What is so unique about the Koothambalam at Koodalmanikkam Temple, Kerala?

Koothambalam Irinjalakuda.vaikhari.org
Irinjalakuda, Trissur district,(AEO), Irinjalakuda.
Koodalmanikkam Temple, situated in Manavalassery village, Irinjalakuda, Trissur district, Kerala is the only ancient temple in India dedicated to the worship of Bharata, the third brother of Rama, however the idol is that of Vishnu. "Sangameshwara"(Lord of the Confluence) is another name associated with the deity at Koodalmanikyam.  The temple is one of four in Kerala state that form a set called "Nalambalam" each temple dedicated to one of the four brothers in the great epic Ramayana: Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. The temple had also been an important centre of  the temple arts like Kathakali, Koothu, Koodiyattom and Thullal.  Koothambalam stage had the rare fortune to witness historic stage shows,  by the Ammannoor Chakyar family.
Temple festival, Sree Koodalmanikyam Temple Irinjalakuda
The Koothambalam of Irringalakuda (Sangama Grahmam) Koodal Manikya Temple  is considered as the second largest Koothambalam in size. This pyramid like structure never fails to attract the curious visitors to this temple. Set in a serene place on the temple premises, this Natyagraha is famous for Koothu and Koodiyatoom performances.  Built with the support of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore in 1268 AD, this age old Koothambalam - temple theater or Natyagraha in the recent past underwent renovation and face-lift under the guidance of ASI - Archaeological  Survey of India. An interesting fact is  here the Natyagraha is sanctified by  Tantric rites.  I am at my my wits' end to understand why Agama temple rites are not followed in many temples here. What features make the Koothambalam here an impressive one? It' s perfect square plan,  three different rows of prakara (passages),  pillars that support the  whole structure,  the outer row with 32 stone pillars,  middle row with 22 wooden pillars and the inner circle with 14 huge wooden pillars. 

Since Koothambalam is a dance theater on the temples premises where debut dance or koothu performers  dedicate their performance to the presiding deity there, a fairly good audience will be present in the other side of the Koothambalam. Songs, music dialogue, etc need to be well heard by the audience. As the entire auditorium is made of wood except the foundation and lower ground level, special attention is paid to the ceiling above the structure and the main stage that allows free movement of various performers as well as rhythmic and thalam accompanists. The wooden ceiling is specially designed with well defined carving so as to pick up good  acoustics.  A small whisper in the performance space could easily reach the audience far and wide. Carpenters employed to take care of acoustic arrangement are highly skilled and experienced. The trick is  symmetrical, worked wooden panel and it goes well for fine production of sound without any echo.

At the Koothambalam here, certain ritualistic norms are followed   along with the dramatic sequences. The 5-day Kodiyattom is a good example: The Abhishekanatakam  is followed by  purappad on the first day, Nirvahanam on the second and third day and Koodiyattam on the concluding days. The scenes from the great epic Ramayana are enacted -  Ravana’s death in Sri Lanka to Rama's Pattabhishekam (coronation) at Ayodhya  and Agnipravesam of Sita (Ramas' consort getting into the bed of fire to prove her unalloyed character). The performers are males from
Chakyar community. The temple Tantri plays the role of sage Vasista and performs rites before kalasa (pot with rice) to be poured over Sri Rama at the coronation ceremony.
The Koothambalam' Natya mantapam (center stage) at Irringalakuda is not only large enough to allow such a big dance performance -Koodiyattom to move smoothly, every spoken word and music reaches the audience on account of well-planned and carved wooden features in the ceiling  that produce good acoustics.

Such performing art forms are held particularly in Kerala for various reasons -  propitiating the  gods  for good rain for the harvest  fertility, welfare of the society and family and most importantly  for  salvation- to get to the lotus feet of God without any rebirth.