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Kerala backwaters

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November 2014

Kerala Houseboats

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The scintillating backwaters of Kerala  are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state. The backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats range.

Kettuvallams

Traditionally, boats of varying shapes and sizes have been used in the transport of men and materials on the Kerala Backwaters. The “Kettuvallam” in particular were popular for the shipping of rice and spices and other goods between Kuttanad and the Cochin port. A Kettuvallam is about 67 feet in length and has a width of around 13 feet in the middle. The materials used in the construction of the Kettuvallam are local and eco friendly; bamboo poles, coconut fibre, ropes, bamboo mats, carpets etc. The main wood used is “Anjili” (Artocarpus hirsuta).

‘Kettuvallam’ means, ‘stitched boat’ and can be over 70 ft long and possesses a capacity of 30 tons. They are made up of wooden planks joined and stitched together with coconut ropes and is painted with cashew nut oil from inside and fish oil on the outside. Everything used in these boats are handmade and not even a single nail is used in its construction. However, with careful maintenance they do last for generations and one can see ‘Kettuvallams’ that are more than a century old. In the earlier days, boatmen on long journeys usually  caught fresh backwater fish such as ‘karimeen’ (pearl spot) and ‘kalangi’ (barramundi) and feasted on non perishable food supplies such as lentils and local large grained red rice flavoured by inexpensive spices such as coriander, ginger, dried chillies, turmeric and black mustard seeds.

With the advent of modern transportation, the  ’Ketuvallams’  soon faced a downward spiral in business. until they were redeemed by the tourism industry and were remodeled into the luxurious houseboats that are now one of the chief attractions of the tourists.

House Boats for Tourism

The year 1991 saw the advent of houseboats used for the purpose of tourism with Tour India  pioneering the development of backwater tourism by introducing first Kettuvallam Houseboat (Rice Boat) for comfortable cruise in the canals

Most of the latest designs incorporate 3 bedrooms with toilets, a living space and kitchen. There are several variations ranging from lesser rooms to large living space and maybe a deck balcony at the roof level. Normally, the platforms that cantilever from the hull are used as balconies. Innovative changes have been made to accommodate modern fittings. For fixing the toilet seats, shower tray and ceramic floor finish a concrete slab is laid at the floor level. These toilettes are made of steel cabinets with a network of steel meshes on which beneficial bacteria are grown with the help of a catalyst named actizyme.

The three main types of houseboats currently used in the backwater tourism are the:

Deluxe Houseboats:  which includes facilities such as front living area and bedrooms with a beautiful wooden ceiling with overlapping logs to give it a contemporary feel. The bedrooms of the deluxe A/c Houseboat have complete glass windows stretching across most of the wall to offer the guests a complete and uninterrupted view of the backwaters while travelling. It is  less expensive and can have AC operational from 9pm to 6 am and a common menu.

Premium Houseboats: has all the facilities as above in addition to an Ac functioning full time as well as a special menu .

Luxury Houseboats: provide high quality service matched by high finesse and a contemporary feel. The bedrooms of the Luxury A/c Houseboat have complete glass windows stretching across ¾ths of the wall to offer the guests a complete and uninterrupted .view of the backwaters while traveling Each bed in the Luxury A/c Houseboat is located at the exact height of the window, so the guest gets a good view even while lying on the bed. Each room in the Luxury A/c Houseboat has a dressing mirror, luggage compartment, writing table, wardrobe, attached bathrooms and air-conditioning.Few operators provide such grandiose services.

Kerala houseboats are  of excellent construction and luxurious furnishing with exquisite flooring, hull and canopy. They are in the best of conditions, usually with a sun deck, spacious living / dining area and each rooms with attached bathrooms. The kitchen are maintained with utmost cleanliness and protected from hazards using adequate safety measures.  Each of the boats come with a valid license from the tourism board.

Booking a Houseboat

Conventional Method:

There are two types of cruises: day cruises and overnight cruises. Usually the overnight cruise is suggested by most people.

There are a zillion cruise operators who offer houseboat services. They often offer it as a part of packages via tieups with tour operators or directly lease out right at the deck or by providing information online. The prices usually varies according to season and festivities. The biggest problem is determining the best of services and genuineness of the offers.

Backwaterbreaks.com 

At backwaterbreaks.com, these numerous cruise operators register with the website providing their information and the details of their houseboats and services including photographs of each vessel offered for a cruise and the corresponding seasonal rates. These details are cross verified by the backwaterbreaks team.This enables the traveller to compare rates as well as the quality of the services provided and book the required houseboat sitting in the comfort of their homes. Once the houseboats are booked, the traveller will receive the contact details of the corresponding cruise operator and can further customise any prior requirements. In short, backwaterbreaks.com provides a smart alternative to leverage houseboat booking to  a global level.

Book my houseboat trip

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Dance Forms Of Kerala

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According to the Hindu mythology, dance is believed to have been conceived by  the supreme Lord Brahma who inspired the sage Bharata Muni to write the Natya Shastra, a treatise on performing arts. From this emerged the practice of dance and drama. It is supposed that he used pathya (words) from the Rigveda, abhinaya (gestures) from the Yajurveda, geet (music) from the Samaveda and rasa (emotions) from the Atharvaveda to form the Natyaveda (body of knowledge about dance). The greatest of the Hindu deities-Shiva, Kali and Krishna-are typically represented dancing. Shiva’s cosmic dance, tandava, Kali’s dance of creation and destruction and Krishna’s dance with the gopikas (cow-herd girls)-Rasa Lila-are popular motifs in Hindu mythology.

‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala, possesses a rich collection of such unique  forms of dances and art. There are  many native folk dances which are performed during temple festivals and other ceremonious occasions. A marked attraction in each of these dances are the accompanying costumes and ornaments adorned by the performers. The dances of Kerala can be divided into mainly three types being the folk dances, dance dramas and semi-classical dances .

Folk Dances:

There are more than fifty well known folk dances in kerala. Of them the Kaliyattom, Mudiettu, Kolam thullal, Kolkali, Poorakkali, Valakali, Kamapadavukali, Kanniyarkali, Parichamuttukali, Thappukali, Kuravarkali and Thiruvathirakali are most popular.

Kummi is perhaps the most captivating with its continuously increasing pace and rhythm of the song and the dance steps and the exciting advancement of the complication of the dance steps that enchants the audience.

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Tiruvathira is a popular group dance performed during Onam festival in Kerala. It is performed by maidens moving in circle and dancing rhythmically to the tune of Thiruvathira songs. One of the well known thiruvathira songs is the narrative poetry based on the story of Shakuntala that Machatt Illyat wrote for this dance in the first half of the nineteenth century.

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Margamkali is a group dance developed by the Syrian Christians of Kerala with the word ‘Margam’ meaning ‘path’. The dancers sing themselves while dancing in a circle around a lighted oil lamp. The master, leader and tutor of the performance of the troupe is known as ‘Asan’.

Kolkali has a group performing dance in a circle, choreographed in such a way that dancers make rhythmic beat with short sticks in their hands. The steps are vibrant while songs consist mostly of meaningless syllables followed by verses. The dance gains tempo and pace as it advances. Only males participate in this dance and require basic martial art training to perform its complicated steps.

Oppana and Aravanmuttu are the dance forms performed by the Muslims of Kerala. These are performed by both men and women. Oppana is accompanied by clapping of hands. Mainly performed in marriages, the women perform in a circle and receive the bride while men stand aside singing songs, ready to receive the bridegroom. However, the origin of Aravana can be traced back to the Arabs and is still accompanied by Arabic music. The instrument used to produce rhythm is called daf or tap, a round percussion instrument with one side covered with hide.

Dance Dramas:

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Kathakali is a well-developed dance drama where the actors depict characters from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas (ancient scriptures). Adorned with elaborately painted faces, headgears and grand costumes, the dancers are accompanied by drummers and vocalists. Ritual traditions like Theyyams, Mudiyattam and the martial arts of Kerala played a major role in shaping the dance into its present form. The great poet Vallathol rediscovered Kathakali and established the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1932.

Yatrakali is known by different names such as Samghakkali, Chattira Ankam , Sastramkam , Kshatramkam or Panemkali. An art of the Nambootiris, it originated when the Nambootiris were persecuted under the rule of one of the Cheraman Perumals who accepted the Buddhist faith as a mirror held against the artistic and social sense of the region and the times.

Ochirakali is held at a place called Ochira in Alleppey district as a part of an annual festival where a mock fight is staged lasting for two days to commemorate a battle fought between the kings of two feudal principalities, Kayamkulam and Ambalapuzha. The fight takes place in front of the Ochira temple that has no temple building or any image of god or goddess. Each group advances in offence and retreats in defence and the movements gain momentum and tempo as the show advances.

Chavittunatakam is a Christian dramatic form which was introduced during the time of the Portuguese in Kerala in the16th century A.D. ‘Chavittu’ means the rhythmic steps which accompanied the recitation of lines. Inspired by the Western Opera type of theatre, the themes, acting techniques, stage structure and plot treatment presented were western while the texts were written in old Tamil.

Krishnattam was founded by Manavedan and is a choreographed dance drama based on Krishna’s life while the Raja of Kottarakkara introduced Ramanattam, play based on Ramayana. Ramanattam was performed in Manipravala style and was performed by the Raja himself and his Nayar soldiers.

Chakyar Koothu is an ancient dance form performed in Kerala. In this highly refined dance form, the performer narrates events from Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is generally performed in temples during special occasions and festivals and is accompanied by satirical humor.

Semi Classical Dance:

Mohiniyattam, also known as thedance of the enchantress” precedes Kathakali in history. It is a female semi-classical sensual dance form performed mainly in the temple precincts of Kerala. The, Mohiniyattam is also the heir to Devadasi dance heritage like Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi. The first reference to Mohiniyattam is found in ‘Vyavaharamala’ composed by Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboodiri, assigned to the 16th century AD. Vallathol, a poet, revived it and gave it a status in modern times.

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Thullal, meaning dance, is the cumulative product of all traditional folk and classical theatrical arts of Kerala. It was founded by Kunchan Nambiar in the 18th century to represent the accumulated aesthetic experience of all sections of the society. Based on different styles of narrative singing, rhythms of dancing, foot work and make-up of the dancer, three varieties of Thullal that were evolved in course of time with the Ottam Thullal being the most popular one followed by the Seethankan Thullal and  the Parayan Thullal.

Koodiyattam emerged in the ninth century as a full-fledged dramatic presentation in Sanskrit. Koodiyattom is a temple art and probably the only surviving form of the traditional presentation of Sanskrit drama.

Nanniar Koothu is a dance form conducted in some prominent Kerala temples by the women of the Nambiar community, who are believed to be the descendants of the Devadasis community, as a ceremonial ritual. It is a solo dance based on the story of Sri Krishna.

Theyyam is a popular dance form performed in Malabar region of Kerala. For thousands of years, Theyyam and its rituals are in practice in this region. It is a Dravidian art form and is quite popular due to its accessibility to lower castes.

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