As people of Delhi NCR region are waiting desperately for monsoon season, one state has already got its share of rain. Any guesses which city I’m talking about? It is none other than KERALA- God’s own country. Kerala is gradually becoming a much sought after monsoon season destination because of Kerala Tourism department’s “Dream Season” campaign, that offers amazing discounts on a wide range of accommodations and packages. The monsoon season in Kerala dates from June to September and October to November. Well rain or no rain, one thing that is worth watching is the festival of boat races of Kerala, which are held in the monsoon months.
Generally the boats which are used in these races are called as snake boats, commonly known as Chundanvallams by the natives. Don’t get scared! There are no snakes in the boat, it just got this name because the boats have a raised prow that resembles the hood of a snake. Usually a snake boat is manned by 4 steersmen, 25 singers and 100-125 oarsmen who row in unison to the fast rhythm of the Vanchipattu (song of the boatman). There are four main Vallam Kali (boat races) which are held from the month of July to September. All of these boat races have unique legends and myths attached to their origin. Let’s know more about these exciting boat races.
- Champakkulam Boat Race
Where: Champakkulam, Alappuzha district
The Champakkulam boat race celebrates the day when the idol of the Lord Krishna was installed in the Shri Krishna Temple in Ambalappuzha. This race is one of the ancient and most popular boat races and is organised on the river Pampa at Champakulam. As per legend, the Maharaja Devanarayana of Chempakasseri built a temple at Ambalappuzha as instructed by the royal priest. But just before the establishment of the deity, the King was informed that the idol was not auspicious. So the King’s ministers suggested a solution to bring another beautiful idol of Shri Krishna from the Karikulam temple in Kurichi. The minister along with other people went to Kurichi, told their dilemma to the authorities and got consent to take the idol. While coming back they stopped at Champakulam to spend the night. Next morning boats from the entire region assembled to escort the idol in a colourful, ceremonial procession through the lake to the temple. Now in the modern era, it is celebrated with much enthusiasm and fervour, boats are decorated with colourful parasols and performing arts greets the spectator before the race.
- Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Where: Punnamada, Alappuzha district
One of the major tourist attractions of Kerala, this race is conducted on the second Saturday of August every year. As the name suggests, this race got its name from the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru when he visited Kerala in 1952. The people of Alleppey welcomed him with great fervour and escorted him in the huge snake-boats. Jawaharlal Nehru was so excited with this journey that he announced a trophy to be awarded to the winner of the race. Since then this competition takes place on the Punnamada Lake and draws a large number of tourists. The most interesting feature of this race is the synchronised rowing of traditional 30 metre long snake boats. The Nehru trophy bears a silver model of a snake boat and is awarded to the winning team.
Payippad Boat Race
Where: Alappuzha District
Also known as Payippad Jalotsavam, this race is organised on the lake Payippad, which is located at a distance of 35 kms from the district of Alappuzha. This festival is celebrated for three days and commemorates the installation of the deity at the Subramanya Swami Temple. The legend has it that the people of the village decided to built a temple with Sri Ayyappa as the presiding deity. When the temple was ready, the villagers had a vision directing them to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake where they would find the idol of Sri Subramanya which was to be installed at the temple. Therefore, the elders of the village with divers and swimmers rowed to the spot and found the idol right at the same place where it was seen in the vision. They escorted back the idol ceremoniously in the colourfully decorated boats and since then this ritual is celebrated with great enthusiasm.
Aranmula Boat Race
Where: Aranmula, Pathanamthitta District
One of the oldest known boat race event of Kerala, it takes place during the Onam festival which falls during the Malayalam month Chingam (August-September). As per a legend, a devout Brahmin made a votive offering that he’ll feed one pilgrim a day. One day when Shri Krishna himself appeared to him, the overjoyed Brahmin vowed to offer 51 measures of rice and organise the Thiruvona Sadya (the sumptuous Onam feast) at the Aranmula Parthasarthy Temple. Once the Thiruvonachilava Thoni (the boat carrying the offerings) was interrupted by the rivals from another village, but the people of Brahmin’s own village came to the rescue on snake boats. The offering was carried on a Palliyodam (a big, luxurious snake boat that is used by the gods and royalty), escorted by 48 snake boats, representing the nearby backwater villages.
Now 26 snake boats participate in the event which is marked by the colourful water carnival, where an impressive effigy of Shri Krishna is taken out in procession on the lake with children dresses as nymphs and princesses. The boat is occupied by four helmsmen, 100 rowers and 25 singers who sing Vanchipattusongs throughout the race.