The land of backwaters and beaches, Kerala, has a number of water sports associated with its major lakes. One of the major water sports in Kerala is ‘Vallam Kali’, a traditional boat race held in autumn during the harvest festival, Onam. It is a form of canoe racing which uses paddled war canoes.
The race includes different kinds of paddled long boats, like Chunadan Vallam, Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam, Vadakkanody Vallam and Kochu Vallam.
Vallam Kali is an integral part of the rich, traditional grandeur of Kerala.
Let us look at some of the famous boat races held in Kerala.
1. Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Image via nehrutrophy.nic.in
Held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, this is the most famous boat racing event in Kerala. It is conducted on the second Saturday of August every year.
When the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Kerala in 1952, he was received by the cheering people of Alleppey with their huge snake boats. After experiencing the excitement of sailing in a snake boat and impressed by their performance, he awarded a rolling trophy for the race winners. It has since then been known as the Nehru Trophy Boat Race.
The course of the race is 1.4 km in Punnamada lake. The canoes made from wood 100 to 120 feet in length, carrying 90-110 oarsmen and moving like a snake through the channel, is a sight to behold for every tourist.
2. Aranmula Boat Race
Image by Arun Sinha via Wikimedia
Aranmula Boat Race is the oldest boat race conducted in Kerala during the Onam season. The boat race is a two day event that takes place in Aranmula, near the temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna.
Aranmula is one of the popular pilgrimage centers to visit in Kerala. Noted for its years old tradition and grandeur, the Aranmula Boat Race is associated with the yearly celebration of Sri Parthasarathy Temple and is normally held on the last two days of the festival.
Aranmula Vallamkali is considered a ritual dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna and it attracts tourists from around the world. More than 25 enormous conventional Palliyodams, that house 100 rowers, 25 vocalists and 15 helmsmen, take part in this occasion. Each boat is decorated with flags, beautiful umbrellas, and a golden lace. Groups of men and vocalists gather along the banks of river Pamba to sing stridently in a rhythmic manner at Aranmula.
3. Kallada Jalotsavam/ Kallada Boat Race
Kallada Jalothsavam, also known as Kallada Vallam Kali, is a well known boat race held in Kallada River at Munroe Thuruthu, Kollam. It is conducted on the 28th day after the harvest festival, Onam. Almost all the famous chundan valloms participate in this event.
The race track for the boat race is in Muthiraparambu – Karuthrakadavu course of Kallada River and it can be seen from the delightful Munroe Island. Iruttukuthi and Veppam Vallams participate in this race along with 11 other snake boats. The winning team for the boat race gets Rupees 1 Lakh and the Kallada Rolling Trophy. Even apart from the boat races, Kollam is a standout amongst other tourist places in Kerala.
4. Champakulam Moolam Boat Race
One of the older, more popular boat races, Champakulam Moolam Boat Race is annually held on Pampa River at Champakulam, close to Alappuzha on Moolam day of Midhunam in the Malayalam calendar. This is the first boat race that happens during the monsoon season and has a tradition dating back centuries.
Champakulam Moolam Boat Race is held to mark the day when the Lord Krishna’s idol was brought by boat and installed at Sri Krishna Temple, Ambalapuzha. The celebrations incorporate decorated boats, spectacular water floats, and vanchipattu – the song of the rowers. Prior to the boat race, the lake is embellished by colorful boats that are covered in beautiful umbrellas and groups of performing artists who display their skills in honour of Lord Krishna.
The race is conducted in different stages for different categories of boats. The banks of Pamba river tend to overflow with people from different places cheering the rowers. The snake boat driven by hundreds of rowers through the peaceful water is really a sight to behold.
5. Payippad Boat Race (Jalotsavom)
Another marvelous pontoon race, Payippad Jalotsavom is held each year in Kerala on the Payippad River at Payippad Village, Alappuzha. This is a 3-day long, yearly occasion held amid the Onam celebrations, normally in the month of August or September.
This boat race is celebrated in commemoration of the installation of the idol of Lord Subramanian at Haripad Subramanya Temple. This is the only boat race held for three days continuously and furthermore, it has the largest number of participants after the Nehru Trophy Boat Race.
Aside from the amazing boat race, the occasion is made more beautiful by water exhibitions. Devotees gather at Payippad from all parts of Kerala to take part in the festivities and watch the exciting and energetic race.
6. Sree Narayana Jayanthi Vallam Kali
Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat Race, also known as Kumarakom Vallomkali is also a popular boat race held on the tranquil waters of Vembanad Lake during the Onam celebrations in September every year. This is held to celebrate the arrival of Sree Narayan Guru, who came to Kumarakom in 1903 to dedicate the idol of Sri Subrahmanya Swami at the Kumara Mangalam Temple.
Before the boat race begins, there is a grand parade of boats carrying a picture of Sri Narayana Guru from Kumara Mangalam Temple to Kottathodu, the boat race venue.
Hundreds of rowers in different kinds of boats take part in this race. Despite the fact that a wide range of snake boats participate in this race, importance is given to Iruttukuthi, and the Sri Narayana Ever Rolling Trophy is given to the successful Iruttukuthi. Other than this, Kumarakom is famous for its houseboat rides on the backwaters, and is among the top must visit places in Kerala.
That sums up some of the famous boat races of Kerala. These thrilling boat races are a must see events in God’s Own Country that will give you an adrenaline rush. Be sure to check out these boat races the next time you make a trip to Kerala.
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