Snake boat races of Kerala, India

Snake boats are traditional boats of Kerala and are so called because of the huge sterns of these boats that looks like a hood of a cobra raised in anger . The local populace call these boats “Chundan Vallam”, which literally means beaked boat, for it has a pointed prow which stands four feet above the water and gives the impression of a beak. Designed by an architect named Devanarayana, the snake boats were originally conceived as war boats. Though the wars were resolved later, people wanted to keep up the spirit of this wondrous multipurpose boat. Hence started the spectacular sport of snake boat race.

In the centre of the snake boat, which was earlier the place of the canon , stand two people who beat the odithatta (fire platforms) with poles and sing the vanchippattu (songs of the boatmen) to maintain the rowing rhythm. While the strongest oarsmen sit at the front to set the pace, the back is managed by six hefty helmsmen who stand and help steer the boat. The person at the highest point of the boat is the chief oarsman. A single snake boat is over 100 feet long and can occupy 100 oarsmen and thus a snake boat race is the largest team sport in the world. Being the largest team sporting events in the world, snake boat races are often considered to be the ultimate test of endurance, speed , skill and coordination.

Champakulam Moolam Boat Race

In Kerala, the season of boat races starts with the renowned Champakkulam Moolam Vallam Kali (vallam kali means boat race). Champakulam Moolam Boat Race is one of the ancient and most popular boat races in Kerala. The race is organized on the river Pampa at Champakkulam, a serene village in Alappuzha district, on the moolam asterism in the Malayalam month of mithunam (roughly June/July).

The legend has that the Raja of Chempakasseri, Pooradam Thirunal Devanarayanan, built a temple at Ambalappuzha as suggested by the royal astrologers. It was discovered that the idol which was being placed at the temple was unfit. Therefore, a new idol was brought to this place from Karikulam Temple in Kurichi. As this idol was brought to the temple on a boat, the king declared that watersports will be organized on this particular date every year, to commemorate this event.

On the day of the race, people, both locals and travellers from far off places, flock the river bank to enjoy the race. As the sun comes straight on top of all gathered, boats in various categories like the chundan (snake boat), veppu, iruttu kuthi, churulan and others from nearby regions assemble at the starting point of the race. Among these boats, the snake boats with its fascinating design catch the attention of all.

Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali

Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali or the Aranmula Boat Race is the oldest known boat race event which takes place in Kerala. The boat race takes place during the festival of Onam, which occurs during the Malayalam month Chingam (August – September). The boat race is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna. The traditional snake boats which are especially used here for racing are called ‘Palliyodams’ by the natives. Each boat is decorated with a golden lace. Along with these decorations every boat has a flag and two or three ornamental umbrellas. The boat race held annually on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the local Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival is one the cultural hallmarks of this land. Teeming with rich tradition and rituals immersed in splendor, the Aranmula Uthrittathi boat race is considered more of a ritual than a race.

Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the Thiruvona sadya (the grand traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day, which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race.

Payippad Jalotsavam

Payippad Jalotsavam is Held annually in the month of September on the Payippad River, this boat race is noted for the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy boat race. The boat race is organized in a span of three days on the lake Payippad, which is located 35km from the district of Alappuzha. As per the legend , people of the Haripad village decided to build a Sree Ayyappan temple in accordance with a vision that they should install the idol of Subrahmanya, which they would find in the Kayamkulam River under a whirlpool. Finding the idol, the people brought back Subrahmanya vigraha in a boat, escorted by the devotees in other boats ceremoniously. In remembrance of this event a three day water festival is conducted each year.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

The annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race takes place on the backwaters of Punnamada in Alappuzha of Kerala in the month of August. The race is a rowing competition, which takes place between numerous teams who participate in this event to contend for the Nehru Trophy. The history behind the event is that, a snake boat race was conducted when Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru visited this place. He was so impressed by the enthusiasm of the rowers that he awarded the Nehru Trophy to the winners. Since then the Nehru Trophy bears a silver model of a snake boat and is awarded to the winning team of the boat race.

People from far & near swarm the banks of these lakes/rivers to enjoy these annual water regattas. Apart from the races of chundan valloms (snake boats) and of smaller country crafts, the events have in store many fascinating moments like the ceremonial water processions, spectacular floats and decorated boats.

Kerala, “Gods own Country is located with the Arabian Sea to the west and the Western Ghats towering to the east . Networked by 44 rivers,Kerala, enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Asia. An equable climate. A long shoreline with serene beaches. Tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters. Lush hill stations and exotic wildlife. Waterfalls. Sprawling plantations and paddy fields. Ayurvedic health holidays. Enchanting art forms. Magical festivals. Historic and cultural monuments. An exotic cuisine… All of which offer you a unique experience. And what’s more, each of these charming destinations is only a two hour drive from the other – a singular advantage no other destination offers.

Kerala season starts October to March… interested contact Road2Travel


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