Snake boat races of Kerala are much anticipated events that bring a lot of excitement to Onam festivities.
Onam is the prime festival of Kerala.
It is celebrated during the Malayalam month of Chingam, usually in August or September.
A snake boat is a long impressive wooden canoe. Typically 100 – 120 ft long, it comfortably carries about 100 rowers.
Just imagine that many rowers in synchronised action, to get an idea how fast they can travel. Their swiftness had a decisive role in battles between local chieftains of Alappuzha, hundreds of years ago.
Snake boats were developed and used in Kuttanad, the vast backwater belt of Alappuzha district. They have been in use for the last 400 years. Even today, many villages own a boat and are keen to compete in races.
A snake boat, or Chundan Vallam, as known in Kerala, has a steep stern that resemble the raised hood of a snake.
There are several boat races held in Kerala during August – September. Keralites call them Vallamkali, derived from Malayalam words Vallam (boat) and Kali (game or play).
Each Vallamkali is a mega festival attended at least by tens of thousands of people. The larger races are attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
Vanchippattu, the song of the races, is close to the heart of anyone belonging to Kerala. Even kids know at least parts of it by heart.
Snake boat races are the prominent part of any Vallamkali. There are also other competing categories, where other types of boats compete. Churulan, Iruttukuthy, Odi, Vadakkanody, Veppu Vallam, and Kochu Vallam are the other types of boats.
Not all boat races are single day events, some play out as water festivals over the course of three days.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race held at Punnamad Lake in Alappuzha is one of the major snake boat races of Kerala.
Indira Gandhi Boat Race, Champakulam Moolam, Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali, Kumarakom Boat Race and Payippad Jalotsavam are some of the famous snake boat races. There are scores of other snake boat races in Kerala.