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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Renovation of the Koothambalam at Kalakshetra Chennai

Based on the policy decision taken by the management of the Kalakshetra Foundation, the koothambalam in their Chennai campus is subject to renovation. Koothambalam refers to a temple theatre that is a closed hall used to perform Koothu, Nangiar koothu, and Koodiyattam, the oldest traditional art form of Kerala. Our office is doing the renovation. It is proposed that the renovation be completed as soon as possible because it has been a long time since the structure was renovated (1985) and the space is in active use as one of the most revered performance spaces in the country.


Kalakshetra, Chennai
Kalakshetra, Chennai
Koothambalam at Kalakshetra, Chennai

About Shri. Appukuttan Nair


I am so happy to get involved in this project. During my formative years, I had heard various facts about the koothambalam design and structure from its architect, Shri Appukuttan Nair. Many of the things I learned about the traditional architecture of Kerala stemmed from him. I used to meet him while I worked with Laurie Baker. Shri Appukuttan Nair was the president of the Margi Club, which was actively involved in teaching Kathakali and Koodiyattam in Thiruvananthapuram. Both of us were involved in the design of the classroom interiors which was carried out by a master mason Anil Kumar. Moreover, one architect who visited Margi Club two or three years ago told me that the brick murals which were created at that time still remain. Although Shri Laurie Baker and Shri Appukuttan Nair had not met each other, both of them had great respect for each other’s works.


Appukuttan Nair
Shri Appukuttan Nair

He was a bit doubtful in the beginning, later on, he shared quite a bit of his knowledge with me, saying that I was the only person who had come to him to learn about the traditional architecture of Kerala, not as part of writing a thesis, or an assignment or a dissertation. I was thrilled when he asked me to design the residence of his elder son, Mr Jayasankar. Shri Appukuttan Nair was never interested in gaining fame or recognition, and I used to tell him that unless he passed on his expertise to the future generation, we would lose our significance.


Finally, he agreed to write about his experiences and knowledge of the traditional architecture of Kerala. He wrote a few pages on Kerala’s traditional architecture and gave the hand-written script to me. But he put my name as the author in his handwriting and told me to get it published. I said that I will never do this and the article he wrote might be there in one of my old files. He told me that I have to write down while he talks about his experiences, but unfortunately, I got a little busy with work. He passed away in 1994 and the fact that I did not spend more time with him, learning about his experiences and writing about them, remains as one of the great things I missed in my life.


Existing Koothambalam Design


Shri Appukuttan Nair had a deep knowledge of the traditional performing arts and wrote many articles on those subjects. In fact, only Shri Appukuttan Nair and Shri Laurie Baker's works were chosen for the Contemporary Architecture of India exhibition of 1985, from Kerala, as part of the Festival of India in Paris. Although only a few of his designs such as the koothambalam at the Kalamandalam Kerala and the Kalakshetra Chennai survive now, he has designed many other structures as well. He used to say that after the design was done, his part was over. When many architects were talking about critical regionalism in the 1970s, he designed the Kalamandalam Kerala and showed how it should be done.


Kalamandalam Kerala
Kalamandalam, Kerala

Conclusion


Since koothambalam in Kalashektra Chennai is a traditional structure conceived and executed by the visionaries to the eminence of Smt. Rukmini Devi and Sri. Appukuttan Nair, it was felt that traditional architects may be consulted for inputs during the course of the project. So, a decision was taken by the management that stone sculptures of wheels, horses, elephants, railings and dwarapalakas may be included in the koothambalam design. Further, the number of quality traditional sculptors was dwindling and their services were becoming increasingly rare. Therefore, the installation of sculptures such as wheels, horses, elephants, railing, and dwarapalakas be completed as soon as possible. It was also recommended by Stapathi Sri. K.P Umapathy Acharya that M/s Bhagaban Subudhi, a renowned sculptor from Orissa may take up the job of sculpting the mentioned icons.


Kalakshetra, Chennai
The Temple Theatre at Kalakshetra, Chennai

Now, the initial design phase is complete, and I have the feeling that Shri Appukuttan Nair is standing behind me, approving the design changes we are making to Kalakshetra's Koothamabalam, which he designed over 30 years ago.


Kalakshetra, Chennai
Kalakshetra, Chennai
The Renovated Koothambalam at Kalakshetra, Chennai

For more information on the project, visit the link given below:


To know more about the other buildings in Traditional Kerala architecture check out our other blogs:


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