Facts and legend behind the snake boats of Kerala
In the Onam season, tranquil backwaters of Kerala will spring to life with a series of sparkling snake boat races organized across the state. A unique icon of Kerala, snake boats are over 100 feet long traditional canoes with the rear end elevated to a height of 20 ft and a pointed front portion, resembling the shape of a snake. In olden times, each river side village had its own snake boat and the villagers worshipped it like a deity. The snake boat also holds the distinction of being the biggest water vessel used for sports purpose.
There is an interesting story behind the origin of Snake Boats. The kings of Alleppey and nearby places indulged in river battles to gain supremacy over each other. Picturesque Alleppey canals play host to their battles as they fought ferociously with each other from their boats. One king suffered huge defeats one after another. The embarrassed king somehow wanted to end the long streak of losses. He hired some skilled boat architects to build him an unconquerable vessel to ensure victory over the rival kings. Drawing from all their experience, the veteran boat builders build him a superior boat. Fighting from the new boat, the king won over all his enemies and he was never defeated. This was the first snake boat ever built and the fame of the boat crossed boundaries. Whatever be the fact behind this story, snake boat races in Kerala still carries the thrill and excitement of a real battle.
Backwaters of Kottayam, Payippad, Champakkulam, Alleppey etc. will sparkle with the excitement of boat races in the monsoon-Onam season. Snake boat races in Kerala are normally organized in connection with Onam celebration with most of the races being held from July to September. The famed Nehru Trophy Boat Race will fall on the second Saturday of August. Aranmula boat race is held on the last day of the 7-day long Onam festival. The Champakkulam Moolam is in June/July while the Payippad Jalotsavam is held in September.
Nehru Trophy snake boat race
The Nehru Trophy snake boat race is one of the most sought-after events in the cultural calendar of Kerala. And certainly the most important boat race in the state. Named after the first Prime Minister of India, the boat race draws international attention. The first edition of the event was held in 1952 when India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, visited the state. Hugely impressed by the excitement of the event and the affectionate welcome extended by the people of Alleppey, Nehru donated a trophy to the winners. The trophy was a replica of a snake boat in silver. The race is held annually on the Punnamada Lake at Alappuzha. Apart from the snake boat race, competitions are also held in the categories of Veppu, odi and Churulan categories.
Aranmula boat race
Held in a predominantly religious atmosphere, Aranmula boat race is the oldest water regatta in Kerala. The boat race is organized at Aranmula, near lord parthasarathy temple. Cheered on by an exciting crowd, the snake boats which move in a pair carry the offering to the temple in perfect rhythm. Snake boats participating in the race are reverently called palliyodams as they are considered the divine vessel of Lord Parthasarathy.
Other celebrated snake boat races in Kerala are Champakkulam Moolam Snake Boat Race, Ochirakali boat race and Payipad boat race.