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Home / Kerala / Boat Races in Kerala / Aranmula Boat Race Kerala


Aranmula Boat Race, Kerala

It truly makes for an amazing spectacle when chundan vallams set sailing amid full throated singing by oarsmen and loud cheer by the spectators. Coinciding with the Onam festival, Aranmula Boat Race attracts thousands of people who gather on either bank of the river to encourage and enjoy the contenders. Oarsmen, attired in white mundu and turbans, sing in chorus as the snake boats begin to vie against one another. So as to grab the eyeballs of the spectators, traditional craftsmen adorn the ‘chundan vallams’ with golden laces, flags and ornamental umbrella. The Aranmula Boat Race became a part of the Onam festival only in the year 1972.

Mythological Background
The snake boats (referred to as Palliyodams in Malayalam) are held in high regard by devotees. It is believed that these snake boats are the divine vessel of main deity at Sree Parthasarathy Temple. Belonging to ‘karas’, these Palliyodams have a unique place in Kerala’s traditional history. The venue of the Aranmula Boat Race is closely located to the Aranmula Temple, standing in dedication to Sree Parthasarathy. Historians believe that the Aranmula Temple is almost 1700 years old.

Venue and Time of the Year
The boat fiesta takes place at Aranmula, at 128 km from Thiruvananthapuram (capital of Kerala). The racing event makes the Pampa River come alive as hundreds of thousands of people from all across Kerala and outside congregate to be a part of it. If you are planning to enjoy the event, you should plan your holiday around August-September.

Making of the Boat
The day for the construction of the boat is chosen on an auspicious day. Measuring between 100 and 138 ft in length, the boat is made from the forest wood of the Anjili tree. The knowledge of the building these boats comes from the Vedic text. At fist, the wood is cut and brought to the construction location. The rear of the boat goes up to a height of 20 ft while its hull measures 83 ft in length.

Even after the boats have been constructed, care needs to be taken every year to keep then in good shape and condition. So as to make the boat wood slippery in the water, they are regularly oiled with fish oil, cocnut shell and carbon. It is the duty of the traditional carpenter to keep the boats in running condition. Each of these boats is named after the village it represents.

About the Oarsmen and Singers
Different villages that contend in the competition have their own oarsmen’s team. Attired in ‘mundu’ (white loin cloth) and turban, rowers include a ‘kaarnavan’ (village representative) and three others to steer the snake boat along the river. ‘Vanchipattu’ is the traditional song sung to uplift the spirit of the rowers. As the singing continues, the oars move in a circular motion to match the rhythm. The opening lines of the song are sung by both the singers and the oarsmen alternatively. Then the whole crew sings together in chorus adding much to the excitement of viewers.