|The Aranmula Boat Race, Kerala. en.wikipedia.org|
|Aranmula Boat Race,Kerala, Sri Krishna temple (back drop) in the river Pampa. alchetron.com|
The decorated boat with a flag, ornamental umbrella and a golden lace at the head of the boat move in pairs to the rhythmic full throated songs sung by selected singers. The boat songs are written by Ramapurathu Warrier in his poem known as 'Kuchela Vritham Vanchipattu'. It was in 1972 snake boat races were introduced as part of the temple festival and since then, it has become an important event closely woven with the temple festival. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pampa to watch the snake boats, zipping past one another and participate in the racing events. Presently 48 snake boats called Palliodams' take part in the race. Snake boats are called Chundan Vallams in Malayalam and snake boat racing is part of Kerala culture well connected with important Hindu temple festivals. In 2009 only 41 boats took part in the race. The oarsmen sing traditional boat songs and it is mandatory to wear Mundu and turban (in Tamil Thalappa Kattu). Incidentally, Uthrittathi day is also believed to be the birthday of Pandava Prince Arjuna.
Snake boats normally are wooden boats made of typical, sturdy wood known as 'Aanjili' which withstands long exposure to the water. Boats are narrow and tapper towards the ends for easy mobility, and their length varies from 120 to 140 feet. The race boats can carry 100 to 120 oarsmen, including singers and are controlled by 4 helmsmen and the oarsman at the tip of the boat. The oarsmen row the long boat in unison with fast rhythm of the Vanchipattu (song of the boatman). It is an interesting sight.
On Ashtami Rohini day, the birthday of Sreekrishna is celebrated with devotion and boat races are conducted here in honor of Sri Krishna. On these days, all the rowers will be served free food from Aranmula Temple which is known as 'Valla Sadya'. It is believed that by feeding the rowers of boat we pay our obeisance to God Sri Krishna for his blessings and benedictions. It is a way of propitiating the deity here. There are numerous devotees to sponsor such Anna Dhanam (free food) - Valla Sadya' programs, providing free food to the rowers of Snake boats. The rowers and singers are the people belonging to the same 'Kara' who are the owners of the boats. The Onam festival is celebrated on a grand scale here.