Onam is an important festival in Kerala, every year during harvest period this festival is celebrated in a grand way. Usually this festival lasts for ten days. Attractive parts of Onam are Onasadya, Vallamkali and Pookalam.
Vallamkali is popularly called as snake boat, outside of Kerala state and replicates the traditional culture of Kerala. This got its name as snake boat since the boats look similar to cobra hoods in its ends. The word Vallamkali in Malayalam means “boat sport”. People of the village see this as a god and take a good care in maintaining the boat. Vallamkali boat race is the most enchanting feature of Kerala during Onam festival. This event attracts many visitors every year. This traditional boat measures around 100 -120 feet in length and houses nearly 150 men. This snake boat holds the record for the largest water vessel in the water sports category and only game which involves team work of around 150 men.
History behind the boat race
Initially when this boat was designed, it was not meant to participate in boat race, but as the years rolled on people from other state were attracted by this elaborately crafted boat and thus to promote it further, boat race is organized every year during Onam. There is also an interesting history behind this boat race. Once, Jawahar Lal Nehru visited alleppey and happened to see this interesting boat, he was very much attracted to this team activity and decided to enhance it in much better way. He promoted a boat race by offering a silver trophy that is in shape of snake boat, until 1964 this trophy was named as “Prime minister’s trophy”, after his death it got it was renamed as a tribute to former Prime Minister. This event takes place during the month of August. History of Vallamkali dates back 650 years ago. Devanarayana , King of Chembakassery is the first person to design this snake boat for war purpose. There are many models of snake boat, among them Parthasarathi Chundan is the oldest.
The legend says, once a unfortunate boy was offered with new cloths and delicious mean by a namboodari who lived near Pamba, after having the meal the boy disappeared and namboodari found him near a temple and realized that he was not a poor boy but replication of Lord Krishna. After this event, every year during Onam he offered food for the Lord in the same temple. Later the snake boats were designed to accompany them during the journey in order to protect the food from robbers. This is how the history of Vallamkali began. Now, the winning boat of the race gets the privilege to accompany the boat which carries the food.
On the day of Boat Race
The popular part of the event is the participation of Chundan Vallams which is the snake boat. There are some other boats which take part in the event including Iruttukuthy Vallam, Churulan Valla and Churulan Vallam.
Before the race starts, people offer prayers to Lord Vishnu and king Mahabali by rendering flowers. Chundan Vallam is not an ordinary boat here the village people consider it as a holy deity, so they decorate this boat with colored umbrellas, flowers, ornaments and gold. The view of beautifully decorated boat with 150 men rowing it in white dhoti is so mesmerizing and additionally people also sing their traditional song while rowing the boat. Around 10 – 20 singing men accompany the rowers during the race. This even demonstrates the commendable team spirit of the crew. If you ever happened to watch this colorful event during Onam festival, am sure that it will rejuvenate your inner soul and boost up your spirit.
Photo by amitrakar