Kerala Boat Races
The boat races of Kerala are very famous. Kuttanad, which was once renowned as the rice bowl of Kerala and the upper Kuttanad area, are the most famous boat racing spots. Since the chief occupations of the natives are agriculture and fishing, the annual boat races are actually a platform for the display of physique and muscle power of the local people. The oarsmen and boats are selected and maintained in such an indigenous fashion as to give an exemplary performance. These boat races also bred communal harmony and unity as everybody could participate in them irrespective of caste, creed and classes.
Some of the most important boat races are: -
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
The most famous boat race of Kerala, the world-renowned Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held at Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha on the second Saturday of August every year. The highlights of these spectacular races are magnificent snake boats or Chundanvallams and its boisterous and rhythmic boat songs known as Vanchipattu. Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the biggest and the most famous event. This year the event falls on 9th August 2003. The first race was an impromptu one conducted in 1952 in honor of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who visited Alappuzha. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was so thrilled and excited by the event that on his return to Delhi in December that year, he donated a silver trophy, which is a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus bearing the following inscription above his signature - 'To the winners of the boat race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore - Cochin.'
This trophy later came to be known as Nehru Trophy, and now the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held every year to commemorate his visit to the place. The boat clubs and the boat race lovers spend lakhs of rupees for making this performance even more interesting and to win the trophy is considered a matter of pride and prestige. 18 snake boats will take part in the race this year and the 1370 meters long racecourse is divided into various tracks in such a manner that as the boats advance through these tracks, they appear like the fast moving snakes.
Champakulam Moolam Boat Race
The oldest and most popular snake boat race in Kerala, the race is held on the Champakulam Lake on the Moolam day of the Malayalam month Midhunam (the day of the installation of the deity) at the Sree Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha. According to a legend, Maharaja Devanarayana of Chempakasseri on the advice of the royal priest built a beautiful temple at Ambalappuzha but just before the installation of the deity, he was told that the idol was not auspicious. However, on suggestion of his minister, her arranged for the beautiful idol of Sree Krishna, said to be presented to Arjuna by the Lord himself, to be brought down from the Karikulam Temple in Kurichi.
On the way back, his men stopped at Champakulam to spend the night and perform a Pooja (ritual). The next morning, boats from the entire region assembled to escort the idol in a colorful, ceremonial procession through the lake to the Temple. Even today, the pageant is still re-enacted with the same enthusiasm and the charming beauty of the procession of boats decorated with colorful parasols and performing arts that greets the spectator before the race enchants one. The race proper is held in various stages for various categories of boats.
Aranmula Boat Race
The two-day Aranmula Boat Race is more a water fiesta than a competition, conducted during Onam. The event is actually a re-enactment of the legendary Brahmin who made a votive offering of feeding one pilgrim a day. One day Sree Krishna himself appeared to him and the overjoyed Brahmin vowed to offer 51 measures of rice and all the provision for the Thiruvona Sadya (the sumptuous Onam feast) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. However, the rivals from another village tried to stop the Thiruvonachilavu Thoni (the boat carrying the offerings) but the Brahmin's own villagers came to the rescue on snake boats.
Since then, a fleet of Palliyodam (a large, luxurious snake boat used by gods and royalty) carried the offerings as a security measure. Today, the number of snake boats has reduced from some 48 to 26 and it has evolved into a colorful water carnival with an imposing effigy of Sree Krishna is taken out in procession on the lake with children dressed as nymphs and princesses. On the second day, snake boats decorated with silken parasols, carrying helmsmen, oarsmen and singers assemble near the temple early in the morning and then move away in pairs, creating a magnificent pageant. The boat race proper is held in the afternoon.
Rajiv Gandhi Trophy Boat Race (Pulinkunnu Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race)
Held two weeks after the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, this event is held at Pulinkunnu, 10 km away from the Alleppey town in the memory of the Late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian Prime Minister.
Payippadu Boat Race (Payippad Jalotsavam)
Held to commemorate the Prathista ceremony (installation of the deity) of Haripad Subramanya Temple, this event has a religious significance. Starting from the Onam festival, Payipad Boat Race is a three-day long festival where snake boat processions are taken out on the first two days while the competitive boat race takes place on the third day.
Some other Boat Races that are regularly organized are: -
Neerattupuram Boat Race,
Thiruvalla, Pamba Boat Race,
Haripad, Karuvatta Boat Race, and
Mannar Boat Race.