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Seat of culture

The Natakasala, inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, was once the centre of all cultural activities in Travancore.


THE 10-DAY festival of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is the time for staging nightlong Kathakali shows at the Natakasala, inside the temple.

"It was at this heritage centre that Kathakali, on the lines of Kaplingattu or southern tradition, had taken birth under the patronage of Maharaja Karthika Tirunal," writes Aswathi Tirunal Gauri Lakshmi Bai in her book, `Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple'.

It has been more than a decade since All India Radio started conducting sangeetha archana (musical offering) at Natakasala. AIR conducts this event as part of the annual Swati Tirunal Jayanthi celebrations. The Swati Tirunal Sangeetha Sabha conducts programmes here on the Sree Chithira Tirunal Jayanthi day. On all other days, the Natakasala remains the main entrance-lounge for the visiting devotees.

The temples of south India have always been seats of cultural activities. Many temple art forms unfolded in the koothambalams of the temples. In the absence of a koothambalam, these activities took place at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple at the Natakasala or certain other venues inside the temple. As many as 99 temple art forms are said to have been staged here.

The very name, Natakasala, is reminiscent of its association with drama or play. History has it that during the reign of Travancore Maharajas, doyens in the field of music, art and literature had performed here. It was the venue usually chosen for such art forms as Kathakali, Chakiarkoothu, Kolattamkali, Ottamthullal, Ramanattam, Koodiyattam and Harikatha.

Ascend the 13 steps in front of the Padmanabha Swamy temple and enter the arched main entrance gate, facing the majestic East Fort, and you reach the Natakasala, a palatial 120x48 feet hall.

Bounded by granite walls with fantastic sculptures, this hall is vertically sectioned into three parts. The central portion is where the artistes perform. Spectators sit and view the event from either side. There is an isolated wooden enclosure on the left side, embellished with art works and fretworks. The king and those of the royal family used to watch the performance from there.

The Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple was renovated during the 12th, 13th, 15th and 18th centuries, say historians. Natakasala was a feature added in the first half of the 18th century, during the reign of King Marthanda Varma. Kunchan Nambiar, Unnai Warrier, Merugoswami, Shatkala Govinda Marar and Irayimman Thampi are said to have performed here. The hallway has also resonated with the recital of `Syanadoorapuravarnanam', composed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal. Until a few months ago, the Natakasala was a joint for vendors of flowers, lamp oil, lamps, devotional cassettes, CDs and books.

K. C. ASOK

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