Kolatam as the name indicates is a dance form using sticks (kola). It is also called kolannaulu, kollamata and kolanna in other parts of the state and is a popular dance in all parts of Andhra Pradesh. Kolatam is popular throughout India as well and is known as Dandia ras in Gujrat, Garbha in Rajasthan etc.
It has a long history, which can be traced back to the 7th century AD. Temple sculptures and literary texts show evidence that this dance was prevalent more among the ladies at one time. However, men are also performing it these days.
Prevalent as a pastime and a rural art, specially performed during village festivities, Kolatam is a lively combination of pleasing rhythmic movements and songs accompanied by music. Simple in its performance style and without much paraphernalia and large in its repertoire, the dance form, in its multifarious variations, has stayed on as popular entertainment. Although Kolatam was originally performed as a ritual dance depicting a sequence from mythology, its repertoire, over a period includes romantic and humorous songs also.
The Kolatam group comprises of dancers in the range of 8 to 40. The group should consist of even number of dancers. The group is led by a leader who initiates the dance, gives necessary instructions and directions, and is called Pennudi, Kolanna Pantulu or Guruvu. The group is divided into two categories, the strikers, and the receivers. The striker is called Ramudu and the receiver of the strikes is called Lakshmanudu . In the course of the dance, the strikers form an inner circle called lo uddi and the receivers form the outer circle, called veli uddu . Each person in the inner circle stands opposite to another person in the outer circle. Together they are called uddi .
All of them are dressed in a common uniform with a white dhoti, white shirt and on it a coloured dhatti--a waist cloth. Ankle bells and two sticks in either hand supply the necessary rhythm. The leader and the musicians stand or sit in the centre. Harmonium, maddella, flute and sometimes clarinet are used in this performance.
The performance starts in a slow pace with an invocation to Vinayaka (Ganesh) and soon pick up its pace. The pace of the song is in direct relation to the pace of the movement. The group moves in a circular path striking at the two sticks they have in either hand. Alternatively, they strike at the sticks of their opponent in the uddi . The stick provides the main rhythm in the Kolatam dance. These players in the two circles interchange their places, also charging the pattern of the striking.
A single song is divided into several kopus. A kopu is a unit of rhythm. Each kopu is different from the other in the angles and movements the artists have to make -- the foot works, the tilting of the body and other movements. Each song contains a beginning (ethugada), a change of pace (usi) and a conclusion (muktayimpu).
To dramatise a particular event or a song, the two groups take up different roles. For example, "Ganga Gauri Samvadam" is the typical Kolatam song, which depicts the duel between two wives of Shiva. Each group takes the role of one wife of Shiva.
The special type of Kolatam is the Jada kolatam, wherein a group of 16 to 18 dancers weave a plait using ropes or thick ribbons while dancing and playing on the sticks and unweave it, before the completion of the song sequence. This type of Kolatam dance is more popular in Vizianagaram, Cuddapah and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh.
In short, Kolatam offers a fine musical entertainment to the spectators as well as the participants.