Festivals of India, August 30th, 2023
Illustration by Manish

Onam is a traditional harvest festival celebrated in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It usually falls in the months of August or September and lasts for ten days. The festival is dedicated to the mythical King Mahabali, who is believed to visit Kerala during this time to ensure the well-being of his people.

People celebrate Onam with various customs and festivities, including intricate flower arrangements called “pookkalam,” traditional dances like the “Thiruvathira Kali” and “Pulikali,” and a grand feast called the “Onam Sadya.” The Sadya is a delicious vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf, featuring a variety of dishes and flavors.

Colorful processions, boat races, and other cultural events are also part of the celebration. Onam showcases Kerala’s rich heritage, vibrant culture, and strong sense of community. It’s a time of joy, unity, and thanksgiving, where people come together to honor their history and enjoy the festive spirit.

Why do they do snake boat races in Onam?

The snake boat race, known as the “Vallamkali,” is a traditional and integral part of the Onam festival in Kerala, India. This boat race is a thrilling and competitive event where teams from various villages compete against each other in long, narrow boats resembling snakes.

The tradition of snake boat races dates back centuries and is rooted in local folklore. It is said that the boat races were initially organized to commemorate the welcome reception given to King Devanarayana of Chempakassery when he visited the Alappuzha region. Over time, these races have become an essential component of Kerala’s cultural heritage.

The boats used in snake boat races, called “chundan vallams,” are large and intricately designed. They can be over 100 feet in length and have a distinctive shape, with a raised prow resembling a snake’s head. Each boat can accommodate hundreds of rowers who paddle in unison to the rhythm of traditional songs and drumbeats.

The races are not only a display of physical strength and coordination but also a celebration of community spirit and unity. Villages take great pride in their respective teams and invest significant effort in training and preparing for the races. The snake boat races during Onam attract a large audience, including tourists, and contribute to the festive atmosphere of the occasion.

In addition to the historical and cultural significance, the snake boat races symbolize the close relationship of the people of Kerala with water and their deep connection to their rivers and water bodies.

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