ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Champions Boat League

A Race to Commercialise Festival Cultures

How do cultural festival spaces and the concept of community evolve in response to the commercialisation of their sporting event?

The Champions Boat League (CBL) is a recent and notable addition to India’s lucrative sporting extravaganzas. An initiative by Kerala’s tourism department, the CBL straps on to the historical and legendary festival of Vallamkali, the snake boat races, which have been locally celebrated for hundreds of years. These traditional sporting festivals use chundan vallams—snake boats—due to the hooded stern of the boat. They are between 60 and 65 metres in length and carry around 65–130 rowers (thoya kaar) who paddle in synchrony to get to the finish line. These boats have a rich history, having been used traditionally as war vessels and socioculturally evolved into sporting festivals organised by the community in the backwaters of the region. The oldest and most popular local races include the Champakulam Moolam Race, Aranmula Boat Race, and the Payippad Jalotsavam, which have a vibrant cultural history associated with them. The Nehru Trophy Races, with a relatively short historical lineage, initiated the gradual commodification of the event, as it came to occupy a significant position in Kerala’s popular culture and tourism industry.

Vallamkali festivals were traditionally symbolic spaces for cultural identity formation, expression, and negotiating social norms and values through the people’s participation in the event as competitors and spectators. For example, the Champakulam Moolam Race venerates the legend of the Chempakassery king, who clandestinely acquired a deity to be installed in the Ambalappuzha temple, aided by the Christian community residing in Champakulam. The festival encapsulates an array of traditions and rituals that actively foster inter-religious communal harmony. The Aranmula Utrattathi boat race has strong religious associations, as the offerings to the deity in the temple are carried on the boats by the community. These festivals encompass a multitude of sociocultural values, extending beyond the sole emphasis on the sport or game at hand. Festival cultures have been innately linked to the notion of community, serving as a spatial and temporal interruption of social order, which is crucial to subversion and negotiation within communities. Shifting economic models, rapid mobility, and increased capital flows have changed the notions of locale and community, resulting in varied ramifications on the dynamics of festivals.

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Updated On : 22nd Nov, 2023
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