Kerala, with its myriad palm trees and still untouched natural beauty, is a
favorite tourist destination for many. During the months of August-September,
it becomes even more so, with the added attraction of the spectacular backwaters
regatta, the Snake Boat Races.
biggest festival in Kerala tours, falls in the months of August-September. A major
part of the celebration comprises of boat races that are held in the backwaters
of Kerala, especially the Snake Boat Races.
Boat or Chundan Valla
extremely long canoes built out of forest wood, usually 100 to 120 ft in
length. One end of the boat rears up in a long neck like shape, like the raised
neck of an angry snake, giving it the name, ‘Snake Boat’. These boats can carry
around 150 people. The crew usually consists of four helmsmen, 25 singers and
120 oarsmen. The singers set the rhythm, and the oarsmen match the beat of the
song, propelling the long boat across the water, as smoothly and gracefully as
different snake boat races held during this period. The most famous competition
is the Jawaharlal Nehru Trophy Boat Race, but there are many other Snake Boat
Races, spectacular pageants which have ancient associations. These boat races
began centuries ago, as competition among rival villages, to display the
prowess of their respective oarsmen.
Some of the
Prominent Snake Boat Races
Jawaharlal Nehru Snake Boat Race
In 1952, the
then Prime Minister of India visited Alleppey. A special boat race was held in
his honor, and he was so impressed by the thrilling spectacle that he donated a
trophy. An event is held each year, on the second Saturday of August, for this
coveted Trophy and is the best time to book South India tour packages.
This boat race,
held in the Payippad Lake, commemorates the installation of the Subramanya Idol
in the Subramanya Temple, Haripad. It is said that this idol was recovered from
beneath a whirlpool by the local divers and then it was taken in procession on
a boat to the temple. This occasion is commemorated every year with a three day
local history, a Brahmin, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, was once
granted a vision of the Lord. To mark this joyous occasion, he vowed to donate
51 measures of rice and all the provisions necessary for an Onam feast to the Aranmula
these provisions would be taken in a boat to the temple. On one occasion, this
boat was intercepted by rivals from a neighboring village. But the boatmen from
the Brahmin’s village came to the rescue, and the provisions were safely
escorted back to the temple. From that time, these provisions have always been
accompanied by a fleet of boats from nearby villages.
held to mark this occasion is a riveting spectacle. A huge image of Lord
Krishna is taken out in procession on the first day. On the second day,
numerous snake boats with singers and crew assemble in the waters near the
temple, carrying decorative silken parasols. Then the boats move away in pairs,
forming a beautiful pageant.
Moolam Boat Race
This is the
oldest and most popular of the boat race events and is connected with the Sri
Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha. This is best time to enjoy a holiday in Alleppey
tradition, Maharaja Devanarayana of Chempakasseri built the temple, and
prepared for the installation of the idol. Unfortunately, he was told that the
idol he had arranged to install was flawed. The disturbed king was offered an
alternate solution. The beautiful Sri Krishna Idol at Kuruchi, which was given
to Arjuna by the Lord Himself, could be brought down and installed instead.
ministers went to Kuruchi, and with the permission of the local people, brought
the idol to Ambalappuzha. On the way, they stopped for the night at
Champakulam. The nest morning, boats from neighboring villages had gathered
there, and the idol was carried in a colorful, celebratory procession to the
then, this joyous procession is reenacted annually. Various decorative floats,
boats with parasols and boats carrying dancers and musicians pass down the
waters in procession. Then, the Snake Boat Race is held.
numerous other boat races held during this period – Alappuzha Race, Neerettupuram
Boat Race, Kumarakom Boat Race, Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race, and the Pulinkunnu Race.
riveting boat race festivals are another major tourist attraction of Kerala,
just as popular as the elephant pageants held there. The Snake Boat Race is
considered the largest team sport in the world. The long beautiful boats, with
more than a hundred strong crew of singers, oarsmen and helmsmen race across
the waters in an exotic and fascinating spectacle.