Boat Races in Kerala – How, what and where?

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Boat race in Kerala

God’s own country, Kerala is a land of diverse culture and rich heritage. The dotted coconut and palm trees, the shikaris, and the boathouses everything about this land is special. Traveling to Kerala can be quite an enthralling one because of the vivid experience that one gets. Kerala’s art form, like Theyyam, Mudiyettu, Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, and Kalaripayattu, can leave you in a state of awe.

Known locally as Vallam Kalli, Kerala is famous for its spectacular boat races wherein, the oarsmen actively paddle their war canoes, singing songs of the land in magnificence.The boat race in Kerala falls under the backwater festivals and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and attract a global audience because of the charm it carries. All the locals in their traditional attire sing along the glorious past and the present of Kuttanad as they row their boats.

Boat race, Kerala
Boat race, Kerala

History of the Snake Boat race
According to legends, one of the famous kings of Alappuzha fought and won many battles through the canals using his boat. During one of the battles, the king had to lose his boat because of which he incurred huge losses. The king happened to summon the expert boat designer to help him with a boat that is not just strong but, that can help him wage wars without any fear. As per the king’s instructions, the expert came up with one of the best designs, ‘Snake boat.’ Well, this story has a history of 400 years, and the boats designed then are now widely used today for sporting purposes.

People from all over the world come to Kerala to witness this extravaganza, and here, we bring you the top six must-watch boat races of Kerala. These are the most prominent boat races of Kerala, and all the races here make use of the Snake boats.

  • Nehru Trophy Boat Race
  • Champakulam Moolam Boat Race
  • Payippad Boat Race
  • Uthradom Thirunal Pampa Boat Race
  • Aranmula Boat Race
  • Kallada Boat Race
Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

1) Nehru Boat Race
When: August or September
Where: Punnamada Lake

Alappuzha, popularly known as Alleppey, is the hub for the most famous Nehru Boat race. Regarded as one of the best boat races of Kerala, Nehru boat race involves thousands of participants.
It is unlike the other boat races, the locals’ practice to take part in this competition, during which the entire town of Alappuzha will be lit. Along with the boat races, there are a lot of other water festivals that come to life. The locals’ shower praising to the land that they are living by narrating tales of Alleppey.

Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

2) Payippad Boat Race
When: August and September
Where: Payippad River

Another boat race of Kerala that everyone should take part in at least once in their lifetime. Known for its spectacular boats and experienced oarsmen, the Payippad Boat race happens every year on the effervescent Payippad River. Watching those boats and the participants adorned colorfully can be a sight to behold. If you are in Kerala during Onam, attending this boat race can be a delightful experience.

3) Champakulam Moolam Boat Race
When: July and August
Where: Pamba River

The sight of the boats moving along the River Pamba flawlessly will certainly light up your face instantly. This is one of the oldest boat races amongst the others and is celebrated with great fervor and gaiety. This boat race is associated with the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna temple and has a great history attached to it.

Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

4) Uthradom Thirunal Pampa Boat Race
When: September
Where: Pampa River

Listening to the traditional boat songs and watching the boats swaying in competition at the Uthradom Thirunal Pampa Boat Race can be a splendid sight. One can get to witness the true beauty of Kerala when you are here, the locals’ cheering for the oarsmen, and this is one such event that attracts thousands of tourists. The exuberant vanjipattu sung rhythmically with the boats making noise as they splash pearls of water on your faces can be an amazing experience.

Aranmula Boat Race, Kerala
Aranmula Boat Race, Kerala

5) Aranmula Boat Race
When: August – September
Where: Pampa River

This is yet another oldest boat race held in a place called Aranmula situated in the district of Pathanamthitta. People wait at the banks of the river Pampa to witness the gusto of the oarsmen. The traditional songs with matching attire make the event even more special.

Unlike the other boat races, this boat race in Aranmula is conducted to celebrate the birthday of the great warrior of Mahabharata, Arjuna. Hence, this is more of a ritual than a race; nevertheless, it attracts massive crowds across the world.

Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

6) Kallada Boat Race
When: October – November
Where: Kallada River

For all those who can’t make it to Onam for Kerala to take part in the grandest boat race affairs, here is your last chance! The Kallada Boat Race takes place after 28 days of Onam celebrations. Hence, if you want to avoid too much crowd and watch the traditional boat race of Kerala and capture some beautiful pictures of the locals in their mundu (the loincloth dress) and turbans, then the Kallada Boat Race is the best one.

Apart from these, there are several other boat races that happen during the time of Onam in Kerala. You can plan your trip accordingly and be a part of this grandeur.

Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

How can you experience the boat race like a local?
To take part in a cultural event like the boat race, you must first get to understand the history of the places where they are conducted. Largely, most of these boat races are conducted in order to show respect to the land where they are living.

Also, most of the boat races are done during Onam, and this shows how the land embraces the Mother Earth and show their gratitude towards her for giving them the best harvest for the year.

  • Get to know the traditional attire of the land and dress yourselves up like them. Known as settu mundu, the traditional attire of Kerala for men is just the white loin cloth (mundu). Women wear a blouse and saree called Settu Mundu.
  • Know that the boats used in certain races cannot be touched by all, only the oarsmen who paddle the canoe, with bare feet are allowed to enter into the boats.
  • Dedicated songs for the boat races would be singing, and if possible, you can try picking a few lines as well. The songs are called Vanchipaattu, and the beats are pulsating.
  • Try eating from the local shacks as much as possible, and this will actually make you feel like a local completely.
  • Book accommodations near the places where the boat races are held, you might as well take a walk in the morning or in the evenings and strike a conversation with the oarsmen.


Food to try
Kerala is a paradise for sea-food lovers with a wide variety of seafood restaurants that must be tried. Since all these boat races happen during the time of Onam, it is mandatory to taste the Onam Sadya. A full-fledged meal served on plantain leaves.

Kerala Style Prawn Curry, Fishes, cooked in pure coconut oil with curry leaves, different kinds of stew served with steamed rice are some of the other food items that you must eat. Kerala food is highly influenced by the Arabians, the Persians, and the Mughals; hence, one can binge on wide varieties of food in Kerala.

Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

Women safety in Kerala
Kerala is one of the safest places for women; however, a few things, as mentioned below, can come handy to you when you are planning for a visit during the boat race.

  • There would be a lot of crowds hence, beware of your ornaments
  • Some of the temples restrict the entry to women in western attire, kindly adhere to the rules as set by the temples
  • Do not step out alone after 9 PM, and it can turn out to be a little nasty as there would be a lot of local people roaming around. It is safe; however, you might end up inviting unnecessary trouble.
  • Do not carry anything valuables when you are attending the boat race event; chances of getting lost are pretty high.
  • Do not accept drinks from strangers when you are on the beach.
  • Avoid consuming too much toddy and stepping out on the streets.
  • Get in touch with the Kerala police force immediately by dialling the helpline number 100.
Kerala Boat race
Kerala Boat race

Traveling with kids
When you are traveling to events like these with kids, you might have to take more precautions than necessary. Kids are completely unpredictable; hence, you need to be cognizant of ensuring their safety.

  • Make sure to book your accommodation well in advance
  • Carry extra packets of milk cartons
  • Book a homestay or a cottage where you have access to the kitchen, and you can make your own food for your kids.
  • Take them to local restaurants instead of trying something foreign
  • Kerala is a land of Ayurvedic medicine, take them to the Vaidyashalas for treatment – (no side-effects and quick recovery) if they fall sick
  • Do not allow them to go near the beaches and the backwaters all alone, supervise them
  • Carrying too many clothes would be futile, the weather is humid. Carry cotton and linen clothes to make them feel comfortable.
  • Give them more water to avoid dehydration.

We have listed everything that one needs to know about the boat race in Kerala. So, now don’t you think you must not waste more time anymore? Just pack your bags and zoom to experience the warmth and the richness of Kerala!

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