expert craftsmen convey the passion and dedication to the Sri Lankan heritage.
The extensive array of stone and wood carved products sold in Sri Lanka include ornaments and jewellery, figurines, sculptures, statues, lacquer products, vases, boxes, and toys. Carved furniture, household items and ornaments are also popular among locals and foreigners alike.
In ancient times, handloom was reserved exclusively for royalty and gentry of higher castes and special villages were designated to practice the craft. However, now handloom fashion can be found anywhere in Sri Lanka with the skill being passed down from generation to generation – conserving and practicing this art form.
Hand-woven fabrics, with their vibrant colours have become a favourite among shoppers. From curtains, cushion covers, and other household decorative items, to saris and garments as well as everyday items such as books and bags can be found among a wide array of other handlooms products in Sri Lanka.
The production of coir rope and related merchandise has been practiced for countless years in Sri Lanka. Traditionally, coir rope is spun entirely by hand before it is woven into intricate designs to make products. This process is 100% natural and biodegradable.
Popular coir products include carpets, mats, brooms, and brushes.
Beeralu lace making can be considered one of the important aspects of Sri Lankan heritage. The use of bobbins is what gives it its name. The lace has a charm of its own with its intricate detailing and is a highly coveted material, as it is purely handmade. This process involves a traditional method of weaving.
Lace making is popular in the southern region of the country and is quite fascinating to see how hands dexterously handle the tools to create eye-catching patterns. Stop by lace weavers when travelling down south and perhaps, have a go at it if permitted.
One of the oldest lines of craftwork in Sri Lanka, pottery is still popular in this modern day of steel and plastic. Clay lamps can be found at almost all religious shrines in Sri Lanka. Clay pots are popular utensils to cook food. Their rustic look, solid texture, and ability to enhance flavour add to the charm. In addition to pots, terracotta figures, vases, and other utensils are made from clay as well.
One of the most famous areas for clay pottery is Molagoda. Be spoilt for choice when you shop for pottery or even create your own masterpiece in a traditional clay workshop.
The gem industry in Sri Lanka has been in existence for over 2500 years, and is world-renowned for excavating some of the most magnificent gems in the world. Jewellery has always been a part of the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka. In ancient times, they were considered a mark of royalty and privilege, whereas today, it is available for purchase for any who fancy a piece of perfectly crafted jewellery.
You can go directly to the source in Rathnapura and around Sigiriya and experience gem mining in its rawest form and purchase some gorgeous pieces of art for yourself. At present, jewellery made in Sri Lanka; either traditional in design or modern, is up to international standards, and is very well reputed and highly coveted worldwide.