Kerala’s famous snake boat races set to become bigger and better

Image courtesy: ©Rajesh Narayanan / Shutterstock.com

Those serene stretches of lakes, canals and lagoons make the backwaters of Kerala everyone’s dream destination. The peaceful and picturesque palm-lined settings are the epitome of calmness and the houseboats on it of quiet relaxation.

But come the harvest festival – Onam, and these serpentine waterways swap their stillness with bursts of energy and adrenaline rush with races of chundan vallam (snake boat). This year, however, the popular snake boat races of Kerala are getting bigger and better with the inaugural Champions Boat League (CBL), starting August 10. The teams will fight each other in 12 races over 12 weeks on 12 locations for a winner’s prize purse of Rs 25 lakh. The following two teams at the podium will bag Rs 15 lakh and Rs 10 lakh respectively.

Boat races – Synonymous with Kerala

The boat races are among the grand traditions that Kerala celebrates with aplomb, lakhs turning up to witness the 100-plus feet long snake-shaped boats being pedalled by 70 to 100 or more men to the rhythm of vachipattu (boat songs) at high volume. The history of these snake boats goes back to the 13th century when the kingdoms of the region used to fight each other in boats in the canals. In one such battle against Kayamkulam, Chembakassery’s king Devanarayana ordered a famous carpenter to build a better vessel for his army, and snake boat was born.

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The CBL is the state’s step towards not only professionalising these spectacular races but showcasing this aspect of the backwaters to a wider audience. The country’s first ever water-based sports league will have nine teams or boat clubs in the fray.

When Pandit Nehru became a fan

The new boat league starts with the most exciting race of the season – Nehru Trophy Boat Race, on Alappuzha’s Punnamada Lake. An impromptu race was held when the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kerala in 1952. An enchanted PM later donated a silver trophy in the shape of a snake boat. The race has been held on the second Saturday of August ever since.

The CBL then moves to Pulinkunnu, Alappuzha (on Aug 17), Thazhathangadi, Kottayam (Aug 24), Piravam, Ernakulam (Aug 31), Marine Drive, Ernakulam (Sept 7), Kottappuram, Thrissur (Sept 21), Ponnani, Malappuram (Sept 28), Kainakari, Alappuzha (Oct 5), Karuvatta, Alappuzha (Oct 12), Kayamkulam, Alappuzha (Oct 19), and Kallada, Kollam (Oct 26).

The IPL-model league, believed to attract an expenditure Rs 40 crore from the state government, ends with the President’s Trophy Boat Race in Kollam on the state’s Formation Day on November 1.