Fascinating Vallamkali boat race of Kerala - a part of Onam festival

Vallamkali. Kerala snake boat racetemplesinindiainfo.com
An integral part of annual Onam festivities associated with rice harvest in Kerala is the snake boat race called Vallamkali which has been around here for several decades. Vallam Kali (meaning  boat game),  traditional boat race native to Kerala  is a form of canoe marathon racing which is common in the western countries. Oarsmen on either side of the boat paddle the boat as fast as they can over a long distance  to the designated finis line.They here  use paddled  long war canoes of which there are many kinds. Each team spent more than  6 lakh rupees for the  Nehru trophy that is held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha. Odi vallam, veppu vallam, vadakkanody vallam, etc are some of the names of the boats participating in the event.
Aranmula boat race, Kerala. travelogyindia.com
The technique being followed in the making of snake boats has been around for more than  650 years.  Way back in the 13th century in this part of  Kerala necessity arose to make war boats because the feudal kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Chembakassery were not on good terms and the rulers were at loggerheads. King Devanarayana of Chembakassery invited talented carpenters and asked them to build strong war boats called  Chundan Vallam.  The narrow race boat is not an ordinary one and the standard length is 100 feet that can carry 150 men. It is made of Anjili wood (Atrocarpus hirsurte) that can withstand water.  They do use teak wood in boat making. Further, periodically  the boat is lubricated with fish oil burnt coconut shells and carbon mixed with egg. This process makes  the boat strong, improves its longevity and gives resistant to water. Most importantly, water gives less friction to the lubricated boat and helps it move forward faster.  The curved ends normally look like giant cobra's head. To the villagers, vallamkali is like a god and they treat the boat  with divinity and care, hence much attention  was given when the boat was being made and when the race is on paddlers sit in the boat barefoot, a tradition that is followed by the Hindus when they visit the temples and other holy places.
Vallamkali. Kerala snake boat race livemint.com
 Tradition has been that before the start of the race, Pujas are performed to each boat and to mythical king Mahabali  by the priests to propitiate the god for the safety of  boat and boatmen. This is the reason why one will find puja items and flowers at the helm of each boat. Boat race is conducted on the 5th Onam day and the distance of the finish line is  40 km in the Pampa river and the major avenue is Aranmulla where there is a beautiful temple dedicated to  Sri Krishna and Arjuna. About 30 boats are allowed to be  participated in batches and the  rows of boats always move down stream. There are no obstructions in the middle for the oarsmen to negotiate. There are many events, because the boats are split in to groups; so it is a time-consuming work for the organizers. I have never heard of Marathon canoeing using paddled boats in India covering a distance of 100 plus km.
Champakkulam boat race  travelogyindia.com/
Vallamkali. Kerala snake boat race fotosearch.com
 Normally such  race boats are meant for 150 men only, of which 125 will be oarsmen, 25 singers to cheer up the oarsmen and the crowd and 4 helmsmen. The success of race boats depends on team spirit, agility of oarsmen and their perfect timing in paddling to move  the boat forward.  The snake boat event is a major tourist attraction and  is watched by  a large number of people from other states and abroad.