Kerala, which proudly promotes itself as the God’s Own Country, is rich of cultural extravaganza’s that enthuses any visitor to the state.
One such event that awes a traveller to the tiny southern state of India, is the Snake Boat Races, that happens across various backwaters in Alleppey, Kottayam and Quilon. It is indeed a pleasure to watch 110 plus oarsmen, rhythmically rowing in unison with the chorus of the inspiring boat songs that fiercely pushes them ahead to the winning stage. But why a sleek, beaked, boat of 130 feet was made and what could have been the reason behind it. History unfolds that during the early 16th century Ambalapuzha ( presently a small town in Alleppey ) a princely state then, was under constant attack from the Kingdoms of Venad ( Travancore ) and Odanadu ( Kayamkulam ). Being a province surrounded by narrow canals and backwaters of Punnamada and Vembanad, Ambalapuzha had to source a solution so it can counter those threats effectively, which later developed in the design of Beaked Boats ( Chundan valloms ) or Hooded Boats ( Snake-hood like Boats ).
Those days armies were managed under the feudal lords and these lords who owned the local Nair or Christian Padayalis ( Warriors ) used to gather before the king with their mighty forces to show their might and power, before entering into a war. This Naval Drill later got transformed into what we see as the Snake Boat races, cites Dr. Naduvattom Gopalakrishnan, an eminent historian and expert in Kerala Culture who is also Professor Emeritus at the Malayalam University, Malappuram, Kerala.
These boats were accompanied by Kitchen Boats ( Veppu Valloms ) so food could be served to the warring soldiers and there used to be smaller boats named Irutty Kuthy ( one that drives silently into the darkness ) for spying activities.
Although the naval warfare didn’t save Amabalapuzha from falling into the hands of Venad, but the legacy of the Snake Boats still lives on, through annual Boat Race festivals across Alleppey, Kottayam and Quilon districts of Kerala, the prominent being the Nehru Trophy Boat Race conducted on every second saturday of August at Punnamada lake.