It’s 6.30 p.m. The heady fragrance of fresh flowers, incense, camphor and sandalwood fills the air at the Ganapathy temple on Punnakkal Road, near Vazhapally Junction. The soft chimes of the temple bells meld with giggles and tinkle of anklets as young girls, all dressed in their best pattupavadas, practise their steps, keeping time with wooden sticks.
A group of women recite kirtans, while prettily dressed girls troop in, with matching bangles on their wrists and braided hair adorned with strings of jasmine.
Once their Kolattam teacher Latha Ayyappan comes in, they move to the rear of the temple, all set to perform Kolattam.
Tuesdays and Fridays of the month of Karkidakam or Aadi, as the Tamil community calls it, are devoted to Kolattam [‘kol’ means stick and ‘attam’ is dance]. It’s an offering to the goddess, who, according to a legend, had dressed herself as a little girl to finish off the demons. Latha starts with a Ganapathy kirtan, with a group of women singing in chorus. Even as the drizzle continues, bells ring for the evening pujas. The girls dance to songs on Muruga, Krishna, and Devi, with different steps for each of the numbers, moving in and out in a circular pattern, with Latha calling out instructions now and then. Pinnal kolattam (an intricate form of the kolattam) follows. The girls move, beating the sticks holding one end of the rope in their hand. The ropes get intertwined to form a braid and then they reverse the steps to open the braid.
With a ‘mangalam', the programme gets over, in an hour or so. Latha leaves quickly as she has a programme at a different temple.