Know as Vallam Kali or Snake Boat Races in Kerela are among the grandest traditions still striving in Kerala. These have during the monsoon months with throngs of people coming together to watch these snake-shaped beauties go head to head to the rhythm of old boat songs.  With each team having 110 rowers, if this race were in the Olympics it would be the largest team sport in the world. These races bring life to the serene backwaters in Kerala. The Nehru Trophy which happens in the seaside town of Alappuzha (Allepy) draws the most crowd, however, there are 50 more boats of various shapes and sizes which participate in different categories. 

Here’s What You Need To Know About Snake Boat Races In Kerala

What is a Snake Boat race?

As an ophidiophobic myself, the word snake does send chills down my spine. But have no fear snake boats have nothing to do with snakes. The race gets its name from the shape of the boat participants race on. Also called Chundan Vallam this canoe-styled boat was used by the people of Kerala’s Kuttanad region, in the heart of Kerala’s backwaters. These are the traditional war boat of Kerala and are typically 100 to 120 feet long. What’s fascinating is every village in Kerala has its own snake boat and every year villagers get together to race their boats against each other. A sense of pride is attached to these boats making the competition even more exciting. Race represents the relationship between the community and water. 

History of the Snake Boat Races In Kerala

The history behind the snake boat races in Kerala is almost 400 years old. An ancient king of Allepy wanted to create a stronger vessel to fight kings of nearby regions along the canals. His loss in previous escapades was the motivation behind creating these majestic boats. These races are the main attraction for many of the festivals in Kerala. 

Top 4 Must-Watch Snake Boat Races In Kerala 

Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Held on Alleppey’s Punnamda Lake this is the most spectacular race of them all. 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 and the race had impressed him so much that he donated a trophy. The race has continued in his honour since. You will need to buy tickets for this race. They can be bought online or from the ticket stands on the way and cost from 100 rupees for standing room on makeshift bamboo decks to 3,000 rupees for Gold VIP access.

Snake Boat races in Kerala

The Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race

Held on the River Pamba this boat race is the oldest race of all. It is held on Moolam day which marks the day that the idol of the Hindu god Lord Krishna was installed in the Sree Krishna Temple in Ambalappuzha. The race starts off with exotic water floats, boats decorated with colourful parasols, and performing artists. 

What is a Snake Boat race?
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The Aranmula Boat Race

Predominantly a religious occasion this race is a two-day event. Held on the day of the Uthrittathi asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam, it is well known for its grandeur and unique history. The snake boats used for this race are called Palliyodams. Lord Krishna himself, the chief deity at the Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple, gives the credit for the design. He is said to have appeared on these shores on a raft made of six bamboos, giving the village its name – Aranmula or Six Bamboos.

Snake Boat races in Kerala

Payippad Boat Race

Every year, held in the Payippad River to commemorate the installation of the idol at the Subramanya Swamy Temple the race continues for 3 long days. Legend has it that residents of a remote village were once instructed to approach a whirlpool in a vision. On reaching the location in Kayamkulam Lake, they discovered a beautiful idol of the Hindu deity, Sree Subramanya. Held during the festival of Onam the Payippad Boat Race is among the most anticipated.

When Are The Snake Boat Races In Kerala Held?

When Are The Snake Boat Races In Kerala Held?

Four main snake boats and as many as 15 minor ones are held every year in and around Allepy. The races are held during the monsoon season from June to September and the exact dates differ each year depending on the phase of the moon. However, the exception to this is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race which is always held on the second Saturday of August. Snake boat races are the highlight of the harvest festival Onam and take place mid-way through the 10-day celebrations. Many other boat races are also held during the festival along the backwaters at Kottayam, Payippad, and Champakkulam. The Champakkulam Moolam is held in late June or early July, and the Payippad Boat Race is held in late August or early. 

Champions Boat League

Snake Boat races in Kerala that aren’t associated with religious customs have become part of the Champions Boat League tournament. Launched in 2019 the Kerala government aims to utilize this platform as a means to market this prestigious tournament to international tourists. The tournament has a series of races held in different places in Kerala, starting with the Nehru Trophy and concluding with the President’s Trophy Boat Race.

God’s Own Country Is A Must-Visit 

Add this one-in-a-lifetime experience of witnessing these spectacular boat races to your to-do list. These Snake Boat Races in Kerela will not only let you experience the heritage of this beautiful region but also a thrill of a lifetime. Kerala also offers amazing beaches, calm backwaters, and mouth-watering seafood, so ‘God’s own Country is a must-visit destination.


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