Koothambalam, Kerala temple's theater space - additional intetesting facts that you may not know

. Koothambalam - Kerala Kalamandalam, ThrissuFlickr
small Koothambalam Peruvanam Temple, ThrissurFindMessages.com

In the state of Kerala, a store house of various cultures, often called   God's own country, there is a plethora of art forms - classical, martial and folk  developed over a period of time under the patronage of past rulers.  These art forms need space for retention, performances and growth. Classical forms are presented within a closed space like Koothambalam in a temple complex. Kalari forms the space for martial art forms like Kalaripayattu which is also taught in Kalari; but, this art  form is performed in many other spaces. Thayyam, a folk art form is held in front of the temple in the villages  in the open space without curtains or a stage. Here, I am mainly concerned with - temple theater.

 Koothambalam is a creative, blessed  space or  theater preferably on the temple premises exclusively for staging Koothu, Nangiar koothu and Koodiyattam, the ancient ritualistic  and traditional art forms  in the state of Kerala.  Built as per Nātyasāstra of Bharata Muni, the location  has to be between the Prakaras of Bahyahara and Maryada within the temple.  In Kerala around 14 prominent temples have Koothambalam which gained popularity only in the 16th century and a few reasons are : a. Availability large amount of money to the rulers through mercantile trades with foreign countries. b. Knowledge of scriptures on Natya Sastra by the local Brahmins who were patronized by the rulers, and c. Above all  excellent grasp of carpentry by the skilled local carpenters who had good interaction with foreign carpenters. These social changes gave  impetus to the construction of a closed space for performing arts close to the divinity - an exclusive platform to patronize such art forms that formed the socio-cultural fabric of Kerala.

That  the "concept of performing for the God" gets prominence when performances are held in the temple theater _Koothambalam is quite acceptable. This is true in the case  debut performers who dedicate their first ever performance to the presiding God.

With reference to my earliest post on 'Koothambalam':  https://navrangindia. blogspot.com/2015/07/eye-catching-koothambalam-temple.html, I would like to add the following facts about Natayagraha.

01. The Koothambalam is  sanctified  with Tantrik rites as there is a spiritual link with the temple and the dancing space. etc.

02. Since Lord Shiva  is a cosmic dancer (Nataraja) and is the Lord of dances, at Koothambalam  dances  are performed in the Shaivite tradition, irrespective of the presiding deity.

03. Yet another aspect is this space is  conceptualized as Nandikeswara, the vehicle of Lord Shiva.

04. The stage within the hall is  the most important part of the Natyagraha and is strongly believed to be  as sacred as the temple sanctum or Sri Kovil.

05. The stage is normally built  facing the deity and artists on the stage  perform facing the  deity.

06. Regardless of which direction the main deity in the temple is facing west or east, the Koothambalam has to be to the right side of it.

07. Three important parts of Koothambalam are the roof, the super structure and adishana on which these rest. Thy are built as per guide lines.

08. An interesting feature is there is  a roof within the main roof of the auditorium.

Irinjalakuda: Koothanbalam. stage and ceiling.Tthe hindu com

Main stage and hall, KoothambalamNTD India
Above image: Koothambalam roof structure has hundreds of rafters connected to form a net shaped ceiling, finally connected to a number of koodams. This requires a highly talented and precise erection work. Spaced wooden carvings above the stage - Natya mandapam will improve acoustics, essential for the success of the performance....................................

Koothambal, interior. .archiestudio.in
09. In contrast to the main hall,  the roof over the stage is elaborate and ornamental so as to produce good acoustics. Any small whisper can be picked up and transmitted across the audience far and wide. No distortions in the sound. The ceiling and the breaking-up of its surface into ornamental sections  normally will improve the quality of acoustics.
carved ceiling for acoustics  Koothambalam Images and Imprints
10. The stage wooden ceiling has 49 squares. Nepathya is a small room (something like green room) for the artists. The upper part has narrow jallis for free flow of fresh air.

11. As per Bharata's guide lines,  Kothambalam gives the feeling of a mountain  cave like structure (shailaguhakar); Trellis frames allow  gentle breeze without disturbing the on-going performance and the low protruding roof cuts down Sun's glaze.

Theater seating arrangement. .archiestudio.in
12. As for seating in the theater, tiered seating is not followed nowadays, not so centuries ago. It was caste-specific, people from different castes seat in any place. In the past tiered seating was allowed and Brahmins used to sit close to the stage.

13. As mentioned in Bharata's Nataya Sastra, the drummers and other accompanists perform facing  the East on the stage, even in the case of main deity facing west.

14. Unlike Bharata's treatise on Natya, Kothambalam has three rows of pillars - outer , middle and inner one.

15.  Regarding shape of the dancing space, only square and rectangular shaped Koothambalams are common.

16. The space for the audience is close to the stage and it helps the audience to enjoy the performance at close quarters. In a way, it improves the visual treat for the audience.

17. While the performences are going on a Villaku - oil lamp with three wicks has to be kept going without interruption.

18. The Koothambalam and other ancient temples in Kerala began to use copper plates on their roofs after the Portuguese (15th century) introduced the technique in the region. It gives extra protection to the slante and tiled roof of the Koothambalam against the harsh SW monsoon that brings in lots of rain here.

19. Because Shaivite tradition is followed, invocation of Lord Shiva is done by using tantrik rites.

20. As for temple architecture, the principles are taken from the ancient texts, but the construction materials keep changing from time to time.