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Kerala boat festival 2024: A spectacular backwater boat race you don't want to miss!

Kerala boat festival 2024: A spectacular backwater boat race you don't want to miss!
PEOPLE & CULTURE

By Soumya Pawaskar

09 Aug, 2023

In God's own country— Kerala, beyond the serene backwaters and rich green landscapes, lies a unique festival called the Kerala boat racing festival, also known as Vallam Kali. As the name suggests, in this festival, the boats compete with each other not just for victory or prizes but for the honour and tradition that they deeply believe in. The rowers have such a deep emotional connection to their boats that they literally treat them with the same respect as a devotee who worships a deity.

If you're planning a trip to Kerala in the months of August or September, look no further. We've got you covered with everything you need to know about Kerala boat race 2024 and why you shouldn't miss it!

What is it all about?

The Kerala boat racing festival is a highly anticipated event that takes place during the monsoon season. It's also the time of the harvest festival of Onam, which fills the entire state lively with the festive spirit. The boat festival is all about colourful boats decorated with vibrant silk umbrellas and brass lamps competing with each other, showcasing the strength, teamwork and skills.

Typically, a team of about 100 oarsmen, row the iconic snake boats in synchronised rhythm to the beat of traditional songs and drums. The snake boats, rightly named after its long serpentine appearance are considered to be excellent for rowing. Each boat has a helmsman, singers, and drummers to maintain solid coordination.

Winners of the snake boat race not only receive trophies and recognition but also a deep sense of pride and honour for their village and team. For instance, the winner of the Nehru Trophy Kerala Boat Race is awarded the Nehru Trophy, a silver replica of a snake boat, which is considered very prestigious.

Vallam Kali - Snake Boat Race, which has been held since the 13th century CE

Vallam Kali - Snake Boat Race, which has been held since the 13th century CE

History of Kerala boat race

Did you know? Instead of a full-fledged war, a rivalry between two kingdoms was resolved through a boat race? In Kerala's history, during the 13th-century war between the kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Chembakassery, King Devanarayana of Chembakassery sought to settle the feud through a boat competition between them.

King Devanarayana of Chembakassery ordered the construction of a war boat that was later named Chundan Vallam. The unique design of the boat was developed by a renowned carpenter at the time. These designs and technical methods used in crafting date back to the 8th century. Today's Kerala boat racing festival continues this tradition, featuring massive Chundan Vallams smoothly moving on water in perfect synchronisation.  

Preparing the boats for this festival

"Chundan Vallam" refers to the traditional long wooden boats used for racing in Kerala's backwaters. These boats stand out due to their sleek design, high prow, and elongated shape. They are primarily constructed using locally available materials like Anjili (wild jackfruit) wood for the hull, bamboo poles for the frame, and coir (coconut fibre) for fastening and caulking. Skilled artisans and boat builders within Kerala's communities construct these boats, often with generations of experience passed down.

Famous boat races in Kerala

As you now know, Kerala takes their snake boat racing very seriously and there are a number of races that occur here every year. Witness the beauty of unity and pride at this magnificent festival with our curated list of popular boat races in Kerala.

Disclaimer: Please note that the dates and timings mentioned here are subject to change. It is advisable to keep an eye on their official websites or check with the event organisers for the most up-to-date information before planning your visit.
 

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one of the most popular and highly anticipated events in Kerala. It’s a thrilling competition between several snake boats, each manned by approximately 100 rowers on both sides, paddling with lots of excitement and enthusiasm against the gorgeous backdrop of Punnamada Lake. The Nehru Trophy boat race distance is 1370m, with a very scenic track.

In 1952, when India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Alappuzha, the villagers gave him a roaring reception by escorting him with huge snake boats. Nehru Ji was so touched by this gesture that he donated the trophy to be awarded to the winner. This is why the race is named after Pandit Nehru ji and the very first race was an ‘impromptu’ one held in his honour.

  • Location: Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha
  • Date: August 10, 2024
  • Highlight: The winning team is awarded by the trophy that was donated by Nehru Ji himself, adding more prestige to the race.

Nehru Trophy boat race starting point- Punnamada Lake is a 1 hour 30 minutes long drive from The Hosteller Fort Kochi. Alternatively, you opt to stay in Munnar to witness the boat race and explore the city's charm simultaneously, then you’ll need to travel for 3-4 hours to reach the festival, depending on your chosen route. 

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one of the most anticipated Boat Races

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one of the most anticipated Boat Races

Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

The Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race is the oldest and most prestigious backwater boat race in Kerala. This race is part of a religious festival dedicated to Lord Krishna, marking the installation of His idol at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. The Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race is not just an ordinary boat race, it is much more than that, it’s an emotion, reflecting Kerala’s rich culture and community spirit.

The Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race takes place on the day of the Uthrittathi asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam. It’s widely popular for oarsmen rowing in sync with the rhythm of Vanchipattu, a traditional boat race song that adds a melodic backdrop to the event. The race proudly features finely decorated snake boats with vibrant silk umbrellas and brass lamps.

  • Location: Pampa River, Aranmula
  • Date: September 18, 2024
  • Highlight: Post the race, Vallasadya, a grand feast is offered in honour of the boat. The oarsmen of the snake boats are invited by the fellow devotees for the feast in the temple’s dining hall. It’s a common belief of the devotees that Lord Krishna himself comes to partake in the festival during this time.

The venue of this race, the Pampa River is approximately 2.5 hours away from The Hosteller Fort Kochi, an affordable accommodation option for you.
 

Spectacular traditional displays at the Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

Spectacular traditional displays at the Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

Payippad Jalotsavam

Payippad Jalotstavam is a 3-day festival that celebrates the installation of the deity at the Subramanya Swamy Temple in Haripad. There is a famous legend that says the villagers of Haripad village had a vision that directed them to the Kayamkulam Lake where they found an idol of Sree Subramanya.

Day 1 of Payippad boat race consists of a flag hoisting ceremony and inauguratory temple rituals. Day 2 is when the actual fun begins with the thrilling grand snake boat race! It is followed by several cultural programmes, including music and dance performances. The day concludes with delicious communal meals. Day 3 of the Payippad boat race includes the final temple rituals, Prize distribution and a closing procession with singing and dancing.

  • Location: Payippad River, Alappuzha
  • Date: The dates for this event are yet to be declared but you can find all the necessary information on Kerala tourism’s official website
  • Highlight: Unlike any other boat race in Kerala, Payippad boat race is the only one that spans 3 days, featuring thrilling boat races, cultural performances and grand processions. 

This 3-day exciting event takes place on the Payippad river, which is approximately 2.5 hours from The Hosteller Fort Kochi, a budget-friendly accommodation option nearby.
 

Payippad Jalotsavam at the Beautiful Payippad Lake

Payippad Jalotsavam at the Beautiful Payippad Lake

Kumarakom Boat Race

Held annually on the day of Chathayam in Kottathod, Kumarakom, the Kumarakom Boat Race is organised annually. It commemorates the visit of Sri Narayana Guru— one of Kerala's most influential social reformers.

Legend has it that, In 1903, the Guru arrived at Kumarakom on a boat, accompanied by a big procession. He agreed to dedicate the idol of Lord Subramanya and also insisted on establishing a school alongside it. He was impressed by the enthusiasm of the people who had come to greet him despite the heavy rains and requested the organising committee to offer them 'Sarakara Payasam' (a sweet dessert made of jaggery). This tradition continued to be a significant part of the Kumarakom Boat Race.

  • Location: Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom
  • Date: The dates for this event are yet to be declared but you can find all the necessary information on Kerala tourism’s official website.
  • Highlight: In the Kumarakom boat race, the smaller and simpler Iruttu Kuthi boats are of utmost importance due to their historic significance. Unlike the other races where the larger and well-decorated snake boats are used for racing.

The Hosteller Fort Kochi is just 1.5 hours away from the venue of this event, Vembanad Lake, so you can consider this budget-friendly accommodation option.
 

Kumarakom Boat Race, set against the tranquil Vembanad Lake

Kumarakom Boat Race, set against the tranquil Vembanad Lake 

 

Kallada Boat Race

The Kallada Boat Race ranks among the most popular races held in the southern regions of Kerala. The 28th day of Onam is chosen for the race each year, coinciding with the day of Thiruvonam in the month of Kanni. The Kallada Boat Race is aptly regarded as the final boat race of the season in the state.

The event features leading snake boats competing in the picturesque venue of Munroe Thuruthu in the Kollam district. In this Backwater boat race, the boats compete in the Kallada River, specifically at Puthiraparambu Karuthrakadavu Nettayam.

  • Location: Kallada River, Munroe Island
  • Date: The dates for this event are yet to be declared but you can find all the necessary information on Kerala tourism’s official website.
  • Highlight: Spanning a track of 1,400 metres, The Kallada Boat Race has one of the most beautiful tracks in Kerala, with a good view from either banks, which is lined by thick coconut grooves.

The venue of this race, the Kallada River is approximately 4 hours away from The Hosteller Fort Kochi an affordable accommodation option for you. 

The Kallada Boat Race, which features the region's traditional Chundan Vallams

The Kallada Boat Race, which features the region's traditional Chundan Vallams

Other highlights of the boat festivals

In addition to the thrilling boat races, the Kerala boat festival offers a variety of cultural events and local festivities. Enjoy the traditional dances such as Chavittu Kali and music performances while savouring the delicious local cuisine, especially the unmissable Sadya (traditional vegetarian meal of Kerala). Interact with the warm and welcoming locals, who are more than happy to share their stories and traditions.  

Planning your trip to Kerala this festive season

To ensure you derive the utmost enjoyment from your Kerala Boat Festival experience, here are a few essential tips to keep in mind:

Dates and locations: 

The Kerala Boat Festival is typically held from August to September. It is advisable to keep an eye on the official announcements of dates and venues, which are usually made well in advance.

Local cuisine: 

Kerala is a haven for food enthusiasts, offering a plethora of delectable local dishes. Don't miss out on experiencing the traditional "Sadya," a sumptuous feast served on a banana leaf.

Cultural exploration: 

Beyond the exciting boat races, Kerala offers a number of cultural experiences. Visit historical temples like the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and explore the lushness of spice plantations such as Abraham's Spice Garden or the Green Park Ayurvedic Spice Plantation in Thekkady.
 

Kerala's wonderful cultural experience at the Boat Race Festival

Kerala's wonderful cultural experience at the Boat Race Festival
 

Conclusion

Lasting until the end of September, the Kerala boat racing festival should definitely be high up on your list this monsoon. With the variety of festivities and cultural events, it promises an unforgettable experience! As you soak in the vibe of this festival, you’ll understand that its true essence lies in unity and the hospitality of the locals, which will totally warm your heart.

Now that you know all about this incredible festival, start planning your trip to witness Kerala boat race 2024. Also, check out The Hosteller , your affordable accommodation option in Kerala.
 

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