For every Keralite Chinga Masam or Onam Season in the Malayalam calendar is a time of jubilation and contentment. Like all the fellow Keralites, I too share the same sentiments of Onam and longing to partake in the festivity. Although the basic celebrations, rituals, and legends behind the festival are the same, a few places in Kerala celebrate it more flamboyantly. Aranmula in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala is one such place that is famous for the Aranmula Boat race.
Now, more than ever, Onam celebrations and the much-awaited Aranmula Boat race hold a larger significance for everyone in Kerala. Last four years we did not have a meaningful and joyful celebration of Onam. Floods and Covid disruptions in the last four years severally hampered the state Festival of Kerala. However, this year’s situation is brighter. All the festal paraphernalia associated with Onam is in full swing. And so is the Aranmula Boat race.
During the Onam season, besides the flower carpet and grand feast across the state, the Aranmula Boat race is one event that captures the prime spot on all news. Needless to say, the visitors and tourists thronging Aranmula village include passionate audiences from across the globe. It is a trend that continued for decades until the floods of 2018 snapped the magic.
Like the eventful return of Mahabali on Onam day, this year we are all extremely hopeful and positive about having the boat race in Aranmula.
Thanks to my friend and colleague, Vishnu Raj who is a native of Aranmula, we have all the photos and videos. fb@ vishnu.raj.3511.
An Outline of the Aranmula Boat race
Aranmula Vallamkali as it is known in the local language is a riverboat festival in Kerala. Snake boats compete in the event and it is a remarkable sight when the race is begun. Aranmula Boat race is conducted every year to commemorate the installation of the Sri Krishna idol, the main deity in Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy temple, Pathanamthitta. The popular event takes place during the Onam season at River Pampa on the bank of which is Aranmula Parthasarathy temple.
Legend Behind Aranmula Boat Race
The legend has it that a pious Brahmin who was a devotee of Lord Krishna offered to bring all the necessary items for the feast on Onam day at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. As planned, he navigated through his small boat on the Pampa River heading towards the temple. However, he was attacked and looted on the way and the things meant for the feast were stolen. The Brahmin was very disturbed. Lord Krishna appeared in his dream and advised him to erect a boat that is much large in size. Also to deploy several oarsmen to row the bigger-sized boat. Thus, the boat can outrun the pirates and bring the traditional items needed for the Onam feast to the temple.
It is also believed that Lord Krishna, the presiding deity of the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple, designed these boats. Devotees believe that Lord Krishna appeared in Pampa on a raft made of six bamboos. That is how this village got the name Aranmula. The literal translation means six bamboos.
Boats and Oarsmen
Since it is more of a traditional and religious event, the participants, spectators, and the overall ambiance are all decked with a revered fervor. In such an atmosphere, the specially crafted boats make their emphatic entry.
The elongated and elevated construction of the boat gave rise to the name ‘snake boat.’ They are about a hundred feet in length and hood towering upward to a height of about twenty feet. With around 120 people on board including the oarsmen, helmsmen, singers, and those who hold multicolor umbrellas, it is an amazing sight. Vibrant flags, parasols, and other festal elements add panache to the already spectacular event.
There can be around forty such boats taking part in the race. Each boat has a different name usually pertaining to the villages they come from. The carpenters, artisans, and other professionals work hard to maintain the superiority and elegance of their boats. From the wood chosen to carve the boat to every minute detailing done on the boat is under the scrutiny of experts. No wonder these are pure masterpieces on the course.
People chant traditional songs and encourage the oarsmen. Even those on board the boat hum along. The oarsmen and everyone on board usually have traditional attire. The traditional cream/golden color bordered cloth is wrapped around the waist. A few of them can be spotted wearing a traditional cloth wrapped around their heads. Rowing the boat and chanting songs go in tandem to create a sight to which tourists flock in. Of course, the rhythm of the oarsmen depends on it as well.
Can you imagine the sight? Richly embellished surroundings, flower carpets, traditionally dressed locals, and of course the special Onam Sadya to enjoy. The whole ambiance will be electrifying.
When? September 11, 2022
Venue: River Pampa, Aranmula in Pathanamthitta
How to reach?
By air: Nearest International Airport is at Thiruvananthapuram. (115 km)
Alternatively, Nedumbassery International Airport can be reached too. (130 km)
By rail: Chengannur stations the nearest railway station (10 km)
By road: the village is well connected by roads
Subsequent Boat Race Events
When the Nehru Trophy boat race was flagged off on September 4, at Punnamada Lake, a long season of boat races was begun. For all the boat race fans, as customary this year also a long list of events is scheduled.
- Aranmula, Pathanamthitta on September 11
- Thazhathangadi, Kottayam on September 17
- Pulinkunnu, Alappuzha on September 24
- Piravom, Ernakulam on October 1
- Marine Drive, Ernakulam on October 8
- Kottappuram, Thrissur on October 15
- Kainakari, Alappuzha on October 22
- Karuvatta, Alappuzha on October 29
- Pandanadu, Alappuzha on November 5
- Kayamkulam, Alappuzha on November 12
- Kallada, Kollam on November 19
- President’s Trophy on Ashtamudi lake, Kollam on November 26
It is the season of Onam and it is also a long season of boat races.
Wish you a prosperous Onam and enjoy the Boat Race!
A Travel enthusiast and Foodie, craving to explore the intricate beauty of nature and its gift of delectable treats. Pens down his thoughts and experiences to present a delightful journey for his readers