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Kerala Boat Festival 2023: A Spectacular Backwater Boat Race You Don't Want to Miss!

Kerala Boat Festival 2023: A Spectacular Backwater Boat Race You Don't Want to Miss!

By Ninad

09 Aug, 2023

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 the rival kingdoms. 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. In fact, the design and technical methods used in crafting these boats date back around eight centuries.

Today's Kerala Boat Race continues this tradition, featuring massive Chundan Vallams gracefully gliding on water to celebrate unity and heritage in perfect synchronisation. Observing the sporting showcases by the participating teams will leave you in awe. It's estimated that each team spends several lakhs of rupees to prepare for the race, with funds allocated for rigorous training, design, and maintenance of the race boats. For these athletes, the race holds more significance than just a competition. It embodies a centuries-old tradition of their land that has evolved into an emotion—beyond winning, it's about pride and honour. Their reverence for their race boats is akin to worshipping deities.

Popular boat events, including the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, showcase numerous teams from diverse regions competing. This captivating spectacle harmoniously blends tradition, athleticism, and camaraderie, creating an unforgettable experience for both locals and tourists.

If you're considering a trip to Kerala in 2023, here's a comprehensive guide to help you maximise your experience of this incredible event:

The Origins of the Kerala Boat Race

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

"Chundan Vallam" refers to the traditional long wooden boats used for racing in Kerala's backwaters. These boats 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. While there are various types of snake boats, the Chundan Vallam stands out due to its sleek design, high prow, and elongated shape. Typically, large teams of oarsmen, often exceeding a hundred in number, row these boats in synchronised rhythm to the beat of traditional songs and drums. Each boat features a helmsman, singers, and drummers to maintain coordination. The structure of a snake boat race involves multiple boats competing against each other, showcasing strength, teamwork, and skill. These races are held during festivals like Onam, with the Nehru Trophy Kerala Boat Race being a prominent example. As the boats glide through the water, oarsmen row with vigour, creating a captivating spectacle for spectators along the riverbanks.

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

All the Spectacular Venues to Witness the Kerala Boat Race

Boat races stand among the grandest traditions, and observing these snake-shaped boats go head-to-head, moving in rhythm to the resounding old boat songs, is a breathtaking experience. These "Chundan Vallam" boats bring the serene backwaters to life. Numerous important races occur during these events, and we've outlined some of the most renowned boat races that take place in Kerala.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

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

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one of the most prestigious and eagerly anticipated events in Kerala. Named after India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, this race is a tribute to the rich maritime heritage of Kerala and showcases the unity and the local communities.

Location: Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha

Date: August 12, 2023

Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha is the closest venue from here where the ‘Nehru Trophy Boat Race’ happens. It is 1hour and 30 minutes long drive from The Hosteller Fort Kochi . Alternatively, if you intend to reside in Munnar and discover the boat rice while exploring the city's charm, it might require 3-4 hours of travel to reach this festival, depending on the chosen route and the current traffic situation.

Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

Spectacular traditional displays at the Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

Spectacular traditional displays at the Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

The Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali, or Aranmula Boat Race, stands as the oldest and most revered backwater boat race in Kerala. Taking place on the day of the Uthrittathi asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam (equivalent to August 15 and September 20), it is renowned for its grandeur and distinctive history.

Aranmula, a heritage village situated on the banks of the Pampa River in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, hosts this race during the Onam festival. The event features intricately decorated snake boats adorned with vibrant silk umbrellas and brass lamps. Rooted in religious beliefs, the race is dedicated to Lord Krishna.

Location: Pampa River, Aranmula

Date: September 2, 2023

Payippad Jalotsavam

Payippad Jalotsavam at the Beautiful Payippad Lake

Payippad Jalotsavam at the Beautiful Payippad Lake

The Payippad Jalotsavam is a unique boat race celebrated on the picturesque Payippad Lake. Legend has it that a local King promised to build a new temple if he received a vision of its location while circumnavigating the lake. The King's vision was realised during the boat race, and the event has since symbolised fulfilment and devotion.

Location: Payippad Lake, Alappuzha

Date: August 28, 2023

Kumarakom Boat Race

Kumarakom Boat Race, set against the tranquil Vembanad Lake

Kumarakom Boat Race, set against the tranquil Vembanad Lake

Held annually on the day of Chathayam in Kottathod, Kumarakom, the event commemorates the visit of Sri Narayana Guru – one of Kerala's most influential social reformers. Leaders of the Ezhava Samajam had requested Guru to establish a temple in Kumarakom. Guru agreed to dedicate the idol and also insisted on establishing a school alongside it.

In 1903, Guru arrived at Kumarakom on a boat, accompanied by an elaborate procession. He dedicated an idol depicting Lord Subrahmanya and a 'vel' (the divine spear), while also laying the foundation for a nearby school. The Kumarakom Boat Race is organised annually in memory of this event and the welcoming procession for Guru. On that rainy day in 1903, Guru observed the rain-soaked people who had come to greet him and requested the organising committee to offer them 'Sarakara Payasam' (a sweet dessert made of jaggery). This tradition of serving the delectable dessert continues to be part of the event. Set against the serene backdrop of Vembanad Lake, this race showcases various categories of boats, including the majestic snake boats.

Location: Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom

Date: August 14, 2023


Kallada Boat Race

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

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

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 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.

This boat race is a festive highlight for the residents of Munroe Thuruthu, spanning a track of 1,400 metres. The 28th day of Onam typically marks the culmination of the Onam festival season in Kerala. Hence, the Kallada Boat Race is aptly regarded as the final boat race of the season in the state.

Location: Kallada River, Munroe Island

Date: September 29, 2023

Please note that the dates and timings mentioned above are subject to change. It is advisable to verify with local authorities or event organisers for the most up-to-date information before planning your visit.

Other Highlights of The Boat Festivals

In addition to the heart-pounding boat races, the Kerala Boat Festival offers a medley of cultural events and local festivities. Indulge in traditional dances such as Chavittu Kali, enjoy music performances, and savour delectable local cuisine, particularly the Sadya meal that promises to tantalise your taste buds. Embrace the opportunity to engage 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

Kerala's wonderful cultural experience at the Boat Race Festival

Kerala's wonderful cultural experience at the Boat Race Festival

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 backwater boat race, Kerala beckons with an array of cultural experiences. Explore historical temples like the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and immerse yourself in the lushness of spice plantations such as Abraham's Spice Garden in Thekkady, Green Park Ayurvedic Spice Plantation in Thekkady, and the Cinnamon Garden Spice Plantation in Munnar. Additionally, the serene backwaters, such as those in Alappuzha and Kumarakom, invite you to soak in their tranquillity.

You Can’t Miss The Kerala Boat Festival…

This festival will continue until September, presenting an experience you unquestionably shouldn't forego. Just like every year, this year's festivities promise an unforgettable encounter that seamlessly melds the excitement of backwater boat races with the allure of Kerala's culture and hospitality. As you embark on your trip, remember to fully immerse yourself in the celebrations, interact with the locals, and relish every fleeting moment of this vivacious revelry. Capture the very essence of Kerala's magnificence – make sure to book your stay now. Capture the very essence of Kerala's magnificence - Book your stay now.

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