To watch the grand gala race, thousands of people assemble on the banks of the river Pamba at Aranmulla where a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna is located. About 30 elaborately crafted Chundan Vallams or snake boats participate in the mega event.
The boat race is conducted on a stretch of 40 kilometers from the hills to the low lying plains on the fifth day of Onam. The sight becomes endearing when one looks at the beautifully decorated boats being rowed by oarsmen dressed in white dhotis and turbans. Traditional songs Vanchipattu, sung on the rhythm produced by splashing of boats furthers adds to the overall excitement of the team event.
The most remarkable feature of the Snake Boat Race is the depiction of the great team spirit. It also displays the importance of being united and to be in harmony with nature. A single mistake by one person can produce imbalance and could lead to the overturning of the boat. These day even women participate with lot of enthusiasm in the event and a separate race is conducted for them.
MUCH CREDIT FOR THE SUCCESS OF
SNAKE BOAT RACE CAN BE ATTRIBUTED
TO PANDIT JAWAHAR LAL NEHRU WHO
WAS SO ENAMOURED BY THIS
COLOURFUL EVENT THAT HE
INSTITUTED A TROPHY FOR THE RACE.
Where are the Races Held?
Four main snake boat races (and as many as 15 minor ones) are held each year, in and around Alleppey.
- The spectacular Nehru Trophy is held on Alleppey’s Punnamda Lake.
- The oldest race, the Champakkulam Moolam, is held along the river at Champakkulam (Changanassery), around 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Alleppey.
- The Payippad Jalotsavam is held on Payippad Lake, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Alleppey.
- The Aranmula Boat Race is held along the Pampa River at Aranmula, near Chengannur, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Alleppey.
Champakkulam Moolam Snake Boat Race
The Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race marks the day that the idol of the Hindu God Krishna was installed in the Sree Krishna Temple in Ambalappuzha, not far from Alleppey. According to the legend, those carrying the idol stopped over in Champakkulam on the way. The next morning, thousands of colorful boats were assembled there to honor the event and escort the idol to the temple. This procession is re-enacted before the Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race takes place. It kicks off with exotic water floats, boats decorated with colorful parasols, and performing artists.
Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race
The Nehru Trophy snake boat race is undoubtedly the most exciting race of the year. This race is held in memory of India’s late Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. An impromptu snake boat race was held in 1952 when the Prime Minister visited Alleppey. Apparently he was so impressed with the welcome and the race, he donated a trophy. The race has continued on ever since. It’s a commercial event and you’ll need to buy tickets from the tickets stands on the way. They cost less than $1 for for standing room on makeshift bamboo decks, up to $25 for VIP access. Do bring an umbrella in case of monsoon rain!
Aranmula Snake Boat Race
The Aranmula Boat Race is a two day, predominantly religious, occasion. Rather than being a contest, it’s more about retracing the time offerings were carried on snake boats to the Aranmula Parthasarthy Temple. This was done to protect the offerings from rivals from another village. The whole occasion is a celebration of the day Lord Krishna crossed the river. Position yourself on the banks of the Pampa River near the temple in Aranmula to witness the spectacular event. Traditionally dressed rowers, accompanied by groups of 25 singers, are cheered on by an exuberant crowd.