Koreans use masks in many cultural dances.
Koreans use masks in many cultural dances.

Many Asian countries have distinct masks of their own, yet similarities in culture also reflect influences from neighboring areas. Asian masks are typically used for spiritual, cultural and decorative purposes. Many countries wear masks for tribal rites, religious celebrations and theatrical performances. Masks can depict human faces, real or mythical animals or represent deities.

Theatrical and Dance Masks

In Japan, there are Noh masks worn by skilled actors to induce a variety of perceived expressions. In India, the staging of an extremely popular Indian Hindu epic, "Ramayana," captures the psyche of people through masked depictions of the characters. There are generally two kinds of masks traditionally used in Korea: religious and artistic masks that are typically used for enacting persons, animals and supernatural beings. The traditional Chinese opera called "Di Opera" are popular in towns such as Anshun, Huishui, Pingba and Zhenning.

Ritualistic and Ceremonial Masks

The ceremonial masks of Java and Bali, Indonesia, originated from ancient rituals honoring ancestors and deities of planting and harvest. Every New Year season, Mongolians celebrate with masked dance ceremonies, collectively known as "tsam," to destroy the evil accrued during the past year. Sri Lanka has a mask-making tradition wherein the masks, mostly carved from wood, are used in processions, carnivals and curative rituals, like in the "tovil" and "kolam." People from Papua New Guinea wear a body mask covering the head, shoulders and torso during traditional dances or cultural rites.

Religious Masks

Mongolians use masks, along with costumes and other paraphernalia, for religious festivals such as the Dancing Demons. The masks in Nepal employ representations of deities such as Ganesh and Bhairava. In India, masks representing deities reach back to several centuries ago. The masks depicting Shiva and Shakti are considered extremely powerful, iconic masks that can exude linkage between natural power and ritualistic connotations. In Papua New Guinea, spirit masks embody tribal spirits and are usually mounted in homes and other important locations. Gable masks in house gables are believed to protect occupants from marauding spirits.

Masks Representing Human Faces

At the beginning of the present century, European travelers recorded the funeral masks called Pemia still being used by the Toraja people living in Indonesia's Poko lake area. These ancient masks made of pale wood were oval and almost as flat as human faces.

The Nepalese also have masks representing the Lama. Many other oriental countries use masks representing human faces and reflecting their various emotions.

Masks Representing Mythical Creatures and Animals

Deity representation masks in Nepal are usually handcrafted to become mystical characters such as the golden-bodied bird Garuda. During the 19th to early 20th centuries, Mongolia made masks out of papier mache covered with velvet, which are used in the Chojin Temple in Ulaan Baatar. In India, mythological and real animals remain a powerful component of the vast country's diverse culture. There are Indian mask dances depicting animals such as the cow mask from Ramreela, a practice that has survived since prehistoric times. There are also lion masks in Purulia and jackal masks in Gambhira of West Bengal and Eastern India.