The one experience that you must not bypass while in Kerala are the exciting boat races. Come August/ September and watch the crazy snake boats flag off for the Vallam Kali from Alappuzha. Vallam Kali boat race is one of the most spectacular cultural event in Kerala that attract the tourists from far and wide.
The event is promoted as the major tourists attraction in the state of Kerala. It takes place on the last day of the seven day long Onam festival and is celebrated with great fervour and vigour. These dark, long graceful boats are seen to sit loaded with coconut fibre, copra or cashew on coconut island, but now they line up in full caparisoned glory to compete with one another. Before the race, one could see the ceremonial water possessions with spectacular floats. The credit for the popularity of the Vallam Kali boat race goes to the Pandit Jawahar Nehru who was so impressed by this colourful event that he instituted a Nehru Trophy for the race.
The electrifying boat race is enough to set the river on fire with thousand of enthusiastic people flocking the venue to enjoy the event. The main highlight of the event are the 100 feet long boats that are decorated beautifully by the local craftsmen, specially for this event. These boats are popularly known as the 'snake boats' and can accommodate 100 people at a time. Usually the musicians and singers accompany the oarsmen to keep the participants with high spirits.
There is an interesting story behind the colourful Vallam Kali boat race. The story goes that once 10 kilometres up the river Pamba from Aranmulla the head of the Katoor Mana, a Nambudiri family, offered his daily prayers and was waiting to feed a poor man to complete the ritual. After waiting for long, Brahmin closed his eyes and started praying to Lord Krishna. As soon as he opened his eyes, he saw a ragged boy standing before him. The Brahmin lovingly gave a bath to the boy, a new set of clothes and also a sumptuous meal.
To the utter surprise of the Brahmin, the boy vanished after having the meal. He searched for the boy and spotted him at the Aranmulla Temple but the boy disappeared again. Namboodari concluded that it was no ordinary boy, but God himself. To commemorate the event, he began to bring food to the Aranmulla temple every year during the time of Onam. And, to protect the food from the river pirates, Kovilans or snake boats used to accompany the entourage. As the tradition gained popularity, the number of snake boats increased leading to the custom of a grand carnival called Snake Boat Race.
The objective behind the boat race is not winning the trophy but promoting unity and bondness of brotherhood among the people. Despite the hectic lifestyle, the love for these boat races in Kerala is still alive in the heart of people.