Oldest snake boat race, Aranmula, Kerala

The Aranmula Boat Race, Kerala. en.wikipedia.org
Kerala state often referred to as 'God's own  country' is 'Nature's Paradise' and the interior places are replete with greenery, rivers swaying coconut and palm groves all along the water ways and one will get lost and be free  from the mundane existence and madding urban confusions. Kerala has the largest long water ways in India cir-crossing across the state. Snake boat races are part of Kerala's culture and are held during the Hindu festival time of Onam  The Aranmula Snake Boat race is an interesting one, as it is closely  connected with the Hindu temple on the banks of Pamapa.
Aranmula Boat Race,Kerala, Sri Krishna temple (back drop) in the river Pampa. alchetron.com 
 The Aranmula Boat Race, the oldest one  in Kerala, S. India is a spectacular one held during the Onam festival (August–September) - on the fifth of 'Thiruvonam Day' which is known as 'Uthrittathi star day' ('Uthrittathi' is the 26 th Star day). The venue is  Aranmula,  Pathanamthitta District, near a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna. The snake boats here are considered sacred, as they are  closely associated with the  Vishnu temple on the bank of river Pampa. The legend has it the idol of 'Parthasarathy Temple' (Sri Krishna as charioteer to Arjuna in the Kurushetra war) at Aranmula was consecrated by Pandava Prince Arjuna on 'Uthrittathi star Day' and this race boat, as part of the  festival, is held to commemorate that event. It is believed that the idol of Sri Krishna  was brought to Aranmula on a canoe  accompanied by a procession of several canoes and Snake boats. The water festival held every year here used to be known as  Aranmula Jalolsavam'
The decorated boat with a flag, ornamental umbrella and a golden lace at the head of the boat move in pairs to the rhythmic full throated songs sung by selected singers. The boat songs are written by Ramapurathu Warrier in his poem known as 'Kuchela Vritham Vanchipattu'. It was in 1972  snake boat races were introduced as part of the temple festival and since then, it has become an important event closely woven with the temple festival.  Thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pampa to watch the snake boats, zipping past one another and participate in the  racing events. Presently 48 snake boats called  Palliodams' take part in the race. Snake boats are called Chundan Vallams in Malayalam and snake boat racing is part of Kerala culture well connected  with important Hindu temple festivals. In 2009 only 41 boats took part in the race.  The oarsmen sing traditional boat songs and it is mandatory to wear Mundu and turban (in Tamil Thalappa Kattu). Incidentally, Uthrittathi day is also believed to be the birthday of Pandava Prince Arjuna. 

Snake boats  normally are wooden boats made of typical, sturdy   wood  known as 'Aanjili' which withstands long exposure to the water. Boats are narrow and tapper towards the ends  for easy mobility, and their length varies from 120 to 140 feet. The race boats can carry 100 to 120 oarsmen, including  singers and are   controlled by 4 helmsmen and the oarsman at the tip of the boat. The oarsmen row the long boat in unison with fast rhythm of the Vanchipattu (song of the boatman). It is an interesting sight.

 On Ashtami Rohini  day, the birthday of Sreekrishna is celebrated with devotion and boat races are conducted here in honor of Sri Krishna.  On these days, all the rowers will be served free food  from Aranmula Temple which is known as 'Valla Sadya'. It is believed that by  feeding the rowers of boat we pay our obeisance to God Sri Krishna for his blessings and benedictions. It is  a way of propitiating the deity here. There are numerous devotees to sponsor such Anna Dhanam (free food) -  Valla Sadya'  programs, providing free food  to the rowers of Snake boats. The rowers and singers are the  people belonging to the same 'Kara' who are the owners of the boats. The Onam festival is celebrated on a grand scale here.