Once a year, the River Pamba gets enlivened as an elaborately decorated snake boat glides across its placid waters bearing the provisions for a grand feast. The occasion is the journey of the Thiruvonathoni, a Garuda faced vessel, bearing the provisions for Thiruvona Sadya on Thiruvonam Day.
Braving the elements, the vessel makes an arduous journey in the dead of the night from the Maha Vishnu Temple at Kattoor, a tiny village 12 kilometre away, to the Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple where the feast is given. The banks of the river get crammed to the brim by travellers and devotees to witness this phenomenal fete.
The provisions for the feast are pitched in by the villagers of Kattoor.
The arrival of the Bhattathiri, the eldest member of the Mangattu Brahmin family of temple priests, marks the start of the festivities. It is the Bhattathiri who escorts the vessel and the villagers accord a warm reception to him.
As dusk falls, the Thiruvonathoni starts sailing, all escorted by snake boats. Enroute, the Thiruvonathoni makes two stops, the first is at the Ayiroor Madom where it is accorded a rousing reception and a plethora of offerings are made. It is only at midnight that the craft commences its journey from here. The vessel makes its next stop at Melukara where yet another enthusiastic crowd offers a grand welcome. After a brief halt, the journey resumes.
The nightlong cruise of the brilliantly illuminated Thiruvonathoni beneath the night sky speckled by a grandiose firework display, swaying to the exuberant notes of the boat songs, makes for a stellar sight.
The Thiruvonathoni is joined by a fleet of snake boats midway which escorts it to the Aranmula Temple. As the vessel reaches the ghat, it is welcomed by the high-spirited rendering of boat songs, casting a festive aura over Aranmula. Thousands throng the banks to witness this glorious spectacle. By noon, a grand lineup of dishes of myriad flavours is prepared and served. Devotees flood the temple to savour the feast.
Once here, enjoy the elaborate spread of dishes listening to the frenetic notes of the boat songs and just merge with the festivities.