Boat Races- A Background
The Snake boat races are magnificent fiestas that bring alive the otherwise tranquil backwaters. Snake boat races, an event that is unique to Kerala is a sport which reflects the team spirit, integration and friendliness of the people of this backwater state.
There are curious legends and myths attached to the origin of the snake boat races, which find their roots in the lives and beliefs of the rustic people.
The races are usually held in connection with "Onam" the harvest festival of Kerala in August /September. Scores of snake boats (known as *Chundan Vallom) and other small crafts participate in thes events. There are separate races for women too. Prizes are given for each category. The boat races are preceded by colourful water parades/pageants.
A snake boat is usually manned by 4 helmsmen, 25 singers and 100-125 oarsmen, who row in unison to the fast rhythm of the "vanchipattu". You've got to be there to feel the vibrancy of the event.
Champakulam moolam boat race
This race is held on Champakulam Lake, on the 'Midhunam'day of the Malayam month called 'Midhunam'.Legend has it that this race is the commemorative enactment of the gathering of all the boats of this region, to escort the idol of Sree Krishna to Ambalapuzha, stopping for the night at Champakulam.
Nehru trophy boat race
This boat race, which takes place on Lake Punnamada,is one of Alleppey's claims to international fame.During a visit to Kerala,India's first Prime MinisterJawaharlal Nehru,had the honour of being chief guest at the race.It seems he got so caught up in the excitement that he jumped on one of the boats and joined the rhythmic chanting!He announced a trophy in his name for the winners-and hence the name,Nehru Trophy Boat Race.This race is held every year on the second Saturday of August.
Uthrattadi boat race
Also known as Aranmula Boat Race, the Uthrattadi boat race is more of a water fiesta than a competition. This is yet another dedication to Sree Krishna, who was offered an Onam feast by a devout follower, which had to be transported by boat to Aranmula. En route, the boat was ambushed, but was rescued by the fellow villagers and then escorted it in a colourful pageant to Aranmula.
Payippad boat race
The Payippad Boat Race is held annually to celebrate the installation of the idol of Sree Subramanya at the Subramanya Swamy Temple in Haripad, in Alleppey. The idol is believed to be retrieved from visionary whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake, which was escorted to the temple in colourfully decorated boats. It is this event that is commemorated as the Payippad Boat Race. This race is held on the 'Thiruvonam' day of Malayalam month called 'Chingam' (August/September).
The Chundan Vallom is so called because of its pointed prow. The term snake boat comes from its stern, which represents the raised hood of a snake and its length - usually 50 - 150 feet.
Song of the boatman - these highly rhythmic songs were created to keep time with the movements of the oars and to keep up the spirit of the boatmen. The themes of these songs are devotional, mythological or relating to rustic life styles. Every snake boat has about 25 singers keeping time with traditional percussion instruments.