Kerala, name synonymous with the phrase ‘God’s own country’ is well known for celebrating with gusto a number of festivities but it is the visual spectacles of the boat races that attracts tourists from all over the world. The boat race is associated with ‘Onam Festival ’ and is held during the period of August- September. Race participant requires tremendous coordination between the team members for its successful completion and such synchronization can only be achieved with lot of practise. The speed of the boat depends entirely on the efficiency of handling the oar.
Vallam Kali (Boat game) is a traditional boat race that happens in Kerala, India every year. It is a form of canoe racing, and uses paddled canoes. It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam. Vallam Kali includes races of many kinds of paddled long boats, the traditional boats of Kerala. The boats used in the thrilling contest of Vallam Kali are kite-tailed and swan shapped. The boat race is associated with the special snake boats or chundan, the length of which varies anywhere between 100 & 130 feet with more than 100 rowers.
The boat also houses 25 singers. Finally the driving forces behind the boat i.e. the 100 or 125 oarsmen who row both in complete unity and immense speed to the rhythm of the Vanchipattu. The Vanchipattu is the boat song, a Malayalam language based form of poetry that is usually performed at festivals like Vallam Kali.
Oars dig and flash to the rousing rhythm of drums and the crash of cymbals in each boat, while songs are sung by the participants. Each boat hoists green and scarlet silk umbrellas and their number denotes the affluence of the family to which the boat belongs. Gold coins and tassels are hung on the adornments.
The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is a popular Vallam Kali event held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, Kerala, India. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed with Snake Boat races of Kerala that he instituted the Nehru Trophy to the winner. There are various boat races like , of which Nehru trophy boat race, Champakulam Moolam Boat Race, Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali and Payippad Jalotsavam are significant and dates to olden days.
In the Aranmula Vallamkali, the participants who are trained to row these boats, compete not merely for winning the competition but also to celebrate the anniversary of the Sri Krishna Idol installation, the main deity at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Rituals include offering prayers to Lord Krishna in the morning. A series of songs called Vanchipattu are sung. Traditional boat races are commanded by a Kaarnavan (Village Leader).