My grandma was to me what Old Nan was to the Stark kids (Game of Thrones). They both excelled at recounting terrifying tales to young children. Her specialty was narrating (with copious embellishment of the gory details) the execution of the Ehelepola family.
So it is with some residual grandma-instilled dread that I entered the Traditional Puppet Museum, whose resident puppets depict 7 well known ancient folktales (including the Ehelepolas' fate).
The gallery is housed in an unassuming building, near the Dehiwala Zoo. I dropped by on a Saturday evening and the place was completely deserted except for one young woman who was the sole staff member present. A ticket costs just Rs 50/= (If you are taking photos: Rs 100) a nominal fee for a place that preserves the waning tradition of storytelling via puppets.
The ‘rukada’ figures have been handcrafted by traditional puppet artists with remarkable attention to detail. A king who donated his own head, a charitable prince who gave away his children, a young beautiful woman who betrays her stout, dwarf and well, ugly husband. These are just a few of the riveting characters rendered in puppet form.
Unfortunately the exhibits are labeled only in Sinhala. I was told that the museum’s founder is usually available to translate but they should really work on having Tamil/English signs at each exhibit to make the folktales more accessible to all visitors.
I haven't witnessed their puppet shows myself but they are bound to be a treat for young and old alike. You have to call the museum in advance to arrange a puppet show. It costs Rs 100 per person for a show (Where 1 of the 7 folktales will be performed).
The last gallery displays an impressive variety of masks/ puppets available for purchase (starting at around Rs 1800/=).
So if queuing up for hours in the blazing heat to see wretched caged creatures at the zoo isn’t your thing, why not walk a few 100 metres and check out the puppet museum?
Call ahead before you visit to watch a puppet show.