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Overview Of Vallam Kali

Vallam Kali is a traditional boat race in Kerala, India. It is a form of canoe racing, and uses paddled war canoes. It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in autumn. Vallam Kali includes races of many kinds of paddled longboats, the traditional boats of Kerala.

The Legend:

There is also an interesting legend behind this very electrifying event. The story goes that once about 10 kilometers 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.

Prior Arrangements:

To make sure that everything goes smooth, arrangements start days before the event. The boats are launched a day before the grand racce. Pujas are also rendered to Lord Vishnu and Mahabali by a priest to invoke blessings for the boat and the boatmen. Flowers offered to the God are also placed at the helm of the boat as a good luck charm. 

List of periodical Vallam Kali events:

Major events:

  • Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha
  • Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali at Aranmula, Pathanamthitta
  • President's Trophy Boat Race in Ashtamudi lake, Kollam
  • Kallada Boat Race in Kallada River, Kollam
  • Pampa Boat Race in Neerattupuram
  • Champakulam Moolam Boat Race
  • Kumarakom Boat Race
  • Payippad Jalotsavam
  • Kannetty Sree Narayana Boat Race in Karunagappally, Kollam
  • Thazhathangadi Boat Race, Kottayam
  • Gothuruth Boat Race, in the Periyar, Ernakulam
  • Piravom Boat Race in Piravom

Minor events:

  • Thuruthippuram Boat Race, Thuruthippuram
  • Paravur Jalothsavam & Boat Race in Paravur Thekkumbhagam, Kollam
  • ATDC Boat Race, Alappuzha
  • Rajiv Gandhi Trophy boat race, Pulinkunnu
  • Neerettupuram Pampa Boat Race
  • Karuvatta Boat Race
  • Kavanattinkara Boat Race
  • Kumarakom Arpookara Vanitha Jalamela, Kumarakom
  • Mahatma Boat Race, Mannar, Alappuzha
  • Kottapuram Boat Race, Kottapuram
  • Kodungallur and Kumaranasan Smaraka Jalotsavam, Pallana
  • Indira Gandhi Boat Race, in Kochi Lake
  • Kaithappuzhakkayal Boat Race, in Kaithappuzha Lake, Ernakulam
  • Biyyam Kaayal Boat Race, Ponnani
  • Uthara malabar Boat Race, Thejaswini Lake, Kasaragod

Outside Kerala:

Canadian Nehru Trophy Boat Race, Brampton, Canada, organized by Brampton Malayalee Samajam.

Game Rules

  • To watch the grand gala race, thousands of people assemble on the banks of the river Pamba at Aranmulla where a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna is located. About 30 elaborately crafted Chundan Vallams or snake boats participate in the mega event.
  • The boat race is conducted on a stretch of 40 kilometers from the hills to the low lying plains on the fifth day of Onam. The sight becomes endearing when one looks at the beautifully decorated boats being rowed by oarsmen dressed in white dhotis and turbans. Traditional songs Vanchipattu, sung on the rhythm produced by splashing of boats furthers adds to the overall excitement of the team event. 
  • Each boat comprises of 150 men of which four are helsmen, 25 men are singers and 125 are the actual oarsmen. 
  • The most remarkable feature of the Snake Boat Race is the depiction of the great team spirit. It also displays the importance of being united and to be in harmony with nature. A single mistake by one person can produce imbalance and could lead to the overturning of the boat. 
  • These day even women participate with lot of enthusiasm in the event and a separate race is conducted for them. 

Equipments Need For Vallam Kali

Vallamkali Boat:

Vallamkali boat are no ordinary boats and there are fixed measurements to it. It is about 100 feet long and has a seating capacity of 150 men. The boats are usually made of anjili (Artocarpus hirsuta), though sometimes teak and kadamb (Naucleacadamba) wood is also used. The curled ends of the boats are shaped like cobra hoods and it is from this shape that boat has derived its name. Each boat is meticulously crafted by skilled craftsmen and a lot of patience and hard work goes into making and decorating it. The boat is treated as a deity and a holds a lot of emotional value for the village folk. Only men are allowed to touch the boat that too with bare feet. Each boat belong to individual villages located near the river Pamba. 

Vallamkalis are tastefully decorated with green and scarlet silk umbrellas. The number of umbrellas attached to a boat holds significance as it signifies the affluence of the family to which they belong. To render a more maginificient look to the boat gold coins, ornaments and tassels are also added. 

Great care is also taken for the upkeep of the boat. A carpenter repairs the boat on an annual basis. The boats are lubricated with fish oil, coconut shell and carbon mixed with eggs. This also helps to keep the wood strong and boats slippery in water. This way one can always find a boat ready for a swim.

History Of Vallam Kali

  • Vallam Kali originated in Assyria, on a New Year's Day in 300 BC. Vallam Kalli events were conducted by several ancient Indian states.
  • In Kerala, during an early 14th-century war between the feudal kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Chembakassery, King Devanarayana of Chembakassery commissioned the construction of a war boat called Chundan Vallam and he tasked a famous carpenter of the day with the responsibility of creating it.Hence, the technical methods for creating these Snake Boats are around 650 years old. Of the snake boats still in use today, the Parthasarathi Chundan is the oldest model.
  • Vallam Kali has mainly been conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in Autumn. The race of Chundan Vallam is the major event. Vallam Kali also includes races of many other kinds of traditional paddled longboats of Kerala, and is one of the major tourist attractions in the state.


Vanchipattu (lit. boatsong) is the form of poetry in Malayalam language commonly using while Vallam Kali and related festivals. During Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali, the vanchipattu is performed by the participants for its significance in the rituals. Ramapurathu Warrier is considered to be the pioneer of the vanchipattu.

Origin Of Vallam Kali

  • The Vallamkali was first originated in Assyria, on a New Year day in BC.300. The history also reveals that, the Vallamkali (Boat Race) also took place in some other countries like The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Combodia, Bangkok, Burma, Britain etc. In ancient India the boat race was conducted by so many States
  • Vallam Kali (or Vallamkali) literally means boat game (boat race) in Malayalam. It is the traditional boat (paddled longboat) race in Kerala.
  • It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in Autumn. Vallam Kali include races of many kinds of traditional boats (paddled longboat) of Kerala. The race of Chundan Vallam (snake boat) is the major event. Hence Vallam Kali is also known in English as Snake Boat Race and now in recent years has become a major tourist attraction
Origin of Chundan:
  • In the 14th century, there was a war occurred between Kayamkulam and Chembakasseri. During that time the king Chembakasseri Devanarayana had decided to build a suitable war boat and he gave the responsibility to the famous “Thachan” (Carpenter) in that period.
  • The technical methods about creating these Snake Boats have atleast 650 yerars old. By considering the current snake boats, the "Parthasarathi" Chundan is the oldest one.
  • Chundan Vallam (Beaked Boat) known to outside world as Kerala snake boats is one of the icons of Kerala culture used in Vallamkali (boat race).

Governing Bodies

The Kumarakom Town Boat Club:

The Kumarakom Town Boat Club was established in 1998 and had since held aloft the ‘Vallamkali’ fame of Kumarakom intact. Town Boat Club came into the forefront with a bang- by coming the champions in their very first attempt in the prestigious Nehru Trophy at Punnamada in 1999. The Kumarakom village have many a tale of victories in Vallamkali all over Kerala. Yet there was not a single team capable enough to become the champions since 1984. During this time, under the leadership of Town Team boat club, many small clubs and vallamkali fans joined together to form the Kumarakom Town Boat Club.


The club won four consecutive championships and asserted its supremacy. Many famous Chundanvallam’s of Kuttanad won their maiden trophys with Town Boat Club. Cheruthana and Paippad belongs to this group. Jawahar Thayankari is considered by many as the best Chundan Vallam in Kerala. But the boat, after 1985, was only able to win another trophy when it was oared by Town Boat Club in 2010. The Town Boat Club has participated fourteen times at the Nehru Trophy and had won a staggering six times.   

To  Visit  The Kumarakom Town Boat Club  Click Here 

Awards Related To Vallam Kali

Mannam Memorial Trophy

R Shankar Memorial Trophy

Mathrubhoomi Trophy

Manorama Trophy

Toshiba Anand Trophy

Changamkeri Thankappanachari Trophy

Sample Documents Of Vallam Kali

Sample Images Of Vallam Kali

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