Monsoons not only make Kerala lush green but also pump in more verve with snake boat races organized over the whole state. Snake boat races, known locally as Chundanvallams, are typically placed around temple festivals rendering it sacred along with traditional fervor. Boat races are deeply ingrained in Kerala’s rich history, where kings were known to settle disputes by means of these races. It is said that particularly the kings of Alleppey used these boats as a type of warships.
So what appears like a common water sport is not so commonplace actually. It has a 400 year old history of combat techniques associated with it, which are as unique as the Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art form that also originated in the state of Kerala.
The harvest festival of Onam is the time when these races, a type of canoe racing using paddled war canoes, can be enjoyed fully. Monsoons are the time when backwaters are brimming; setting the perfect scene for some water sports. Vallam Kali, as the boat races are called, consists of quite a few races of different types of paddled longboats. It is a spectacular attraction for tourists. From July till September these events are spread out in the calendar.
Champakulam Moolam Boat Race
Known to be one of the most ancient and popular races, this event is held at river Pampa at Champakulam, Alleppey. It commemorates the installation of Lord Krishna’s idol in the temple of Ambalappuzha, where the idol was brought from Kurichi in a boat and was escorted by several boats to honor. The historic event took the shape of today’s grand race. Lots of adornments and performances can also be seen here. The average length of these perfectly ornate snake boats is almost a hundred feet.
Aranmula Snake Boat Race
This race is more of a religious fare rather than a mere contest, where offerings are carried to the Aranmula Parthasarthy Temple on the snake boats. It is held during Onam on the Pampa river. Each huge boat has four helmsmen, 100 rowers and also, 25 singers singing during the entire race. The shape of the boats is in form of a cobra’s hood, thereby giving it this name. The beautiful boats are decked with golden laces and ornate umbrellas to celebrate the day Lord Krishna crossed the river. The singing of Vanchipattu songs is usually combined with the spirited cheering crowd on the river banks.
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On lake Payippad, just 35 kilometers from Alleppey, this race goes on for three days. It commemorates the event of discovering the idol of Lord Subramanya from lthe ake’s bottom and then carrying it to the Subramanya Swamy Temple at Haripad. It was installed in the temple with much pomp and show and legend has it that the fervor goes on till date. Don’t miss this spectacular event if it rains; just keep an umbrella handy.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Such is the grandeur of these races that even Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru was mesmerized by it when he was on a visit to Alleppey in 1952. He witnessed an impromptu race and was enthralled by the zeal exhibited by rowers. He awarded a trophy to the winners and thereafter, the event went on to become an annual affair. The trophy has a miniature form of a snake boat set in silver.
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Others races go by the lunar calendar, depending on the moon with no fixed dates, but this race is held every second Saturday of the month of August. It is predominantly a rowing competition, which has taken a thoroughly commercial form. There are spectator tickets for stands as well as VIP enclosures, that are available on the approach way to Alleppey’s Punnamada Lake. Be prepared for a massive crowd that gathers to witness this event.