Spectacular Koothambalam temple theater of Kerala

koodalmanikyam temple koothambalamwww.vaikhari.org

Koothambalam at Kerala Kalamandalam.commons.wikimedia.org
Koothambalam, Kerala Kalamandalam
 A Hindu temple is a unique place of reverence and veneration and follows various rituals related to the deities in the temples. More often than  not, a part of the Hindu temple, is used for performing dances, particularly in many Nataraja or Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu. With some exceptions, there is no separate space or theater in the temples of Tamil Nadu or any other states. Some temples do have mandapams - halls and not specifically designated for performance of art forms. Unlike other temples of India, the temple tradition of Kerala is altogether different and unique in its own way. For centuries, temples have been designed in such a way as to allow staging art forms on the temple premises. The debut performance by the artists is dedicated to the God Almighty and this tradition has been in vogue for centuries.

koothambalam of vadakkunnathan temple,thrissur.www.alamy.com  

So,  Koothambalam,  is an integral part of Kerala temple culture  where supposedly the divine Gods and Goddesses dance in unison. The Kerala temple architecture  tradition brings out the indisputable fact that the dance and  Hindu religion are inseparable. Thus, the koothambalam plays a major role  in  educating visitors  on  the rich  legends of the  Indian cultural fabric with particular reference to local regions. Koothambalams in temples like Thirunakkara,  Harippad, Kidangoor, Arpookkara and Irinjalakkuda are famous for their sculptures.

Koothambalam, temple theater, Kerala.www.flickr.com
 Koothambalam  is also defined as a traditional theater or space  built as an annex to some of the Hindu temples for staging the performance of Koothu and Koodiyattam, Nangiarkoothu and Chakyar Koothu, - ritualistic classical, dance- dramas  native to  Kerala. Actually, it is  exclusively a temple theater, mostly inside the temple premises.

Dancers at Koothambalam. Kerala. gojom.com

Regarded  as holy  as  the  sanctum or Srikovil of the presiding  deity, Koothamabalams  are built according to  Natyasasthra of Sage  Bharata. Bharata’s  Natya Sastra  describes the features of a Koothambalam. The hall is usually about 16 meter long and 12 meter wide. It has a 4-meter square  raised platform supported by pillars in the center. The koothambalam at Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikya Temple is  one of the best examples of the traditional performance theater model. It is lies within the cloister of the temple; more precisely within the Pancaprakaras of the temple. However, the size of Koothamabalams may vary from temples to temples. It is imperative, the classical performances should be staged on the space  within the confines of the structures that are made of granite, rosewood and teak wood, etc., Some  Koothambalams  are beautifully designed and  they display vignettes exquisitely carved in wood. Some may carry paintings, depicting various episodes from the great epics - the Mahabharata or the Ramayana.

A square platform with a separate pyramidal roof supported by pillars in the center called ''Natyamandapam'' is built as a separate structure within the large hall of Koothampalam. The floor of the hall has two equal portions. One space is for performance (including stage, instruments, green room etc.) that is the main artist and the accompanying instrumentalists, etc. The other portion is  for the audience. In the olden days the people had to sit on the floor to watch the Koothu. Nowadays chairs are provided for the audience to enjoy the performances comfortably, particularly it is quite useful for senior citizens. The design and plan of Koothambalam is typical to the Kerala tradition of temple architecture, following Vaastu Sastra as prescribed in Thantra Samuccayam and silpa ratnam, the authentic texts on temple Vastu. Such temple theaters are, mostly made of teak wood because Kerala has a vast track of wooded area and quality wood is available in plenty. The roof is tiled and the halls are well ventilated for free flow of air. The low lying slanting  roof  prevents  rain water reaching the boundary walls or entering into the hall. In Kerala during the monsoon season, the rain will be vigorous and such such slanting roof is quite helpful..

The following  facts are note worthy when the performance of Koothu is on:
 01. The stage is well decorated with fruit-bearing (in Tamil Vazha maram with vazhakai)) plantains, bunches of coconut or fronds of palm leaves.

 02. A para filled with rice is placed on the stage.

 03. A Nilavilakku (lamp) with three thiri (wicks) is used  for lighting. In Hindu religion, as in other religions, oil lamp  or Deepam plays a major role. A fire can not be polluted  unlike other elements, air, water, earth, etc.
  04. The mizhavu, a percussion instrument for accompanying Koothu, is placed within a railed enclosure, with a high seat for the drummer.

  05. It has been a tradition in many places to have God or Goddess's pictures on the stage in a secluded place as staging a performance on the temple premises implies dedication to the almighty.

Koothambalams represent a unique element in the cultural and temple heritage of Kerala. It is an uninterrupted legacy passing  down from generations to generations. An interesting fact about these temple - related art forms is  only men from the Chakyar community are allowed to perform  Koothu and Koodiyattam  inside the Koothambalam. The women of the  Ambalavasi-Nambiar caste (Nangyarammas), play Nangyar Koothu and the female characters of Koodiyattam. The traditional Ambalavasi-Nambiars play the mizhavu- drum.

Koothambalam is still the most revered space on the temple premises close to God, where the soul and heart mingle. The result is spiritual ecstasy.