The monsoons are receding. The land wears a lush green cover. And for the next couple of weeks, the backwaters come alive with the splash of oars and the oarsmen's song. It is the season of boat races in Kerala.
The season kick starts with the Champakulam Moolam Vallamkali in July, and continues well into early September. The most popular one being the Nehru Trophy Boat Race held on the Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha. The regatta, named after former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, holds a special place in peoples' heart. This year, the Chinese Ambassador to India, Le Yucheng is the special guest. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari will inaugurate the Boat Race. Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and Tourism Minister A. P. Anilkumar will be present at the occasion.
How did it all begin?
The Nehru Trophy Boat race has an interesting history. Way back in 1952, an impromptu boat race was held when the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Alappuzha. He was so impressed with the Snake Boats and the race that he donated a trophy. Ever since, every second Saturday in the month of August, the competition gets underway in Punnamada Lake.
However, the history of the main attraction, the Snake Boat, goes even back in time. Over 400 years ago, the wars between princely states were common. And Alappuzha and Kochi areas with all their lakes and waterways had to have a powerful navy. History credits the landlord of Chempakaserry for having asked his carpenters to build a superior vessal that was fast and could hold more soldiers that eventually lead to the birth of 'chundanvallams' or the Snake Boats are they are known in the present day.
There are some historians who claim that the chundanvallams were designed to help defend the land from the Portuguese war ships. The chundanvallams, they claim, kept a low profile and could pass well under the line of guns of a Portugese war-ship. They were also so agile that they could surround the war-ship in minutes and the warriors could climb on board and launch an attack.
A chundan has a unique shape. Streamlined, these boats are easily 100–120 feel long with a raised back, and transports around a 100 people including the helmsmen. There are two types of boat races, the competitive ones like the Nehru Trophy and the ritualistic ones like the Aranmula boat race.
The most famous races
If you missed the Nehru Trophy Boat race, do not worry, the next couple of weeks will see more action across the backwaters. Here is a list:
Travel to the backwaters across Kerala, and watch the water catch fire