All the festivals in Kerala are related to the nature and are designed according to the geographical and climate conditions of the state. A perfect example of this is the famous water festival in Kerala called “Vallam Kali” (Snake Boat race).
As Kerala is rich with backwaters, Vallam Kali is a major watersport here conducted during special occasions like Onam and temple festivals.
So this water sports also get an aura of religious sanctity. Several boat races are conducted in the famous backwaters of various districts in Kerala by different teams.
Vallam Kali also has a significant role in promoting the tourism industry of Kerala. Lots of tourists from Mumbai, Bangalore and other parts of India and also foreigners visit Kerala during this season.
Besides travelling and shopping, the visitors also like to witness the most thrilling water sports and to be a part of the rousing joy of natives.
No Ordinary boats !
Vallam Kali boats are not ordinary boats, but they have fixed measurements and structures.
They are crafted under the guidance of skilled craftsmen.
Mostly the wood named anjili (Artocarpus hirsute) is used to make vallam kali boats. Sometimes teak and kadamb (Naucleacadamba) are also used. Lots of hard work and patience are required for the construction and decoration of race boats.
Each boat is repaired by a carpenter on annual basis. The boats are lubricated with coconut sholl, fosh oil and carbon mixed with eggs, which keep the wood strong and the boats slippery in water.
Types of Snake Boats
Several types of paddled longboats are used in Vallam Kali like Chundan vallam, Churulan vallam, Iruttukuthy vallam, Odi vallam, Kochu vallam, Vadakkanody vallam and Veppu vallam etc.
Chundan vallam, the most prestigious among the race boats, measures about 100 feet in length with curled ends in the shape of cobra hoods.
It normally occupies four helmsmen, 25 singers and 100-125 oarsmen. The length of Churulan boat may vary from 30 feet to 50 feet and it can carry about 40 persons.
The Odi Vallam, which is also called Cheru Chundan, is 65 feet to 75 feet long with a capacity of carrying 40 to 60 rowers.
Preparations for boat race
Well preparations are required for conducting Vallam Kali smoothly and without any flaw.
All the boats participating are launched a day before the grand race. A priest renders Pujas to Lord Vishnu to invoke blessings for boat and the boatmen. Flowers are offered to the God and are placed at the helm of the boat.
The boats are decorated beautifully to attract the audience.
The singers in the boat sing Vanchippattu, which is the traditiona; folk song of the boatmen to inspire the rowers. The most common Vanchippattu is Kuchela Vrithan, written by famous poet Ramapurathu Varier.
Places to see boat races in Kerala
The famous vallam kalis are conducted in Alappuzha, Pathanam thitta, Kottayam and kollam districts of the state.
Some of the renowed boat races are Champakkulam Moolam, Aaranmula Uthrattadi, Nehru Trophy, Payippad Jalolsavam, Kumarakom, President’s Trophy, Kallada and Neerettupuram etc.
All these races have huge participation of people irrespective of caste and religion and so boat races in Kerala can be considered as the best example of the communal harmony of the people in those areas.
- Venue: Pampa river
- Location Aaranmula
- District: Pathanamthitta
Aaranmula vallam kali is conducted on Uthrattadi asterism of Onam festival season as a dedication to sree Parthasarathy of Lord Krishna as a divine charioteer of Arjuna.
The unique snake boats of Aaranmula, called Palliyodams, are considered as the divine vessel of the presiding deity in Sree Parthasarathy temple.
Each boat with well decorated and ornamental umbrellas, has four helmsmen, singers and rowers. The owrsmen, who wear traditional mundu and turbans, sing Vanchippattu to encourage the rowers.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
- Venue: Punnamada backwater
- District: Alappuzha
Nehru Trophy boat race is the most famous rowing competition in which numerous teams participate.
Years ago, when Pt. Jawahar lal Nehru visited Kerala first, a snake boat race was conducted. Impressed by the enthusiasm of the rowers, Nehru awarded the Nehru Trophy to the winners.
Since then a trophy that bears a silver model of a snake boat (Chundan Vallam) has been awarded to the winning team of the competition. Watching the race of several Chundan vallams carrying 100 to 150 persons through the water is a mind-blowing experience.
More than a celebration in the memory of Nehru’s visit, Nehru Trophy VallamKali is now a great asset of Kerala Tourism.
Champakulam Moolam boat race
- Venue: Pampa river
- Location: Champakulam
- District: Pathanamthitta
This traditional boat race is conducted on the day of Moolam (Malayalam asterism) in the Malayalam month of Mithunam (June-July) on the day of installation of the deity at Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple.
Various types of boats like Chundan, Churulan, Veppu and many other participate in the race. The rowers row the beautifully decorated boats with accompany of Vanchippattu.
- Venue: Payippad Lake
- District: Alappuzha
Payippad Jalolsavam, which is organizes in a span of three days every year, is one of the finest snake boat races of Kerala.
There is a legend behind this boat race.
Before the actual Ayyappa temple was constructed, the people of Harippad village had a vision to install the idol of Subrahmanya, which was to be found at the bottom of the Kayamkulam river.
Interestingly, the people found the idol at the exact location, even though it was to be placed under a whirlpool. They brought the idol on a boat to the present location. This festival is celebrated as Payippad Jalolsavam every year.
Besides these famous vallam kalis there are numerous other smaller events like Malakkara Avitom Jalolsavam, Kavanattinkara tourism boat race, kandassamkadavu Vallam Kali, Shreenarayan Jayanthi Kumarakom Vallamkali, Kanetty Vallam Kali, Karuvatta Vallamkali, Pallana Jalolsavam, Thazhathangadi boat race etc. that are also rich with participation of people.
It is sure that once you got a fortunate opportunity to be witness of this honoring traditional festival, Vallam Kali, then you will undoubtedly plan your next Kerala tour in the same season.
So find out the time of a Vallam Kali in Kerala and book your tour package on that season. It is sure that it will be an ever memorable experience in your life.
My documentary novel “The Biggest Regatta – Vallam Kali” will be available for free reading, chapter by chapter, from November 1st, 2020. I would like to invite your readers for in-depth reading on many aspects of Kerala, Vembanadu basin in particular, the land, history, mythology, traditions, food, festivals, music, ecosystems centered around the main theme, the boat races, and much more!