During the months of August – September, Kerala comes alive with festivity at the boat races, the biggest and most spectacular events of Kerala. The boat race is probably the largest team sport in the world, involving four helmsmen, 25 singers and 100-125 oarsmen on long decorated boats varying running upto 60 metres. There is great excitement as teams of rowers row in unison to the animated rhythm of drums, cymbals, singing of the vanchipattu (song of the boatman) and the cheering of the onlookers. Watching the 100 ft long chundan vallams (snake boats) slice through the water at a frenetic pace is indeed an enthralling spectacle. It is estimated that these boat races draw more than 3 lakh visitors from all over the world.
The Champakulam Moolam Boat Race held on the Pampa river on the moolam day - the day of the installation of the deity in the temple - is the oldest and most popular among the races.
The Aranmula Boat Race is a two-day event observed in connection with Onam, the harvest festival and is a major crowd puller. Nearly 30 snake boats participate in this race every year on the river Pampa. Being religious in nature, speed is not a criteria in this water regatta. The chundan vallams are decorated with a flag, golden lace at the head of the boat and an ornamental parasol in the centre.
The three-day Payippad Jalotsavam boat race is commemorated in connection with the deity at the Subramanya Swamy Temple. Snake boat pageantry and festivity is held on the first two days and the race is on the third day, Thiruvanom.
The Nehru Boat Race, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru, the former Prime Minister of India, is held in Alappuzha and competed by boats of various sizes with prizes for each category. There are separate categories for women too.
Kumarakom Boat Race – Held on the Punamada backwaters at Alappuzha, this race is held just before Onam in August or September every year. The iruttukuthi rowed by about 50 oarsmen, is the focus of this race even though snake boats also take part.
Indira Gandhi Boat Race – Celebrated in the last week of December in the backwaters of Kochi, this boat race is among the most popular in Kerala. Instituted to promote tourism, it draws throngs of spectators for whom it does remain an unforgettable experience.