meaning "acting together", Kootiyattam is the earliest classical
dramatic art form of Kerala.
Based on Bharatha's 'Natyasasthra', it evolved in the 9th century AD. Enacted inside the temple theatre, there are two or more characters onstage at the same time, with the 'Chakkiar' providing the male cast and the 'Nangiar' playing the female roles.
The 'Nangiar' beat the cymbals and recite verses in Sanskrit, while in the background 'Nambiars' play the 'Mizhavu', a large copper drum. 'Vidushaka' or the wise man, a figure parallel to the fool in Shakespearean plays, enacts his role with the liberty to criticise anyone without fear.
The costume of the jester sets him apart from the rest. The Koottiyattam performance lasts for several days ranging from 6 to 20 days. Themes are based on mythology.
The Koodalmanikyam Temple at Irinjalakkuda and the Vadakkunnatha temple at Thrissur are the main centres where Koottiyattam is still performed annually. Ammannoor Madhava Chakkiar is an unrivalled maestro of this rare art.