Name: Jaya Nalinakshan, Occupation: Teaching Kolattam
There is a slight drizzle as I walk through Valiasala gramam. House No. 43, home to one of the veteran teachers of Kolattam, is my destination. Jaya Nalinakshan, dressed in a purple silk sari, comes out with a warm smile, saying quite apologetically, “It would be better if you talk to my students. I rarely teach these days.”
The 62-year-old is, however, thrilled to talk about Kolattam, a dance form integral to the Tamil Brahmin community. It is performed during the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam or Aadi in the Tamil calendar. “I have lost count of the number of years I’ve been teaching it to. It has been part and parcel of our lives. As a young girl, I never missed out on an opportunity to perform Kolattam. I would rush to school after a Kolattam session with my friends in the morning and would then have another session in the evening, during the Aadi month,” says Jaya, about her days in Kanthalloor gramam where she grew up. “We used to make Pongal and Thaalakam, a special dish made of seven vegetables,” she says with much excitement.
She then explains about the dance form. “Young girls, dressed in their best, dance with sticks in their hand in perfect rhythm to songs in praise of Lord Krishna or the goddess. The dance is performed on Tuesdays or Fridays in Devi temples. Only those girls who haven’t reached puberty participate in the performance,” she says, as her dear student Jyothi N. and granddaughter Kalyani join her to talk about the dance.
Kolattam is dedicated to the goddess. Legend has it that the Goddess had dressed herself as a little girl to finish off the demons; yet another says that Kolattam was performed by a group of girls to dissuade Basavasura from his evil acts.
“I don’t know when I became a teacher of Kolattam. When we were young, we never had any teacher. We just picked it up from our elders, be it songs or steps,” says Jaya, a graduate from Government College for Women, Vazhuthacaud.
She used to take a group of 20 for the performances, which would last for 90 minutes or so. “It is so nice to see them all dressed up in glittering silk blouse and skirt, wearing mehendi, decked up in jewellery, with flowers on their hair,” she says.
On certain days, she, along with other senior women, would provide a small feast for these girls and would gift them new clothes, Jaya says.
The Brahmin community living in ‘agraharams’ in Fort area and in Chenthitta and Karamana, have their own Kolattam teams. “I’m proud that I’ve devoted disciples such as Jyothi, Kala, Ranjini… who are now taking classes for the little girls. Ranjini is now an expert in Pinnal kolattam.”
Before I take leave, she asks Kalyani, who is learning Kolattam from Jyothi, to bring the ‘kol’ (wooden stick). “You can buy it from any shop,” Jaya adds.
And when we request Jaya for a song, she asks Jyothi to sing one of the traditional Kolattam songs on Krishna. They sing together: ‘Kole nalla kole, Bala neela varna kole…’ “It is a beautiful song. Right now they have got a lot of new songs, which are quite nice,” Jaya says. Meanwhile Jyothi shows how they improvise the steps in tune with the music, much to the delight of Jaya. So, why has she gone into retirement? “It is difficult to find girls for the performance. They are busy with studies, tuitions and what not. They can’t be blamed also with so much to study. It is quite taxing to go to each household and request them to send their daughter,” she says with disappointment in her voice. However, she is busy as always, especially with her all-women bhajan group.
Jaya stays with her husband S. Nalinakshan at the gramam. “My three daughters, have also learnt Kolattam from me,” she says with pride.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)