Aquatic Panorama of Kerala and the Onam Festival


(Water Carnivals in Kerala)

Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala is the season of water festivals at south Kerala's back waters. The Vallamkali (boat race), held mainly in some places in the erstwhile Travancore state. A Brief summary of this aquatic spectacle.


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A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS ONAM GREETINGS TO ALL.




ONAM AND WATER FESTIVALS IN KERALA



A Boat Race in Progress.
pic. credit. Google images

Associated with Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala is the season of water festivals at south Kerala's back waters, in kuttanad. The Vallamkali (boat race), held mainly in some places in the erstwhile Travancore state (Southern part of Kerala), from July to September, are spectacular pageants. These carnivals are unique and are deep rooted in the region's history and culture. Vallamkali is best seen at Alappuzha Nehrue Trophy Boat Race, Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple Boat Race, Neerettupuram Boat Race, Thiruvalla Pamba River Boat Race, Champakulam Boat Race, Karuvatta Boat Race, Mannar Boat Race, Payippadu and Kottayam Boat Races.


About a hundred oarsmen row huge and graceful Odee (boats), Oars dip and flash to the rhythm of drums and cymbals in each boat. The songs are typical in character and concern people in Malabar. 



Over each boat gleam scarlet silk umbrellas: their number denotes the affluence of the family owning the boat. Gold coins and tassels hang from these umbrellas. 

The low-lying Kuttanad, also known as the rice bowl of Kerala, where the carnivals are held annually, was once contemporaneously under three local chieftains, whose naval fleets used to be their only means of communication and defense. Display of fleets, consisting of different types of boats noted for their enthusiasm and maneuverability was a historical necessity in the days of yore. This display took place in connection with temple festivals.
Another view of Boat Race
pic. credit. Wikiepedia


Boats (Vallam) were the only means of travel for people living in hundreds of islets in Kuttanad and, it is but natural that their grandest celebration is one involving boats. The boats no longer play the role of fighters; they now display their tremendous for load and speed. Once they were designed to travel fast and carry soldiers. The largest of such boats is the 'snake boats or "Chundan Vallom". It was designed, for the first time, in the 16th century for the king of Chempakasseri to fight the neighboring Kayamkulam King. Narayanan Achari of Koduppunna had designed these boats. The enemy king, who suffered at the hands of Chempakasseri, later found that the snake boats helped his opponents. He promptly got a similar one designed by some master builder. The difference in his boats was that every time a soldier fired from them, they moved backward. Such was the craftsmanship of the makers of the boat. In ancient form the snake boat is similar to the Norwegian boats designed in the ninth century.

Kerala Backwaters Boat Races,  Few YouTube Videos...

 
Since the naval fleets were relegated to history, villages in Kuttanad took pride in organizing festivals and competitions of snake boats. In 1952, when the Prime Minister, late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kerala, he traveled from Allepey to Kottayam by boat. A race was arranged in the backwaters-of Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha for him. Nehru got so excited while witnessing the event; he jumped into a boat to join the rowers. When he reached Delhi he presented a trophy, modeled as a snake boat (Chundan Vallam), to the winner of the competition. Thereafter it is known as "Nehru Trophy Boat Race" and it became more popular Vallam Kali in these seasons. 


1.  Nehru Trophy Boat Race- A YouTube Video - Part - I

Nehru Trophy Boat Rase part I A YouTube Video

Nehru Trophy Boat Race Part I
Credit. www.keralatourism.org

These boat races have won international acclaim and recognition within the country too. Men from all religion and sects participate in these races. Each boat, nearly 30 meters long, is occupied by100 people. The Nehru Trophy race attracts people from all over the world. The largest numbers of entries are for snake boat races which, with their beak-like bows, high flared sterns, glided conical lip and high (4 mtr) tails, accommodate four who steer. 

Only big businesspeople can own a snake boat, which, 16 yrs back, costed around Rs. One Lac. It takes at least six months for a master builder to construct the boat. The entire process with an Anjili tree for the keel, and hard cast iron rivets for holding the hull, is done on eye estimate and the technique is handed down from one generation to another by word of mouth. The sides of the boat are smeared with sardine oil; the first launching is done ceremoniously. All the men of the community push the boat into water. The paddlers move quickly into position and then set the speed of the boat, keeping perfect time. The steerers are spaced evenly along the centre of the boat. They paddled to the accompaniment of whistles, drums and other sounds. There are a large number of songs in Malayalam, language and the steerers often row in time to these. That branch of Malayalam literature is called "Vanchipaatt" or Boat Song. 


2.  Nehru Trophy Boat Race- A YouTube Video - Part - II


Nehru Trophy Boat Race Part 2 A YouTube Video

Nehru Trophy Boat Race Part  II

A video by Keralatourism.  www.keralatourism.org

Snake boats are the main attraction of the races at Alleppey but there are a variety of other boats, all of which attain considerable speed "Churulan Vallam" (spiraled boats) are household boats named after the soirals carved on their bows and sterns; "Parunthuvallans" are eagle-tailed, " Veppu Vallam" are vessels used in the armadas of kings. The other variety is called 'Kochu Vallam' means small boats, which can only accommodate one or two persons.

Among the races connected with temples, the earliest one is at Champakulam. It is believed to have begun during the 7th century. The procession of boats starts from the Christina family of Mappillasseri kadavu at Champakulam a few kilometers away from Alleppey. The legend revolves round the robbery of a Krishna idol, which was to be installed at the Ambalapuzha temple. It is said that, in the early morning, the idol stolen from Karikkulam temple in Chempakasseri kingdom, reached Champakulam, from where it was joyously carried to Ammbalapuzha for consecration at the scheduled time. It is to commemorate this event that the Champakulam races are held annually in July. 


3.  Nehru Trophy Boat Race- A YouTube Video - Part - III


Nehru Trophy Boat Race Part III A YouTube Video


Nehru Trophy Boat Race Part  II

A video by Keralatourism.  www.keralatourism.org
The Parthasarathy temple at Aranmula is ancient and noted for its murals and architecture. The temple is believed to be one among the five Shri Krishna temples built by the Pandavas. At Aranmula there was a custom of carrying articles from the neighboring Namboothiri household for the Onam feast to be held at the temple. The special boat called "Thiruvonathoni" (the holy Onam boat) used to be accompanied by a large number of boats belonging to the Parthasarathy temple. This race was later held on the birthday of the Arnamula deity on the next day of the Onam festival. It is also the last race to be held during the season. Colorful umbrellas are an added attraction of the pageantry here. 



"Kuttanaadan Punchayile Kochupenne kuyilaali"


A Traditional Boat Race Song  Sung by the Rowers


Kuttanadan Punchayile .... A YouTube Video

Kuttanaadan Punchayile…This traditional boat song.
Barring the Nehru trophy race at Alleppy other races which are still more colorful and traditional are little known to the outside world. They are 'Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali' at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta District, Champakulam Moolam Boat Race, in Alleppuzha District, Payippadu Jalotsavam-one of the oldest boat races in Allappuzha, Kumarakam Boat Race near Kottayam, and Indira Gandhi Boat Race at Ernakulam District.

There are a large number of songs in Malayalam, language and the steersmen often row in time to these. That branch of Malayalam literature is called "Vanchipaatt" or Boat Song. Among them the above given video song is the most famous one. Watch the video and enjoy the song.  A transliterated portion of the song is given below:

Kuttanaadan Punjayile.. Transliterate version of the song


Kuttanadan Punjayile
Thai Thai Thaka Thai Thai Thom
Kochu Penne Kuyilale
Thithatha Thithai Thai
Kottu Venam Kuzhal Venam
Kurava Venam

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Varavelkanaalu Venam
Kodi Thoranangal Venam
Vijayashreelaalitharai
Varunnu Njangal

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Karutha Chiraku Vachu
Thai Thai Thaka Thai Thai Thom
Arayanna Kili Pole
Thithatha Thithai Thai
Kuthichu Kuthichu Paayum
Kuthira Pole

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Tholviyenthennariyaatha
Thala Thazhthanariyaatha
Kaavalam Chundanitha
Jayichu Vannoo

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Kuttanadan Punjayile
Kochu Penne Kuyilale
Kottu Venam Kuzhal Venam
Kurava Venam

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Pambayile Ponnolangal
Thai Thai Thaka Thai Thai Thom
Odi Vannu Punarunnu
Thithatha Thithai Thai
Thanka Veyil Nettiyinmel
Pottu Kuthunnoo

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Thengolakal Ponnolakal
Madi Madi Vilikkunnu
Thennal Vannu Venchamaram
Veeshitharaunnoo

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Kuttanadan Punjayile
Kochu Penne Kuyilale
Kottu Venam Kuzhal Venam
Kurava Venam

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Chambakkulam Pallikkoru
Thai Thai Thaka Thai Thai Thom
Vallam Kali Perunnaalu
Thithatha Thithai Thai
Ambalappuzhayiloru
Kuthu Vilakku

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Karumadikkuttaninnu
Panineer Kavadiyattam
Kavilammakkinnu Rathri
Garudan Thookkam

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Kuttanadan Punjayile
Kochu Penne Kuyilale
Kottu Venam Kuzhal Venam
Kurava Venam

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Varavelkanalu Venam
Kodi Thoranangal Venam
Vijayashree Laalitharai
Varunnu Njangal

O Thithithara Thithithai
Thithai Thithai Thaka Thai

Thithithara Thithithai

The tourist potential of these boat races is yet to be exploited. Tourism departments is taking much effort to promote this it in international level.  More are more tourists are attracted towards Kerala in these months of July to September.


There is no doubt that these boat races are unique in the world. It is high time that plans are drafted to exploit the tourist potential inherent in their cultural practices.

Source:
History of Kerala, Kerala charitham

Pic credit. Bijin Studio, Ranny, 
YouTube video credit.  
Vanchippattu credit:
littleevilproYouTube


Comments

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Added in the collection - Festivals

You can add some more material on Onam festival in the knol and give some reference for more details of the festival.


http://knol.google.com/k/narayana-rao-k-v-s-s/hindu-festivals/2utb2lsm2k7a/3508?collectionId=2utb2lsm2k7a.3499

Regards


Last edited Dec 26, 2010 3:13 AM
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Thanks Raogaaru,
Best regards,

Report abusive comment
Posted by P V Ariel, last edited Dec 26, 2010 3:13 AM
Thanks Raogaaru,
I missed this comment, sorry for the delay in replying, Thanks for the mention
Best
Philip

Report abusive comment
Posted by P V Ariel, last edited Dec 26, 2010 3:16 AM

Wha!!

PV. Yet another wonderful or exciting happening on earth you brought here for your readers. Thanks for sharing this exciting sports event.
This write-up took be back to my childhood days I spent at Kumara area with my grand parents. You left many things untouched; hope another write up can touch many other subjects you left out. All the best my dear writer. Ben


Last edited Dec 26, 2010 3:15 AM
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Hi Ben,
I missed your comment,
Happy to note that you liked it,
Yes, sure this knol needs some revision,
Thanks for the suggestion too
Best
Philip

Report abusive comment
Posted by P V Ariel, last edited Dec 26, 2010 3:15 AM
Philip V Ariel Founder and CEO at Philipscom

A freelance writer, editor and a blogger from Kerala. Now based at Secunderabad, Telangana, India. Can reach at: pvariel(@)Gmail [.] Com
Tel: 09700882768