Kerala, in southwest India on the Arabian Sea coast, has a mixed population of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and people of other communities. Kerala's cultural calendar is full of events through the year as the secular people of Kerala celebrate festivals and events of all religions.

Boat Races

The Boat Races are an integral part of the culture and celebrations of Kerala. This sport brings forth excellent camaraderie and enthusiasm of the people. These occasions of great excitement reflect the lively people of Kerala, both participants and eager spectators.

These magnificent fiestas bring life and verve to the tranquil backwaters of Kerala. Snake boat races are held in around the festival of Onam, the harvest festival celebrated during August/September. Several long snake boats and other smaller crafts take on the waters to participate in these events. These snake boat races are also accompanied with colourful water parades, celebrations and much fanfare.

Usually a snake boat is manned by four helmsmen, 25 singers and 100 - 125 oarsmen who row in unison to the fast rhythm of the vanchipattu (song of the boatman). Thousands of people crowd along the waters to cheer the participants. Most of these races also have interesting legends and stories tracing their origin.

Other boat races held during Onam (August / September)
  • A TDC Boat Race, Alappuzha.
  • Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race, Pulinkunnu
  • Neerettupuram Boat Race, Kumarakom
  • Kumarakom Boat Race
  • Karuvatta Boat Race
  • Kavanattinkara Boat Race, Kumarakom
  • Arpookara VanithaJalamela, Kottayam
  • Mahatma Boat Race, Mannar
  • Thazhathangadi Boat Race, Kottayam
  • Kottapuram Boat Race, Kodungallur
  • Kumaranasan Smaraka Jalotsavam, Pallana.
  • The Indira Gandhi Boat Race is held on the Ernakulam Lake during the Cochin Carnival in the last week of December.

    Following are some details about the most important races in Kerala

    Champakulam Boat Race :This is one of the oldest and most popular boat races of Kerala. The race is held on the Champakulam Lake on the moolam day of the Malayalam month of midhunam. The main highlights of this event are ceremonial water procession, spectacular water floats and boats decorated with colourful parasols, and Vanchipattu (folk song of the oarsmen) and the chundan vallom (snake boat, over 100 feet in length, with a raised prow similar to the hood of a snake) race.

    Nehru Trophy Boat Race :Held in Alappuzha, this is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited events in Kerala. Organised on the watersides of Alappuzha at the Punnamada Lake , this grand event is held on the second Saturday of Aug every year. Magnificent snake boats compete for the prized trophy, instituted by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India . Over 16 chundan vallams participate in this race along with many smaller boats like churulan, veppu, odi etc with a prize for each category. There are separate races for women too.

    Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race :The event is a memorial to the former prime minister of India . The main highlights of this race are colourful water procession, water floats, and boat races.

    Payippad Jalotsavam :This is a grand fiesta of 3 days at the Payippad Lake , 35 kms from Alapuzzha. This event marks the placing of the deity at the Subramanya Swamy Temple , Harippad. The village people wanted to build a temple with Lord Ayyappa as the main deity. After completion of the structure, a vision directed the elders of the village to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake , to find the idol of Sree Subramanya. This idol was found at the envisioned place and was brought back with much fanfare by the devotees on the Thiruvonam day. An auspicious procession is conducted along this very route every year on this very day. The event is a major attraction for several people. This occasion is marked by boat races, spectacular water pageants with decorated boats and floats, performing arts and children in traditional dresses. The vanchipattu is a major feature of these celebrations.

    Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali :This traditional boat race conducted 10 km from Chengannur, at Sree Parthasarathy Temple , in Aranmula as a part of the Onam celebrations. This is a 2 day event that re-enacts the legend, according to which a devout Brahmin who made an offering of feeding one pilgrim a day. Sree Krishna appeared and the brahmin vowed to offer 51 mesures of rice and all the provision for the thiruvonasadya (the grand Onam feast) at the temple. The offering was carried by a fleet of palliyodam, a huge snake boat. Presently 26 boats participate in this colourful carnival.

    Indira Gandhi Boat Race:Indira Gandhi boat race is held on the Ernakulam Lake , during the Cochin Carnival in the last week of December. Over sixteen snake boats participate in this scintillating event.

    KERALA EVENTS - Festivals

    Thrissur Pooram :This festival is held at Thekinkadu Maidan at Thrissur in the month of May. A pageant of 30 caparisoned elephants are assembled in the grounds of the vadakumnathan temple.The nearby paramekavu and thiruvambadi temples are also participants in the festival. The highlights of this festival are Kudamattam (changing of umbrella from hands to hands), Chendamelain ( kind of drums), Panchavadyam ( five typical instruments played), and magnificent fireworks display.

    Makaravilakku :Makaravilakku is organized at Sree Dharamasastha temple, Sabarimala. This is one of the few occasions when the temple is open to the public. On the evening of makara sankranthi, the makara vilakku/makara jyothi (the light of kakara) is believed to be seen on the eastern horizon. Special devotional rites are performed.

    Sabarimala Pilgrimage :This annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Lord Ayyappa (believed to be a union of Shiva and Vishnu) in the Sahyadri Mountains of the Western Ghats is a pilgrimage, which is undertaken by increasing numbers of pilgrims every year. On Janury 14 every year, which is the most important day of the pilgrimage, thousands of devotees travel to the shrine to see the makara vilakku - a light that glows on a neighboring hillside, which is believed to represent the presence of Ayyappa.With all its fame across India this festival has become one of the greatest events of Kerala.

    Onam Festival:Celebrated in August-September every year, this festival celebrates the successful harvest and the return of King Mahabali, who comes to see the welfare of his people. Malayalis exchange gifts of new clothes, enjoy lavish traditional meals and decorate the entrance of their houses with beautiful flower carpets. Women dance around a lit lamp in the courtyard of their houses. Cultural programs of Kathakali and Mohiniattam classical dances are held and it is considered as the most famous kerala event.