Masala is a tricky character to get to know.
Not a specific spice like, say, cinnamon, masala is hard to nail down because it’s made up of many different spices. If there are 99 Indian cooks, there very well could be 99 different spice blends.
A foundational ingredient at Indian restaurants, masala is a blend of a few spices or possibly umpteen spices combined: it could be cardamom, coriander and cumin; or, it could be those three central spices — plus a half-dozen more.
Add to that the fact that the Indian subcontinent is itself an immensely complex blend of regional cuisines where chefs and home cooks likely have their own particular masala variations and mixtures. The term “curry powder” came from the British Raj.
One particular variation known as garam masala is usually described as a spice blend from northern India that has its own complexity and specialized use.
Not to be outdone, 8,000 kilometers away, there is a North African spice blend in Rabat or Marrakesh, Morocco, that has more than a dozen individual spices: ras el hanout.