Held every year on the second Saturday of August, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race that sees huge, iconic snake boats engaged in a fierce and colourful contest, has turned into one of the state’s most popular and renowned tourist attractions. Unfortunately, currently all festivals in Kerala are canceled due to COVID-19.
Since 1952, Punnamada Lake – India’s lengthiest lake – is where teams in long, black canoes compete against each other in a commemoration of Kerala’s maritime past. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is part of an old tradition that reflects the rivalry between nations over the monopoly of the trade in spices. Called chundam vallams or snake boats, the canoes carry 100 to 150 expert oarsmen and are up to 38 metres long, holding the record of biggest water vessels in sports.
Although it is the most popular one, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is not the only boat race being held in that period. The whole region attracts thousands of spectators during this time, coming to watch other boat races too (see below) in addition to decorated boats, spectacular floats and ceremonial water processions that are also part of the festivities.
In the run-up to the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, the rowers – both men and women – train rigorously to move in harmony with each other to the tune of the boat song which is called Vanchippatu. In previous generations, devotional songs accompanied deities that were carried in the boats, while nowadays the names of the different boat races (see below) also reflect the religious and cultural elements of the event.