One of the prominent dances of Kerala, Koothu Dance is a solo performance which comprises of acting and dancing. This art form was developed as a part of the ancient tradition of Kerala's well known Sanskrit theatre - 'Koodiyattam'.
The term "Koothu" literally means 'dance' - which might seem as a misnomer, since there is very little choreography involved in this art form; although facial expressions are important. Nevertheless, it is believed that 'dance' might have played an integral part in the original form of this ancient art.
One of the oldest performing arts of Kerala, Koothu Dance was traditionally performed by the Chakyar community in Kerala, that too only in the 'Koothambalam' (temple-theater) of temples. The audience was mostly restricted to the upper class Hindus.
Chakyar Koothu Dance is a kind of mono-act performed by the male members of the Chakyar class. It is the traditional equivalent of a stand-up comic act, the only difference being that here the performer is allowed greater freedom, in the sense that he can heckle the audience. The dancer narrates tales from the epics (based on Sanskrit texts), interprets them in Malayalam, and enlivens his narration with 'Thandava' dance rhythms, with gestures and postures which are apparently derived from 'Natya Sastra'.
The part of Koothu Dance, which is performed only by the 'Nangiars'or the female members of the Chakyar community, is called Nangiar Koothu. This is a solo dance drama, with the plots being centered mainly on the legends of Lord Krishna. Verses are sung and enacted through mime and dance, to the accompaniment of the percussion instrument 'mizhavu', played by the Nambiar - the male members of the community, and the 'kuzhithalam'(cymbals) - played by the Nangiar.
Nangiar Koothu Dance is still performed in some temples in Kerala like the Vadakkunnatha Temple at Thrissur, Sri Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha, Koodal Manickyam Temple at Irinjalakkuda and Kumaranalloor temple at Kottayam.