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Onam 2019: Do You Know Why Vallamkali (Boat Race) Is Practiced In Kerala During Onam?

By Ajanta Sen

Are you familiar with the term Vallamkali? Well, you should know this by now because Onam festival is not so far.

Vallamkali is considered to be a traditional form of boat racing which is held during the Onam festival in Kerala. It is actually a type of canoe racing and war canoes that can be paddled are used. It is also one of the most enchanting and exciting races of Kerala. This event is a major attraction for all tourists. This year, in 2019, Onam festival will be celebrated from 1 September to 13 September.

The boat race draws in a number of tourists from and around India. This tradition has been going on for a long time and happens every year during the harvest festival of Kerala, Onam. It has gained huge popularity. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru loved this event so much that he even instituted a grand trophy for the winner of the race. This has increased the importance of Vallamkali.

The Legend Behind Boat Race

It is said that there is a story behind this beautiful event. According to the legend, the head of Kattoor Mana, who belonged to the Nambudiri family, used to offer his prayers daily. He was waiting for a poor man to come and accept the food that he was offering in order to complete this ritual.

He waited for a very long time and then one day when he saw that no poor man came, he started praying desperately to Lord Krishna. Then he opened his eyes and was surprised to see a boy standing in rags in front of him. He was overwhelmed by this sight. He took care of the boy, bathed him, offered him new clothes and, finally, provided him with a tasty and hearty meal.

After completing the meal, the boy vanished. The Brahmin was very surprised as he was not expecting this. He set out to look for the boy. He spotted the boy in the Aranmula Temple, but to his surprise, the boy again disappeared again. After this, the Brahmin started convincing himself that this boy was not just any boy, but he was the Lord Himself.

In order to commemorate this event, he started bringing food to this temple during the festival of Onam. He wanted the food to be protected from the pirates of the rivers. This is why snake boats used to accompany him when he travelled with the food. As this tradition started becoming popular, the snake boats started to increase in number. This led to the amazing carnival which was named the Snake Boat Race.

The Vallamkali Boat

The boats used during Vallamkali are not like ordinary boats. These boats have fixed measurements. The boats have a length of 100 m and around 150 men can be seated in each boat. These boats are carved out from Artocarpus (Hirsuta) and teak (Kadamb) at times as well. The ends of the boats are curled and they resemble cobra hoods.

The shape of the boats is the reason why they are called snake boats. The boats are crafted by the craftsmen who are very skilled. The craftsmen have to be patient and they work hard to make the boat perfect and then decorate it. These boats are treated like deities and the village folk have an emotional attachment to the boats. Women are not allowed to touch the boats while men can touch the boat with their bare feet.

Arrangements Made

To ensure that the carnival goes smoothly, the arrangements are made many days prior to the event. All the boats are launched on the day before the race. Lord Vishnu and the great demon King Mahabali are worshipped so that the boatmen and their boats are blessed by the Lord and the King. Flowers are also offered as they considered to be good luck.

Most people visit Kerala to witness Vallamkali, not only because of the beautiful carnival but also because of the legend that is associated with it.

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