For ages, Keralites have cherished a reverential
attitude to rivers. When the weather becomes delightfully pleasant
and the nature exults in her full glory, it is the apt time for
Keralites to hold the Jalotsavam (water - carnivals).
Boat race is in a way a display of physical
might of the people who forget their differences in partaking in
this sport. In that respect, the boat race is symbolic of the Jalotsavams
in Kerala. The most famous is the Aranmula Snake Boat Race conducted
on the Uthrittathi day of Chingom (August-September).
The famous snake boat carnival on the Pampa
held annually at Aranmula on the day of Uthrittathi asterism in
connection with the Onam festival is to commemorate the crossing
of the river by Lord Krishna on that day. The deity is supposed
to be in all the boats that take part in the carnival and all of
them are expected to arrive at their destination simultaneously.
There is thus no element of competition
in the Aranmula Boat Race as in other regattas held in this district
and elsewhere. The race is not conducted to win any trophy or prize.
The crew regard the occasion as one for rejoicing and merry-making
and cheerfully row up and down the river to the tune of songs.
Even though the festival is of Hindu origin
and is associated with the Parthasarathy Temple, it is an all-community
affair and participants include members of all classes and communities
living in and around Aranmula.
The festival is now being organized under
the auspices of the Palli Oda Seva Sangham, a popular organization
of the boat owners. It constitutes a national festival for the people
of Central Travancore and special boats and buses ply to carry the
people to witness the event.
During the races, the banks of the river
on either side would be thronged with millions of spectators. In
recent years, the festival attracts spectators from all parts of
the country and even from abroad. The Valla sadya is an important
vazhipadu (offering) in the temple on this occasion.
The snake boats at the Aranmula regatta
present an enchanting as well as imposing spectacle. They are of
extraordinary shape. About 100 ft. long, the end of the boat is
curving upwards with the front portion tapering gradually. The rear
portion would be towering to a height of about 20 feet. The boats
resemble snakes with their hoods raised.
A 150 - crew including oarsmen, singers
and ruddermen man each boat which is gaily decorated for the occasion.
The occupants carry banners and ornamental umbrellas of silk and
gold. It is doubtful whether there is any other national festival
resplendent with such an aura of spiritual devotion, endearing friendship,
sportsman spirit, majesty and rapturous delight as the Aranmula
boat race. Similar Snake-boat races are organized at Champakkulam
and Paippadu in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, during the Onam