Festivals in Ancient Kerala

Boat Race Festival

Vallam Kali (or Vallamkali) literally means boat game (race) in Malayalam. It is the traditional boat race in Kerala (a state in south India).

It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in Autumn. Vallam Kali include races of many kinds of traditional boats of Kerala. The race of Chundan Vallam (snake boat) is the major item. Hence Vallam Kali is also known in English as Snake Boat Race and a major tourist attraction. Other types of boats which do participate in various events in the race are Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam (Vaipu Vallam), Vadakkanody Vallam, Kochu Vallam.

Aaaranmula Uthrattathi Vallam Kali

The Aranmula Boat Race takes place at Aranmula, India near a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pampa to watch the snake boat races. Nearly 30 snake boats or "chundan vallams" participate in the festival. The oarsmen sing traditional boat songs and wear white dhotis and turbans. The golden lace at the head of the boat, the flag and the ornamental umbrella at the center make it a show of pageantry too.

Each snake boat belongs to a village along the banks of the river Pampa. Every year the boats are oiled mainly with fish oil, coconut shell, and carbon, mixed with eggs to keep the wood strong and the boat slippery in the water. The village carpenter carries out annual repairs and people take pride in their boat, which is named after and represents their village.


Indira Gandhi Boat Race

Indira Gandhi Boat Race is a boat race festival celebrated in the last week of December in the backwaters of Kochi, a town in Kerala, south India. This boat race is one of the most popular vallam Kali (snake boat race) in Kerala. This festival is conducted to promote Kerala tourism. This race with its heart throbbing rhythm of drum music provides an unforgettable experience to the spectators.

The trophy of the race was instituted in memory of Indira Gandhi, the late Prime Minister of India.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one the famous Vallam Kali held in Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha district of Kerala state in south India.


Vallam Kali (or Vallamkali) literally means boat play/game, but can be translated to boat race in Malayalam.

This race is conducted on the second saturday of every August.

Vallam Kali include races of many kinds of traditional boats of Kerala. The race of Chundan Vallam (snake boat) is the major item. Hence Vallam Kali is also know in English as Snake Boat Race and a major tourist attraction. Other types boats which do participate in various events in the race are Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam (Vaipu Vallam), Vadakkanody Vallam, Kochu Vallam.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India visited Kerala in 1952. He was given a roaring reception by the people of Alleppey, escorted by the huge snake-boats. Having gone through the tremendous excitement of sailing in a snake-boat Jawaharlal Nehru donated a rolling trophy to be awarded to the winner of the race.

The trophy is a replica of a snake-boat in silver, placed on wooden abacus on which the following words are inscribed.


"To the winner of the boat-race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore-Cochin".

Champakulam Moolam Boat Race

Champakulam Moolam Boat Race This boat race is the oldest and most popular vallam kali (snake boat race) in Kerala state of south India. The race is held on river Pampa on the moolam day (according to the Malayalam Era M.E) of the Malayalam month Midhunam, the day of the installation of the deity at the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple.

King of Chempakasseri, Devanarayana, built a temple at Ambalappuzha as instructed by the royal priest, but just before the installation of the deity he was informed that the idol was not auspicious.

The vigraha (idol) had be installed, the only solution to which was to bring idol of Sree Krishna from the Karikulam temple in Kurichi. This idol was believed to be given to Arjuna by Lord Krishna himself. After getting the idol from Karikulam temple and returning back to Ambalappuzha the kings minister and others stopped at Champakulam to spend the night and perform a pooja.

The next morning boats from the entire region assembled to escort the idol in a colourful, ceremonial procession through the lake to the Temple. Years later the pageant is still re-enacted with the same enthusiasm. An exotic procession of water floats, boats decorated with colourful parasols and performing arts greets the spectator before the race. The race is held in various stages for various categories of boats.

Payippad Jalolsavam

Payippad Jalotsavam is a three day water festival. Its conducted in Payippad Lake which is 35 km from Alappuzha district of Kerala state in south India. There is a close relation between this Payippad boat race and Subramanya Swamy Temple in Haripad

The people of the Haripad village decided to build a Sree Ayyappan temple. Before the installation of the idol the people had a vision that they should install the idol of Sri Subramanya Swamy which they will find in the Kayamkulam river. The exact location of the idol will be under a whirlpool in the river. The people found the idol as per the vision and brought back Subramanya vigrah in a boat, escorted by the devotees in other boats ceremoniously. In remembrance of this event a three day water festival is conducted each year, the famous Payippad Jalotsavam.


Other boat races in Kerala
ATDC Boat Race, Alappuzha.
Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race, Pulinkunnu
Neerettupuram Pampa Boat Race
Kumarakom Boat Race
Karuvatta Boat Race
Kavanattinkara Boat Race
Kumarakom Arpookara Vanitha Jalamela
Mahatma Boat Race, Mannar
Thazhathangadi Boat Race, Kottayam
Kottapuram Boat Race
Kodungallur and Kumaranasan Smaraka Jalotsavam, Pallana.
Kallada Boat Race, Kollam

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