Palliyodams of Aranmula

Aranmula, a river-side village in Kerala, is known for its grand set of traditions involving enchanting snake boats, festive choruses and delicious feasts

Just as the monsoon over Kerala enters its second leg, Aranmula, a river-side village in Pathanamthitta — a part of former Travancore, kicks off preparations to host a flotilla of snake boats along its banks. Men, on board decorated boats called Palliyodams, will soon start dropping in here from the 52 villages along the serene banks of the Pampa — from the hilly Edakulam upstream to the backwater landscape of Chennithala, in Alappuzha.

Dressed identically in white dhotis and melmundu, they ignore the harsh noon sun by rowing to the tune of the rhythmic vanchipattu (boat songs) to reach Aranmula and are received with much fanfare at the ghats here. In an atmosphere charged with devotion, they climb the flight of steps that lead to the Sree Parthasarathy temple and proceed to the temple and circumambulate it for sometime — grooving to the verses all the while, before finally entering it.

The music session resumes soon afterwards as the crew enter a dining hall here to feast on the Vallasadya, a ritual offering to the presiding deity Lord Parthasarathy. This time, the songs do not intend to praise the deity but to request refills of their dishes. Each item a couplet has to be recited, which spices up the sumptuous lunch. Typically incorporating up to 64 dishes, this Vallasadya is the largest of its kind and is popularly called ‘the feast of feasts’.

The Vallasadyas are organised by the devotees every year from the second leg of July, or when the Malayalam month of Karkidakam kicks off, for a period of 72 days. And as Onam sets in, rituals meet revelry as the Thiruvonathoni, which set off from Kattoor on the previous day, reaches the temple ghat early in morning. The special boat, accompanied by a regatta of palliyodams , brings in the provisions and vegetables for preparing the Onam feast.

Four days later, the palliyodams will line up once again on the Pampa here, for a regatta called the Uthrattathi Boat race. Then comes the grand feast on the Ashtami Rohini day, which is served to all the devotees converging at the temple. The vallasadya ritual will continue for a few more weeks afterwards and will draw to a close on October 2. By that time, over three lakh people will have attended the celebrations here.