The famed Champakulam Moolam boat race held on July 12 in the expansive Pampa River near Champakulam village in Alapuzha district marked the official start of Kerala’s snake boat racing season that will have tourists flocking to the backwaters of Central Kerala, where most of the races are held. Considering the muted proceedings in the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers and boat clubs hope to revive the famed frenzy around snake boat races this season.
Popularly called Vallamkali, boat races begin right after the first phase of monsoon with the Champakulam boat race. Traditionally, the races are conducted during the harvest season and are often associated with the Onam festival during the August-September period.
Here is a list of the main races:
Kumarakom boat race
Location: Kumarakom, Kottayam district
Nearest railway station: Kottayam (15 km)
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport (78 km)
Date: September 10, 2022
While most boat racing events in Kerala are either ritualistic or purely competitive, Kumarakom race, aka Sree Narayana Jayanthi boat race, is to commemorate the great social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. He is said to have visited Kumarakom in 1903, in a boat from Alappuzha. The race celebrates the memory of this visit.
As part of the event, a grand processession of country boats carry the Guru’s portrait from Sree Kumaramangalam Temple, which the Guru established, to Kottathodu, the venue of the race. It is usually held on the Sree Narayana Guru Jayanthi day.
Nehru Trophy boat race
Location: Punnamada, Alappuzha district
Nearest railway station: Alappuzha (7 km)
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport (83 km)
Date: September 4, 2022
Arguably the most prestigious and watched race of the season, it is usually held on the second Saturday of August every year and a large number of people gather on the banks of Punnamada Lake to watch 100 ft long snake boats racing to the tune of old boat songs. However, this year, it will be held on September 4.
As the name of the trophy suggests, the first race was held in 1952 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was on a visit to Alappuzha. He is said to have been so thrilled by the sight of the majestic snake boats that he leapt onto one of the snake boats, Nadubhagam Chundan, ignoring his security cover. After returning to Delhi, he donated a silver replica of a snake boat on a wooden abacus. Hence the name Nehru Trophy Boat Race.
Location: Payippad, Alappuzha district
Nearest railway station: Haripad (5 km)
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport (115 km)
Date: September 8 to 10, 2022
Held to commemorate the installation of the idol at Haripad Subramanya Swamy temple, it is conducted on the Payippad river near Payippad village in Alappuzha district. The three-day water festival often hosts the largest number of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy race. This year, the main race will be on September 10.
Aranmula boat race
Location: Aranmula, Pathanamthitta district
Nearest railway station: Chengannur (10 km)
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport (115 km)
Date: September 11, 2022
This is the oldest river boat festival of Kerala, and is more of a ritual than an actual race. It is believed that long ago marauders from the hills attacked the boat that set off from Kattoor Mana carrying provisions for the feast to be served at the Aranmula Parthasarathy temple on the day of Thiruvonam. When the local families in the vicinity of the temple came to know about it, they set off in their boats, chased off the attackers and accompanied the Thiruvonathoni (Thiruvonam boat) to the temple. Every year, the Aranmula Vallamkali festival recreates that legend. The actual race is held on the Uthrittathi day, the day after Thiruvonam.
President’s Trophy boat race
Location: Ashtamudi Lake, Kollam
Nearest railway station: Kollam (1.5 km)
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport (67 km)
Date: November 26, 2022
One of the final boat races of the season is also one of the biggest with a golden-plated trophy and a top prize of ₹10 lacs awaiting the winner. It is held in November on a 1250 m long water column in the expansive Ashtamudi lake in Kollam, and is the final race of the Champions Boat League that kicks off with Nehru Trophy.
Champions boat league
In this annual sporting event involving 12 races, organised by Kerala Tourism to conserve and promote boat racing, the snake boat team with the most points after the final race wins the league. The league kicks off with the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alappuzha, and ends with the President’s Trophy Boat Race in Kollam.
The debut edition, flagged off by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the presence of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar in August 2019, featured nine teams. Tropical Titans (traditionally, Pallathuruthy Boat Club) had won by scoring 173 points, followed by Raging Rowers (Karichal) and Mighty Oars (NCDC Devas).
This year, besides the 12 races, there will also be an allied competition featuring small boats on the Chaliyar river in Kozhikode district.
Schedule of 2022 races in the order they are held:
- Nehru Trophy | Punnamada, Alappuzha | September 4
- Thazhathangadi, Kottayam | September 17
- Pulinkunnu, Alappuzha | September 24
- Piravom, Ernakulam | October 1
- Marine Drive, Ernakulam | October 8
- Kottappuram, Thrissur | October 15
- Kainakari, Alappuzha | October 22
- Karuvatta, Alappuzha | October 29
- Pandanadu, Alappuzha | November 5
- Kayamkulam, Alappuzha | November 12
- Kallada, Kollam | November 19
- President’s Trophy | Ashtamudi lake, Kollam | November 26
For updates and booking tickets: Champions Boat League website