Guruvayur temple's Koothambalam, Kerala - second one in Kerala to get UNESCO award!!

 In December 2020  roughly 100 year old  Koothambalam at Guruvayur  Temple, Kerala was one  among the four sites that won the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The others are  Delhi’s Heritage Park-Sunder Nursery,  Amar Singh College, Srinagar and Malabari Hall Building, Seva Sadan Society of Mumbai. This temple is one of the famous temples of ''Sri Krishna'' across the country and  is an important pilgrimage center in South India

Koothambalam, Guruvayur temple, Kerala

.Koothambalam, Guruvayur temple, Kerala

Above images: Koothambalam on the temple premise is  made mostly of quality wood with  adequate  wooden support  and proper  ventilation. The extended  sloping roof on all sides will prevent rain from affecting the walls and reduce the glare. In some koothambalams special old-type acoustic provisions are made to amplify the   sound across the large hall. Normally, with tiled roof is  carefully protected  by proper wooden paneling.  A fine piece of architectural work that has been around for centuries .......  

The renovated  Guruvayur Koothambalam  won the Award of Distinction for cultural heritage conservation.  According to the UNESCO  statement  the restoration work on the Koothambalam hall gives validity to  the ''affinity between architectural heritage and associated living, spiritual and artistic tradition.'' This award is an acknowledgement of  'the role and contribution of cultural heritage to sustainable development.'

Koothambalam, Guruvayur temple,

''Koothambalam'' or ''Natyagriha'' in  Kerala is part of a Hindu temple and it is a closed  privileged  theatrical   space facing the sanctum and  designed  for staging age-old  ritualistic performing art forms native to Kerala such as Koodiyattam, Nangiar koothu, etc.   The rituals are done to propitiate the god.  A sacred place on the temple premises, it is said to have been   constructed  according to the  Natyasastra of Bharata Muni and it provides an aesthetic ambiance  for the audience as well as to the performers in a sanctified space.

 Normally built within  the  prakaras of the temple it has a natyamandapam  in the center - an elevated  square platform  with a separate pyramidal roof supported by wooden pillars.  The hall is a large  one with two more or less  equal parts - one for stage performance with musical instruments, etc., and the other is for the audience. The entire structure is provided with excellent ventilation that will keep the indoors cool. 

 Unfortunately, with the passage of time and advent of modern life  only some temples are left with Koothambalam and their  conservation  has become a necessity to preserve the old art forms that are slowly dying. Further, such  ingeniously made wooden  structures of beauty and architectural finesse  are  part of Kerala's rich culture  where the trained artists in Kathakili, Mohiniattom or Koodiyattom   perform their debut  before  the audience - a sort of dedication of their first  performance  to the presiding deity of the temple. 

inside a Koothambalam, Kerala ,pinrest

The renovation of Guruvayur  Koothambakam  involved  time- consuming work -  careful stripping of   conflicting  enamel paints and intrusive  modern stuff  that mar the original beauty. The conservationist employed  talented and experienced  carpenters to work on  the intricate woodwork and warm natural timber finishes of the original building. The new insertions  were  done  to improve the quality of the performance space in accordance with  international conservation norms. The lighting arrangements were  elaborate and refurbished scientifically, covering  ambient, event and stage lighting. The purpose of  lighting is  to augment the spiritual aura of the theatrical space  and to highlight the  rich intricate wood work. The light fixtures are carefully concealed  within the structure.  The conservationists and artisans breathed fresh lease of  life to the heritage structure. 

The conservation aimed at safeguarding  aesthetics  of old  structures that are prone to vulgarity of modern  technology. Normally,  Hindu temple rituals across India  are votive in nature that have been here for centuries. The conservation work recognizes the long held cultural and religious ethos.  Glad to hear  this renovation work was sponsored by TVS Motors. 

The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for cultural heritage conservation committee  since 2000  has been recognizing  private  individuals' participation in the conservation work. In many Indian states the governments experience money crunch and participation of private industries, etc., is a step in the right direction.

The architect M.M. Vinod  led the team with support from  talented carpenters and the PWD  section of the Guruvayur Devaswom. This is the second temple in Kerala to get the UNESCO award.  In 2015,  Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple, Thrissur was the first one to have selected  for UNESCO ‘Award of Excellence’ for the preservation of heritage.

That the demolition of old temple structures and  replacing them with  concrete structures  is  sad news  and does not augur well for the old temples that need repair and conservation. A viable scientific methods should be given priority and the temples governed by the Government agencies must set  clear-cut conservation norms with respect to historical  places of worship within the frame work Care must be taken  not to  deviate or damage their heritage aspects and  most importantly, they must use  constructions materials matching those used in the past.  Saving the old structures for posterity is essential to retain the historical and cultural connectivity in relation to that region.