Visiting Kerala during the monsoons and not checking out the boat races is a crime. One of the liveliest and impressive traditions still followed in Kerala. Kerala comes alive for a few months during the monsoons when large snake boat races held in different cities. If you aren’t aware of these fantastic races that attract thousands across the world, then read on to know more.
Kesari Tours put together a fact sheet for these marvelous races Kerala is known for.
What is a snake boat?
No live snakes here, if you’re feeling curious. It is just the shape of the boat that looks like a snake when moving at high speed during the races. Called the ‘chundanvallam’, these canoe-like boats are what locals in Kuttanad use in the backwaters. These traditional canoes used during wars in Kerala were 100 to 120-feet long with a capacity of holding up to 100 rowers. Every region in Kerala has its version of this boat called Chunadan Vallam, Odi Vallam, Churulan Vallam, Veppu Vallam, Vadakkanody Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, and Kochu Vallamare.
How did the snake boat races begin?
Snake boats have a history that dates back four centuries when Kings of Alleppey were at war with each other. One of the kings’ suffered huge losses at war. He commissioned boat architects to build better and sturdy boats. That was when snake boats were born. Today, these same boats are used for races that are held with pomp and grandeur.
Among the several boat races held between July and September, some are important
Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race: The oldest snake boat race in Kerala, it heralds the beginning of the race season. Held on the River Pampa in Champakkulam in Alleppey. The day of the race marks the installation of Lord Krishna’s idol in the Sree Krishna Temple at Ambalapuzza close to Alleppey. Legends say, the idol carriers stopped at Champakkulam on their way to the temple. The next day thousands of decorated boats arrived to pay homage and escort the idol to the temple.
Till date, this procession is re-enacted before the Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race. You will find beautifully decorated water floats, performing artists and boats adorned with colorful parasols. Held in June or July, this race draws thousands when watching the boat race splitting the water are a remarkable sight.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race: Punnamada Lake is the place where the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held. One of the most well-known races, held to honor the memory of late Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru when an impromptu snake boat race was held when he visited Alleppey in 1952. He was impressed, so, he donated a trophy. Be sure to pick up tickets for this race held on the second Saturday in August every year.
Uthradam Thirunal Pamba Boat Race: One of the most important races held in Kerala on River Pamba is the Uthradam Thirunal Pamba Boat Race during Uthradam. It is one of the most auspicious days during Onam -the harvest festival of Kerala. Tourists on riverbanks encourage locals taking part in the race to row faster. This regatta is favorite where thousands flocking to the river to enjoy the race where snake boats slice through the water to the notes of traditional songs. Watching the oarsmen beat their oars in unison to propel their boats to the finishing point is capture-worthy.
Payippad Boat Race: Payippad backwaters comes to life during the much anticipated Payippad Boat Race in Alleppey. Legends believe, in a vision, the village locals were asked to visit a whirlpool. On reaching the Kayamkulam Lake they found an idol of Lord Subramanya, installed in the Subramanya Swami Temple today. The Payippad Boat race is held to celebrate this day. It has one of the highest numbers of boat races held in the state.
Aranmula Boat Race: The Aranmula Vallam Kali is the earliest and most valued boat races held in Kerala. The race is held on Uthrittathi asterism in the month of Chingam based on the Malayalam calendar. This year it is on 15th September. This race is known for its exceptional history and the grandeur of its celebrations. The heritage village Aranmula is on the banks of the river Pamba in the Pathanamthitta district. Stories say a Brahmin promised to offer everything needed for the Thiruvona Sadya (feast).
The items were sent to the Sree Parthasarathy temple on the boat Thiruvona Thoni. On the way, enemies attacked the boat. However, snake boats from around the river rescued the boat. That is how the Aranmula Snake Boat race was born. To this day, the race is an offering to Lord Krishna at the Parthasarathy temple. The snake boats here are Palliyodams and it is believed Lord Krishna himself designed it.
If you plan on enjoying one of the races, then plan now. Connect with Kesari Tours for fantastic deals for Kerala.