Aranmula Vallamkali or the Aranmula Snake Boat Race is a boat race held in the Pampa River near the Hindu Temple, the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna, during Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala (August–September). The Aranmula Boat Race is the oldest river boat fiesta in Kerala. It is a resplendent water regatta that showcases the grandeur of the rich tradition of Kerala. The snake boats move in pairs to the rhythm of full-throated singing and shouting watched by an exciting crowd.
Since it is held on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the Malayalam calendar) Aranmula Vallamkali is also known as Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali or Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pampa to watch the snake boat races. The oarsmen sing traditional boat songs and wear white mundu and turbans. The golden lace at the head of the boat, the flag and the ornamental umbrella at the center make it a show of pageantry too.
Event date: 08-09-2017
Venue: River Pamba
This annual festival which is more of a ritual than a boat race and has an interesting folklore associated with it. Legend has it that a Brahmin once offered all the requirements for the thiruvonasadya (the traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple.
On one such occasion, the Thiruvona Thoni, as the boat is called, laden with all these offerings got attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni, the people from the neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. This tradition of sending snake boats later evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race. This tradition held on the Uthrittathi day later evolved into what we see today as the Aranmula Boat Race.
Aranmula temple is situated on the banks of the river Pampa. The famous temple at Aranmula is dedicated to Sree Parthasarathy of Lord Krishna as the divine charioteer of Arjuna. A rough estimate puts the age of this temple to 1700 years.
It is considered that ‘’Uthrittathi’’ day is the anniversary of the installation of the idol consecrated in the south, by Pandavas. So on that day, there will be a Snake boat regatta in front of the Aranmula temple.
Palliyodams (snake boats)
Palliyodams are Aranmula’s unique snake boats (‘Chundan Vallam’) which devotees hold in reverence, considering it as the divine vessel of the presiding deity in Sree Parthasarathy temple. These Palliyodams belong to different ‘karas’ (rustic parts) on the banks of river Pampa. Each one will usually have 4 helmsmen, rowers and singers. It is decorated with golden lace. There will be a flag and two or three ornamental umbrellas.
Getting onto a snake boat
- Only men of the village are allowed to be in the boat.
- White loin cloth (Mundu) and turban.
- No shirt and footwear.
Traditionally it will be commanded by a Kaarnavan / Karanaadhan (Village leader) with First Adanayampu and under him there will be three main oarsmen who control the movement of the boat with 12 feet long main rudder-oar (Adanayampu). Sitting two in row along the length of the Boat there will be the oarsmen, they row in rhythm of the vanchipattu (boatman’s song). Standing on the platform in the middle of the boat, the main singer will lead the vanchipattu. A few singers will be with the main leader while others will stand at the middle between the oarsmen.
Vanchipattu or Boat Song
The singers lead the ‘’Vanchipattu’’ (song) which the oarsmen will repeat and they move the oars in circular form according to its rhythm. Usually the selection will be from ‘’Kuchela vrythom Vanchipattu.’’
On ‘Thiruvonam’ day people of Kerala celebrate it with a feast. Aranmula celebrations begin with the arrival of Thiruvonathoni (special boats) from Kattoor. For a sumptuous meal for the Lord at Aranmula, a boat with the necessary provisions, and an ever-burning lamp, set off its journey from the temple at Kattoor at 6 pm so that it could reach Aranmula temple by 4 am the next day, the Thiruonam day. At 6 pm long main rudder-oar (Adanayampu) will be presented to the temple at Kattoor and then it will be handed over to the leading oarsman. Mr. Bhattathiri of Mangaatt Illam with 18 men will get into the boat and it will begin its journey to Aranmula. The boat is expected to float according to the speed of the current. The sound of the nagaswaram (musical pipe) could be heard from a distance. People from all walks of life, age and religion will assemble on the river bank and they will float lighted lamps on the river welcoming the Thiruvonathoni. It is believed that the palliyodams were built to protect this Thiruvonathoni. So early morning on Thiruvonam day all these palliyodams will accompany the Thiruvonathoni.
Another important event is the ‘Aranmula Vallasadya’ (banquet). Valla sadhya is a mass feast which includes 45 varieties of dishes, given by devotees to the crew/ rowers of palliyodam which they consider as the divine vessel of Lord Krishna. Valla sadhya is conducted by the devotees as a “Vazhipadu” to the lord ParthaSarathy.
It starts in mid-july (karkitakam) and will last till September (kanni month). 254 vallasadyas were held in 2008 besides the mega feast on Ashtami Rohini. The vallasadhya on ashtamirohini or Sree Krishna Janmashtami day (birth day of Lord krishna) is considered special. As many as 48 palliyodams take part in the feast. Food is offered to around 1.5 to 2 lakhs people on that day at the Ootupura( a large dining hall) and the temple yard. Rice with 68 side dishes were served at the Sadhya on banana leaves including the following side dishes.
Adaprathaman. (Pudding); Aravana payasam. (Pudding made from rice, jaggery and ghee); Aval (flattened rice); Avial (Mixed vegetable curry); Banana chips; Chammanthi powder (Chutney with chillies); Chukku vellum (dried ginger water); Curd; Ellunda (gingelly ball); Fried banana; Ghee; Ginger curry; Holy water from river Pampa; Kaalhen (curry made from curds); Kaalipazham payasam (Pudding made of banana); Kalkandum (Sugar candy); Kadala Prathaman (made of Bengal gram) ; Kychadi (Curry made of rice and gram); Mango curry; Munthiri pachadi (Curry made of grapes); Olen, (mixed curry); Pacchadi (A vegetable curry); Paal payasm (Pudding made of Milk); Pachamoru; Pulisserry (Curry prepared with thick and sour buttermilk); Resam; Red Cheera Thoran (made with a variety of amaranthus); Sambar; Thakara Thoran (Thoran with cassia tora); Unniappam.
Valla sadya is performed with a strict style. First, one who offers the feast has to invite the karanathan. On the day he has to put two ‘nirapara’s down the ‘kodimaram’ flag post, with betel, and tobacco and aracca nut. Around 11 o’clock the boat people will come in the decorated boat with vallapattu. They are welcomed with thalappoli and these offerings, and are marched with rhythmic slogans first in front to the god and then to the separate hall arranged for the feast. They are treated with whatever they ask, and after the feast they are sent back following up to the river.