Snake Boat Race – Vallam Kali (വള്ളംകളി)

Hello Fellow Gallopers,

It’s been sometime since I’ve made an entry and that’s because I’ve been travelling quite a lot of late. I was in Alappuzha (Alleppey), a town and district in southern Kerala, India, where an annual traditional boat (paddled war canoe) race is held on the second Saturday of August during the season of the harvest festival of Onam. The traditional name for this boat race is Vallam Kali (വള്ളംകളി) in Malayalam.

“Thei thei thei thei thithai thakathaithaithom

Thithithara thithithara thithai thakathaithaithom”

goes the rhythmic tune of the boatmen’s song. The jewels in the crown of the Vallam Kali at Alleppey are the sixteen long wooden boats of serpentine appearance (Chundan Vallams – Snake Boats) that race for the coveted Nehru Trophy. As if carried on the wings of lightning and accompanied by the thunderous cheers from fans on both shores of the Punnamda backwaters, the snake boats epitomise sheer energy and team work.

The snake boat has the record of being the biggest water vessel used for sports purposes. It is the sporting event that has the highest number of members in a single team. Usually a snake boat is manned by 4 helmsmen, 25 cheerers / singers and 100-125 oarsmen who row in unison to the fast rhythm of the boatmen’s song. The 100 – 120 foot long snake boats are made of a forest wood locally called Aanjili. The Vallam (boat) is under the command of the captain called Karanaathan. Three hands under him control the pace and movement of the boat. All along the two sides of the boat, in two long rows, sit the oarsmen, 64 in number (supposed to represent the 64 shires). In their midst sit 25 singers with traditional accompaniments. They provide the rhythm which the rowers follow with their oars as they row in sync. In the second half of the boat there is a platform for eight singers – they represent the eight directions and regulate the pace and song.

This famed boat race in Kuttanad can be likened to the bull fights in Spain. The vigour of the Spanish matadors, who hail from various villages with their fighter bulls, is evident in the Vallam teams that hail from the surrounding Kerala countryside.

This sport belongs to an era when kings ruled Kerala. Boat racers are leftovers from the legacy of Chembakasseri kings who ruled Alappuzha about 400 years ago. The snake boats now bask in the grandeur that radiates from royalty. There existed the tradition of ushering in kings on the boat, making the boat really special.

In addition to the Chundan Vallams (Snake Boats) other categories of boats such as the Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam, Vadakkanody Vallam and Kochu Vallam also take part in these races in their respective categories. People from across the globe usually flock to Punnamada Lake to soak in the spirit of this exciting yet graceful boat race and is a prominent event on the tourism calendar of God’s Own Country.

To see all the images* in this set, please click the links below:

http://koshy.smugmug.com/Sports/Vallam-Kali/13495665_Vk77Q#982982235_BZAY9

http://koshy.smugmug.com/Sports/Vallam-Kali-1/13497010_HAE6q#983136440_Gie38

Till next time, take care and gallop free.

* – images taken with the Canon 50D.

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