This classical dance is performed by the members of the professional Chakyar cast and that too only in Koothambalam of temples.It is one of the oldest of theatrical arts peculiar to Kerala.The term Koothu literally means dance which may be taken as an index of the importance attached to dance in the original form of the art.As a matter of fact, the movements and facial expressions and the signs and gestures employed by the actor in Koothu are said to approximate most closely to the principles laid down in the authoritative Sanskrit treatise on the subject, Bharatha’s Natya Sastra.
The actor recities stories from the epics based on Sanskrit text interpreting them in Malayalam, enlivening his narration with Thandava dance rhythms and also gestures and bodily postures which are clearly derived from Natya Sastra.
The Koothu is very much dominated by the comic element.Impersonated through mime and gesture and interspersed with occassional dances, the narrative art of the Chakyar is essentially dramatic.Humorous , witty analogies and allusions to topical, political and social events are bought in during the narrration and the dancer gets ample facilities for criticising men and things of local interest.Seldom does he miss an opportunity to make comic comments on contemporary life and society.He ridicules the follies and foibles of the age with impunity.
In actual performance the dancer stands on the platform of the Koothamblam adorned with his special type of headgear and peculiar facial make-up.He then offers prayers to the presiding deity of the particular temple where he is performing.After that he recities a verse from the Sanskrit text from which he intends to expound and then explains it in Malayalam.
The instruments used are a pair of cymbals and the mizhavu which is a big copper drum.A member of the Nambiar caste beats rhythm on the mizhavu at the required intervals.The cymbals are played invariably by women known as Nangiyars.
Koothu presented as a solo item by a chakiyar is also known as Prabhandha Koothu.Occassionally , it is presented by a Nangiyar woman, when it is called Nangiyar Koothu.