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Koothambalam In Kerala Temples

Koothambalam is the theater structure found in some temples in Kerala. Koothambalam is the Malayalam term for natyamandapam (a dance hall) and consists of two words, kuttu (dance and drama) and ambalam (temple).

Koothambalam refers specifically to the specially built structures of certain kinds of dance like Koodiyattam, staged within the temple precincts. In the Koodiyattam dance tradition, the staging of select scenes from Sanskrit plays by the Chakyars and Nangyar has a history of at least a thousand years.

The Koothambalam that still exist are no more than 300 years old; some of these are in Thrissur, Irinjalakuda and Tripunithura.

Koothambalam Plan

The Koothambalam is generally located in front of the shrine and to its right. The size of each varies, but the structure follows a set pattern. The roof in an enormous, four-sided structure, rectangular and sloping steeply downwards. It is supported on beams resting on rows of pillars. The outer roof is generally copper-plated. At the top there are thazhikakudam (three finials).

Inside the large auditorium is a raised stage, usually a square. It has a roof of its own, supported by round pillars. The outer edge of the stage, which faces the deity of the temple, is built in alignment with the middle finial, thus the stage projects into the auditorium. The roof covering the stage has an independent structure. Behind the stage is the green room, connected to it by two doors, between which are placed two mizhavus (large drums) with raised seats for the drummers.

The stage setting is simple, with hardly any props. There are one or two stools used both as seats and for other stage business. Just before the entry of an important character, a curtain is brought in and held by two persons, who exit with the curtain after the entry of the character.

One of the characteristic features of the Koothambalam is that the pillars seldom intercept the vision of the Chakyars or the audience.

For the performance, the stage itself is decorated with palm and plantain leaves, red cloth, and para (a cylindrical vessel) filled with rice. In the foreground a huge bell metal lamp, about four feet high, is placed in front of the stage and its oil-soaked wicks (two facing the actor and one facing the audience) are lit.

Temples have been a part of the social life of Kerala and the Koothambalam have been in the forefront of entertainment in the Hindu cultural tradition. 

Koothambalam At Koodalmanikyam Temple

A classic example of Koothambalam is found in the Koodalmanikyam Temple at Irinjalakuda.

The circumference of the Koodalmanikyam Temple Koothambalam is 84x64 meter with 42 pillars supporting the roof. The stage per se is demarcated with four pillars. The entire wooden structure, including the main doors and the doors to Nepathya (dressing room), is made of teak.

Sculpted scenes from the Ramayana and Santhanagopalam adorn the interiors of the roof. Ashtadikpalakas (guardian gods of the eight directions) too are located there.

The total height of the Natyagruha comes to 15.45 meter and width 25.47 meter. The height of the roof is estimated to be 12.98 meter. These measurements provide excellent acoustics to the Koothambalam.

The top of the Koothambalam slants on all sides like a pyramid. There are three diadems attracting positive energy and adding to the opulence of the entire structure. Copper sheet covering the edifice carries a distinct tone.

Some of the other important Koothambalam in the region are at the Vadakkunnathan Temple (Thrissur), the Venganallur Temple (Chelakkara) and Kottiyoor temple.