Monsoon Must-Do Take Part In A Boat Race In Kerala

Visit Kerala during the monsoon to watch the traditional boat races
The Champakulam Boat Race   Photo Credit Rajesh India/Flickr Commons
The Champakulam Boat Race Photo Credit Rajesh India/Flickr Commons

Here's an interesting idea for a monsoon holiday. Watch snake-shaped boats race head to head to the rhythm of ancient boat songs in Kerala. These snake boats or 'chundanvallam' are up to 100 feet long and bring the serene backwaters to life. 

The rivers and backwaters of the state enrich the region&rsquos culture in a variety of ways. One of the ways in which it manifests is the Vallam Kali, the traditional boat races of Kerala. Vallam Kali even has its own form of poetry-song called Vanchipattu (boatsong) which is sung by oarsmen while rowing and even during some of the rituals that precede a race. The race of chundan vallam ('snake boat') is the most important  event. Other types of boats which also participate in other race are churulan vallam, iruttukuthy vallam, odi vallam, veppu vallam, vadakkanody vallam and kochu vallam. 

Here are some of the most popular ones that you should experience.

Aranmula Boat Race

Also called the Aranmula Vallam Kali, this is a two day festival held during Onam. Well-known &nbspfor its grandeur and centuries-old history, the Aranmula Boat Race is associated with the annual festival at Sri Parthasarathy Temple (dedicated to Krishna in his avatar as Arjun&rsquos charioteer in the Mahabharat) and is usually held on the last two days of the festival. The Aranmula Vallam Kali is more of a temple ritual than a race. More than 25 giant traditional Palliyodams, that seat 100 rowers, 25 singers and 15 helmsmen, participate in the race. Each snake boat is decorated with colourful umbrellas, golden tassels and flags. There are several legends associated with the race. According to one, it marks the day when the villagers of the area went out in their snake boats to save the looting of a boat carrying a Brahmin&rsquos offerings (thiruvona sadya) to the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Aranmula is known for its unique metal-mirror manufacturing and has been declared as a Global Heritage Village by Unesco.

Nearest aiport Thiruvananthapuram, about 100km away nearest railway station Chengannur, 25km away.

Event date August 2, 2023. Venue River Pamba. District Pathanamthitta

More info here.

Champakulam Boat Race

Held on Pampa River at Champakulam near Alappuzha around June / July every year, this race marks the beginning of monsoons in Kerala. With a tradition that goes back to centuries, it is held to mark the day when the idol of Lord Krishna was transported by boat and installed at the Sri Krishna Temple in Ambalapuzha. The festivities include stunning water floats, brightly-decorated boats in addition to the Chundan Vallam race. The banks of the Pampa &nbspare crowded with spectators cheering the oarsmen. The heavily decorated snake boats are rowed by hundreds of oarsmen making for quite a visual spectacle.

Nearest airport Kochi, 85km away nearest railway station Alappuzha, 26km away.

Event date July 3, 2023. Venue Champakkulam. District Alappuzha

More info here.

Kumarakom Boat Race

To be held on August 30, 2015, the Kumarakom Boat Race, also known as the Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat Race, is held in Kottathodu. It is held in honour of social reformer Sree Narayan Guru, who visited Kumarakom in 1903 and established the Kumaramangalam temple here. The temple is the starting point of a grand procession of country boats carrying the portrait of Sree Narayana Guru. The procession terminates at Kottathodu.

Nearest airport Kochi, 85km away nearest railway station Kottayam, 16km away.

Event date August 14, 2023. Venue Kumarakom. District Kottayam

More info here.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the most popular boat race of Kerala and attracts participants and spectators from around the globe. You need to book accommodation and viewing gallery tickets in advance as there is quite a rush. There are separate sections for all the traditional boats (veppu, iruttukuthy, churulan, etc.) but the star attraction is the chundan category of boats, popularly known as the snake boats. The race, held at the Punnamada Lake of Alappuzha, was initially organised in honour of India&rsquos first prime minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. He was so impressed by the skills of the oarsmen that he donated a trophy to the winning team and the event became a permanent fixture on Kerala&rsquos boat racing calendar. It is held on the second Saturday of August.

Nearest airport Kochi, 80km away nearest rail station Alappuzha station (within city limits).

Venue Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha. District Alappuzha

More info here.

Payippad Boat Race

Also known as Jalotsavom, this&nbsprace is held every year on the Payippad River at Payippad village in Alappuzha. It is celebrated during Onam to commemorate the installation of the idol of Lord Subramanian at Haripad Subramanya Temple. Payippad Boat Race is unique as it is the only boat race held for three days continuously and also it has the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Apart from the lovely snake boat races, the event is made more impressive by colourful water pageants. Pilgrims throng to this place from all parts of Kerala to participate in the festivities and watch the exciting race.

Nearest airport Kochi, 85km away nearest railway station Haripad

Venue Payippad backwaters. Location Alappuzha. District Alappuzha

More info here.

Some the dates may vary as&nbspfestival dates are decided in accordance with the Malayalam calendar and the local traditions and customs. 

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