The largest team sport in the world, boat races of Kerala (known vernacularly as Vallamkali) flaunts the social and cultural integrity and diversity of God’s Own Country. The awe-inspiring snake boats bring alive the rivers during the months of August and September. Following the southwest monsoon rains in Kerala, the season of boat races commence. If it is not the reason big enough to go to Kerala, then there is Onam also this month, most auspicious time of the year. Certainly, the best time to visit the ‘God’s own country’.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Come August and the placid waters of the Punnamada Lake become a track on fire. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the time of the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race is when the silence of the lake is sliced by the slashing oars of the pacing boats. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
Hordes of people swarm the banks of the Punnamada Lake to relish this annual water regatta. The rhythmic and the synchronised way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle. The ceremonial water processions, floats and decorated boats add to the beauty of the event. This is one such unique sporting event cherished by Keralites of all age groups. Apart from the locals, the spirit and enthusiasm that form part of the Nehru Trophy boat race is also shared by visitors from far off places. It is a sheer delight for the onlookers to watch the snake boats with 80 to 100 oarsmen aboard, who dip their oars in unison as the snake boat glides and cuts the water surface at a tremendous pace. And winning the race is a matter of pride and glory to each participating team and healthy rivalries are visible on the race day.
When: 8th August 2015
Where: Punnamada Backwaters, Punnamada, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Alappuzha, about 8 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha town.
Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat Race
The annual boat race at Kumarakom is different from the other famous boat races of Kerala like the Nehru Trophy race and the race at Aranmula. While the others are either ritualistic or competitive events, the Kumarakom boat race is held in remembrance of the great social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru’s visit to the village. Records say that Sree Narayana Guru, the great social reformer of Kerala, visited Kumarakom in 1903. He reached the village in a boat from Alappuzha, accompanied by a procession of boats. During the visit, the guru established a temple of Subrahmanya (Sree Kumara Mangalam Temple) in Kumarakom. Sree Narayana Guru’s visit is commemorated by the villagers, irrespective of caste or religion, during the annual boat race.
The boat race is conducted on Sree Narayana Guru Jayanthi Day, which usually falls in August / September (the asterism of Chathayam in the Malayalam month of Chingam). A grand procession of country boats carrying the portrait of Sree Narayana Guru, from the Kumaramangalam Temple to Kottathodu, is held on this day. Around 55 years ago, this ritual paved the way for a boat race with Kottathodu as the venue. The procession is accompanied by various music and dance performances such as the Garudan, the Panchavadyam and the Nadaswaram. Sports competitions are also held in connection with the race. The events at the venues include art forms like Thiruvathirakkali, Kolkkali, Theyyam and so on. Hundreds of oarsmen in many kinds of boats like the Chundan, the Iruttukuthy, the Churulan and the Veppu take part in the boat race. The Iruttukuthy race is the important boat one. The Iruttukuthy which wins the race is awarded the Sree Narayana Ever-Rolling Trophy.
When: 30th August 2015
Where: Kottathode, Kumarakom, Kumarakom is located in Kottayam District which is 13 km from here while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 63 km from here.
Aranmula Boat Race
Marked by fervent devotion, the boat race held in Aranmula is more a ritual than a competition. The boat race takes place on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival in Kerala. The boat race is noted for its grandeur and long tradition. Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the Thiruvona Ssadya (the traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni (thoni means boat) carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas decided to accompany the Thiruvona Thoni in their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day, which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race. The proceedings of the race commence with a grand pageantry of the snake boats participating in the race, which often turns out to be the spectacular part of the whole event. This session is followed by preliminary rounds of competing snake boats leading to the final showdown. The snake boats competing in this race are called Palliyodams. The race finishes at a point near the temple ghat, which usually would have a pavilion for spectators to enjoy the final stages of the boat race.
When: 31st August 2015
Where: River Pamba, Aranmula, Pathanamthitta. Nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 11 km while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 117 km
Payippad Boat Race
A legend goes that ages ago a group of villagers had a vision that directed them to a whirlpool in the Kayamkulam Lake. Here, they discovered an idol of Lord Subrahmanya. This idol was then installed at the Subrahmanya temple in Haripad. A spectacular boat race is held annually on the Payippad River in Alappuzha in commemoration of this ancient legend, popularly known as the Payippad Boat Race. It has the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy Boat Race and is nothing short of a spectacle. Exuding team spirit and a zeal to win, the teams participating in the annual boat race held on the Payippad River in Alappuzha district is a real crowd puller. As the competing boats set up the pace, the tempo is picked up by the thousands witnessing it who give out the loudest of cheers to their favourite teams. This in turn enlivens the spirits of the oarsmen, resulting often in tight, photo – finish races.
When: 30th August 2015
Where: Payippad backwaters, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Haripad, about 5 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.
Pulinkunnu Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race
Rajiv Gandhi Trophy Boat Race or Pulinkunnu Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race is conducted at Pulincunnoo every year to commemorate the visit made to this place by the late Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi with his wife Sonia Gandhi in 1985.The race is held at Pulincunnoo, the heart of Kuttanadu ,10 km away from the Alleppey town in the memory of the Late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian Prime Minister.Pulinkunnu Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race is held two weeks after the Nehru Trophy Boat Race during the month of August-September.This event Offers tremendous publicity potential, as about one lakhs people are witnessing it directly and many lakhs vicariously through print and visual medias. In addition to the competitions, there will be an exhibition of ancient and traditional forms rowing such as “Vechupattu Thuzhachil” and “Karakkikuthu Thuzhachil” by three snake boats. These types of rowing which are now becoming extinct, will be an added attraction.
When: 22 August 2015
Where: Pulincunnoo , Kuttanadu is 10 km from Alleppey town.
Athachamayam, start of Onam
A cultural gala that marks the beginning of the ten-day Onam festival in Kerala, the Athachamayam is the best opportunity for one to get a glimpse of some of the popular folk art forms of Kerala. Conducted every year on the Atham asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam (roughly August/September), Athachamayam is held in the historical town of Thripunithura near Kochi in Ernakulam district. A festival celebrated to commemorate the legendary victory of the Raja (King) of Kochi, a colourful procession is held reminding one of the customary processions of the king along with his entourage to the Thripunithura (Thripoonithura) fort. Also an occasion for the subjects to greet their King, the procession would feature caparisoned elephants, various folk art forms, floats and musical ensembles. Today, though there is no King, this age-old procession still retains its majesty and is a sight to behold.
When: 19th August 2015.
Where: Thripunithura, Ernakulam. Nearest railway station is Thripunithura at walking distance, while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 34 km.
Thiruvonam, the grand culmination
Thiruvonam the most auspicious day during the Onam festival is celebrated throughout Kerala, which is marked by happiness, excitement and enjoyment among all sections of people. A legendary ruler, King Mahabali, who sacrificed his life for his people eons ago, appears from the depths of nether land, to visit his kingdom each year. His subjects wake up with the first rays of the sun each day for 10 days at a stretch, during their harvest season to adorn their front yards with beautifully designed floral carpets to welcome their king. Thus goes the fascinating legend behind the harvest festival of Kerala, Onam. A symphony that rings in the heart of every Malayali, Onam is the State festival, which unites all Malayalis irrespective of caste, colour or creed. The whole of Kerala transforms into a riot of colours during this season. The ten days of Onam commences on Atham day and goes up to the Thiruvonam day in the Malayalam month of Chingam (August / September). Thiruvonam day is the most important day of the harvest festival. New clothes, referred to as Onakkodi, floral carpets known as Pookalams the special Onasadhya (traditional feast) comprising a minimum of 11 dishes prepared on the Thiruvonam day, music and dance in the form of Thiruvathira (a traditional dance form) and the Vallamkali (boat race) make the festival a unique one. The boat race held in Aranmula during the Onam festival is a sight to behold. Oarsmen row huge, graceful snake boats to the accompaniment of songs and the cheers of thousands on the banks of the river Pamba.
When: 28th August 2015
Where: All over Kerala
Pulikali, the tiger dance
Come Onam and the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district becomes a hunting ground teeming with prowling tigers and wily hunters. Each tiger has its ferocity writ large on their faces as well as on their bellies. Yes, bellies, for these are not the four-legged tigers you would come across in the wild. Rather, they are all men with their bodies painted as that of tigers with life like vividness. Pulikali (the play of the tigers) is an event that has become synonymous with the festival of Onam in Kerala. Apart from the true colours of a tiger, one would also come across other colours and patterns and even the facial features of lions on the bodies of the performers. The finesse with which the makeup is done with paints is awe inspiring. With the performance being centred on playing hide-and-seek with a hunter wielding a gun, the event is exciting and fun for both the performers and the onlookers. To say the least, it is a riot of fiery colours that is a feast to the eyes.
When: 31st August 2015
Where: Swaraj Round, Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Thrissur, about a kilometre while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 58 km from Thrissur.
Boat races of Neerattupuram, Karuvatta & Thazhathangadi
Few more races that are associated with Onam. Neerattupuram boat race is held on Thiruvonam day. Four to Six snake boats and various other boats traditionally participate in this race. The boat race starts after the traditional onasadhya. More than 1000 oarsmen in boats of different sizes and shapes participate in this event. A group of lovers and admirers of water sports were credited with the idea of bringing various boat clubs of Kutanadu for the little of & Pamba Boat Race and the race was held at the Pampa water stadium at Neerattupuram. Apart form the main attraction, the race of famous Snake Boats and other small boats like Veppu, Vadakkanodi and Churulan are also held. There are several other events such as cultural meet, procession, race of small canoes, cultural competitions etc. This event is making all efforts to create a landmark in the filed of water sports. Pamba Boat Race Club offers to the Tourists from abroad. Since 1957 the race is held on every Thiruvonam day, the most auspicious celebrant day of Kerala.The glistering golden Mammen Mappila Trophy presented to the winner of Snake Boat every year.
Similarly, Karuvatta Boat Race also takes place during Onam days at Karuvatta River and Thazhathangadi Boat Race on Meenachil river. The boat race is preceded by colourful water parades and is the most enchanting facet of the festival of Onam. It is a week long event, at Thazhathangadi, which is made beautiful with water carnivals and various boat races. The Boats complete with each other in the water of “Meenachil River” that was immortalized in the Novel “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy.
When: 28th August 2015
Where: Pamba river, Neerettupuram, location of the famous Chakkulathukavu is about 10 km away from Thiruvalla. Thiruvalla is in Pathanamthitta and is 26 kms from Kottayam. Thazhathangadi is just two kms from Kottayam Town is one of the oldest trade centers in Kerala. Karuvatta is a village in the Karthikapally taluk of Alappuzha district and also has a railway station.
Swinging on Teej
If down south doesn’t interest you then there is one of the most colourful festivals of the season on up West-Teej. A festival to rejoice the colours, crisscross green-yellow lines, mehandi, rains and jhoolas (swings), Teej is celebrated mainly by the women folk of Rajasthan. Married women who idolize pravati for her devotion to her husband, Shiva, celebrate Teej. The rituals allow the women to pamper and enjoy themselves, to feast, to dress in the best of clothes and jewellery, and to look their stunning best. Antique gilt palanquins, bullock carts pulling cannons, chariots, and gaily decorated horses, camels, brass bands and groups of dances all from a part of this grand spectacle. The palanquin of Goddess Paravati is carried by eight men dressed in red. Though celebrations are held all over the state, it is particularly colourful in Jaipur where a procession winds its way on two days through the old Pink City.
Teej is one of the most widely celebrated festivals of Rajasthan. Swings, traditional songs and dancing are the unique features of Teej celebrations in Rajasthan. Women perform traditional folk dance dressed in green colored clothes and sing beautiful Teej songs while enjoying their sway on swings bedecked with flowers. Teej is celebrated with immense fun and fanfare in the capital city of Jaipur. On this day, women and young girls wear their best clothes and adorn themselves with fine jewellery. They gather at a nearby temple or a common place and offers prayers to Goddess Parvati for well being of their husbands. On the occasion of Teej, markets in Jaipur are stocked with trendiest women accessories and clothes. Most of the fabric clothes display ‘laheria’ (tie and dye) prints. Sweetshops keep different Teej sweets but ‘Ghevar and Feeni’ is the main sweet of the season. All over Rajasthan, swings are hung from trees and decorated with fragrant flowers. Women both married and unmarried love to swing on these swings to celebrate the ‘Sawan festival’.
When: 17-18th August 2015.
Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan