Attractions of Kerala - God's Own Country

Wildlife of Kerala


Culture of Kerala


BOAT RACES

Welcome to yet another splendid, unparalleled attraction of God's Own Country. An event that is as much part of the land's ethos as the elephant pageant. A sport that signifies the excellent team spirit, integration and amity of the people of this backwater country. Occasions of great excitement that is a reflection of a vibrant people.

Welcome to the snake boat races of Kerala. Magnificent fiestas that brings alive the tranquil backwaters. Snake boat races are held in connection with Onam, the harvest festival in August/September. Scores of long snake boats and other smaller crafts participate in these events. The largest team sport in the world, the snake boat races are preceded by colorful water parades.

Usually a snake boat is manned by four helmsmen, 25 singers and 100 - 125 oarsmen who row in unison to the fast rhythm of the vanchipattu (song of the boatman). Thousands of people crowd the water's edge to cheer the huge black crafts as they slice through the waters to a spectacular finish. The oldest of these events have curious legends and myths attached to their origin. Myths closely linked to the rustic people and their beliefs.

This portion contains a calendar of the snake boat races of Kerala with a detailed description of four of the oldest and most important events :

  • Champakulam Moorland Boat Race – June/July
  • Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali – August/September
  • Nehru Trophy Boat Race - August
  • Payippad Jalotsavam - August/September

Other boat races held during Onam (August/September):

ATDC Boat Race, Alappuzha, Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race,Neerettupuram Boat Race, Kumarakom Boat Race,Karuvatta Boat Race,Kavanattinkara Boat Race, Kumarakom,Arpookara Vanitha Jalamela,Mahatma Boat Race, Thazhathangadi Boat Race, Kottapuram Boat Race and 8 Kumaranasan Smaraka Jalotsavam.

Champakulam Moolam Boat Race

Harippad, Alappuzha - July

The oldest and most popular snake boat race in Kerala, this event is closely connected to the Sree Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha. The race is held on the Champakulam Lake on the moolam day of the Malayalam month midhunam, the day of the installation of the deity at the Temple.

Legends say that Maharaja Devanarayana of Chempakasseri, as instructed by the royal priest, built a temple at Ambalappuzha. But just before the installation of the deity he was informed that the idol was not auspicious. The king was disturbed, but his minister suggested an inspired solution. To bring down the beautiful idol of Sree Krishna - presented to Arjuna by the Lord himself, from the Karikulam temple in Kurichi. The minister with a few others went to Kurichi, met the authorities there and returned with the idol. On the way back they stopped at Champakulam to spent the night and perform apooja. The next morning boats from the entire region assembled to escort the idol in a colorful, ceremonial procession through the lake to the Temple. Years later the .pageant is still re-enacted with the same enthusiasm. An exotic procession of water floats, boats decorated with colorful parasols and performing arts greets the spectator before the race. The race proper is held in various stages for various categories of boats.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Alappuzha – August/September

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one of those events which the people of Kerala look forward to with excitement. Thousands of Keralites - men, women and children - throng the watersides of Alappuzha to witness the spectacle. Pavilions are set up for spectators on the banks and in the middle of the Punnamada Lake - the venue of the race.

This boat race is so named because the trophy for the winners was instituted by former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Over 16 chundan vallams participate in the race along with scores of smaller crafts like the churulan, veppu, odi etc., with a prize for each category. There are separate races for women too. The race begins with a colorful pageant of floats, performing arts and decorated boats. And goes on late into the evening.

Uthrattadi Vallamkali

Aranmula, Pathanamthitta District – August/September

The two day Aranmula Boat Race is more a water fiesta than a competition, conducted during Onam. The event is a re-enacting of the legend involving a devout Brahmin who made a votive offering of feeding one pilgrim a day. One day Sree Krishna himself appeared to him and the overjoyed Brahmin vowed to offer 51 measures of rice and all the provision for the thiruvona sadya (the sumptuous Onam feast) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the thiruvonachilavu thoni (the boat carrying the offerings) was intercepted by rivals from another village, but the Brahmin's own villagers came to the rescue on snake boats. From then on the offering was carried by a fleet of palliyodam - about 48 of them representing the nearby backwater villages. (A palliyodam is a large, luxurious snake boat used by gods and royalty.)

Today, only 26 snake boats participate in the event which is marked by a colorful water carnival - an imposing effigy of Sree Krishna is taken out in procession on the lake with children dressed as nymphs and princesses. On the second day, snake boats decorated with silken parasols, carrying helmsmen, oarsmen and singers assemble near the temple early in the morning and then move away in pairs, creating a magnificent pageant. The boat race proper is held in the afternoon.

Payippad Jalotsavam

Alappuzha – August

The three day annual fiesta on the Payippad Lake, 35 km from Alappuzha, commemorates the installation of the deity at the Subramanian Swamy Temple, Haripad. The story is that the people of the village decided to build a temple with Sree Ayyappa as the presiding deity. After the temple was ready, they had a vision directing them to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake where they would find the idol of Sree Subramaniya which was to be installed at the temple. Accordingly, the elders of the village with divers and swimmers rowed to the spot and found the idol which was escorted back ceremoniously by devotees from the entire region in colorfully decorated boats. This happened on the Thiruvonarn day of the Malayalam month of Chingam. To this day a water fiesta is ,conducted along the route traced by the auspicious' procession. Besides the boat race, spectacular water pageants are organized with water floats, decorated boats, performing arts, children in fancy attires, etc. The vanchipattu is a characteristic feature of these processions. The event draws hundreds of thousands of spectators from all over.

 

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