Emerald and sapphire – the two prominent colours of Kerala! One is the colour of its swaying palm groves and the other is of the many lakes, rivers and water bodies that dot its landscape. Kerala is a place known for its serenity and peace, for the leisurely pace at which life proceeds and for the rich diversity of aquatic life that breeds in its waters. However, those not so familiar with God’s own country can never imagine the excitement and thrill that fills the atmosphere during the months of June and October – thanks to what is the official boat racing season in the state! The season begins with much fanfare and gaiety with the Champakulam Boat Race Festival, on June 23, It’s one of the largest and most eagerly awaited sporting events in the region.
The story behind the sport
The Champakulam boat races are rooted in a history that is nearly 500 years old. According to legends, the festival is a recreation of the day when several boats including that of Chempakasseri’s Raja chaperoned the statue of Lord Krishna. Apparently the king had ordered the bringing forth of a Krishna idol from Karikulam temple in Kurichi to be installed at the temple in Alapuzzah. The people bringing it down the river were met with great respect and attention and several boats came out to escort the auspicious deity down the river. The king was so pleased with this that he announced the day to be commemorated with a pageant each year. Hence, the genesis of the boat races down the Pamba river!
A race to the finish
Known locally as the Champakulam vallom kali (boat race) this spectacular event is much awaited by the locals, marking as it does the opening of the boat racing season in Kerala. On the day of the races, thousands of people, locals and tourists alike, descend on the banks of the Pamba river to await the beginning of the races. Those vying for the best views will even venture to clamber up the tall coconut trees! There are several types of boats in the races ranging from the chandan vallams or snake boats to the veppu, iruttu kuthi, and churulan. The show, of course, is always stolen by the beautiful snake boats that never fail to capture the attention due to their sheer length (almost 100 ft) and beautiful raised prows. Each boat has between 90 to 100 strong, well-trained men manning the oars with fervor as they sing along together to keep up the momentum and the tempo. They also ensure that everyone dips and pulls the oars at exactly the same time. As the men pull vigorously at the oars, the calm waters give way to frenzy of foam and spray even as the audience shouts encouragements and claps along. The excitement continues unabated till the end of the races.
Other similar events
If this boat racing event sounds fun, rest assured you will enjoy the several other equally exciting events that take place in succession during the season. These include:
- Nehru Trophy Boat Race
- President's Trophy Boat Race
- Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali
- Payippad Jalotsavam
- Kumarakom Boat Race
- Kallada Boat Race
- Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race
How to get there
The festival takes place in the village of Champakulam and can be reached by the nearest railway station which is at Alapuzzah, 26 km away. Visitors can fly into the nearest airport at Cochin, which is some 85km from Alapuzzah.
If this festival has aroused your curiosity and interest, why not whet it with a visit to the stunning locales of Kerala? You can book your Kerala tour packages on Makemytrip.com. Hotel and flight bookings are also available.