Another not-to-be-missed excitement in Kerala is the fierce boat races! It’s a traditional custom, centuries old that attracts thousands of people including VIPs and celebrities. Many types of boats participate in these races, but the most important one is the ‘snake boat’ or chundan vallom rowed by many oarsmen. It’s an exhilarating experience for the tourists.
NEHRU TROPHY BOAT RACE
Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, on the second Saturday of August every year.
In 1952, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India visited Alappuzha district. Having gone through the tremendous excitement of sailing in a snake boat popularly known as chundan he donated a rolling trophy to be awarded to the winner of the Snake Boat race to be held every year. The trophy is an imitation of a snake boat in silver with his signature. The boat race has grown to become Alappuzha’s most important event.
People of Kerala look forward to it with lots of excitement. Thousands of Keralities- men, women and children- throng to witness this event. Huge Pavilions are set up for them.
Over 16 Chundan Valloms participate in the race along with scores of smaller crafts like the churulan, veppu, odi etc., with a price for each category. There are separate races for women too. The race begins with a colourful display of floats, performing arts and decorated boats.
CHAMPAKULAM MOOLAM BOAT RACE, Harippad, Alappuzha
Champakulam Boat Race in Champakulam Lake announces the starting of the boat festival season and month of festivals. This festival is known as “Moolam Vallamkali”. “Moolam signifies Malayalam Nakshathram Moolam in the month of Mithunam. This is the much oldest Boat Race in Kerala.
Champakulam boat race is closely connected to the installation of the deity at the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple. This great water carnival is held at Champakulam every year, on Moolam day in the Malayalam month of Mithunam.
PAYIPPAD JALOTSAVAM, Alappuzha
Payippad Boat Race is one of the major snake boat races in Kerala. It’s a three day annual fiesta on the Payippad Lake, which is 35kms from Alappuzha, in remembrance of the Prathista ceremony of the deity at the Haripad Subrahmanya Swamy Temple.
ARANMULA BOAT RACE, Pamba River.
The famous Aranmula Snake Boat Race is conducted on the Uthrittathi day of the Malayalam month Chingom(August – September) in connection with the festival of Onam. The two-day event is more a water fiesta connected with the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple.
It’s not conducted for any trophy or prizes.
Starting with a colorful carnival , an effigy of Lord Krishna is taken out in procession on the lake. The crew regard the occasion as one for rejoicing and merry- making and cheerfully row up and down the river to the tune of songs- Vanchipattu. 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 is held in the afternoon
CHUNDAN VALLAM (SNAKE BOAT)
The boats of Kerala are categorised and named as per their shapes, sizes and purposes. The Chundaanvallam is so called because of its pointed prow. The term snake boat indicates the shape of the stern which resembles the raised hood of a snake. The front end of this type of boat will be tapering in shape and the rear end will be highly elevated from the water level. It has a length of about 60-65 meters and a capacity to carry over a hundred to hundred and ten people during a race. The stern is majestically caparisoned and decorated with a flag and brass ornaments. Silken parasols are arrayed along the entire length of the boat. There will be almost 95 oarsman, 5 Amarakkar (Controllers) and 10 ‘Nilakkar’ (persons supposed to enhance the vigour and enthusiasm of the participating oarsman). It has the semblance of a snake, while advancing in a competition and hence became popular as snake boats. These boats were the traditional battle vessels of Kerala.
CHURULAN VALLAM (RACE BOAT)
The Race Boats “churulan vallams” have a capacity to accommodate about 45 persons and are designed as passenger boats.The ends of these boats are shaped in a Circular ring (Churul in Malayalam).
‘Vaipu’ vallams are boats having a passenger capacity of about 40-45 persons. One end of the boat is always higher than the other end. These boats were originally meant to prepare food for the other vessels during war.
Iruttukuthy or Odi type of boats are designed for transportation during the night. The shape of the boat is suitable for speedy journey.
VANCHIPATTU (SONG OF THE BOATMAN)
These highly rhythmic songs were created to keep up the spirit of the boatman. These songs are sung in such a way to keep in pace with the movement of the oars and to keep alive their spirit. Every snake boat has about twenty-five singers with their traditional percussion instruments.