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Snake Boat Race - The Grandest Event in Kerala

by Madhav Srinivasan 5 year, 2 months ago

Snake boat races have recently become one of the biggest crowd pullers in Kerala and is actively supported by the Government. Tourists flock to see the race. But what really does make it so special ?...

Enchanting 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.


The Snake Boat Races

Onam, the 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.


The Snake Boat or Chundan Valla

These are 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 a snake.


There are 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

The 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.


The Payippad Jayotsavam

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 festival.


Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali

According to 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 Parthasarathy Temple.


Every year, 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.


The festival 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.

Champakulam 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


According to 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.


The king’s 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 temple.


Years from 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.


Other Races

There are numerous other boat races held during this period – Alappuzha Race, Neerettupuram Boat Race, Kumarakom Boat Race, Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race, and the Pulinkunnu Race.


These 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.

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