Forming a large portion of the Onam festival is the Nehru snake boat race in Kerala which is a sight to feast on specially for the foreign traveller. The somewhat startling name of the race in truth signifies no actual danger as the race got its name from the shape of the boats used for the race, which have a long tapering front contour that resembles a hooded snake.
The sight of a multitude of such boats varying in length from 100 to 150 feet in length taking to the oars with their a lot of enthusiastic oarsmen is certainly a treat for the eyes.
The race originated back in 1952 when Jawaharlal Nehru visited this element of India and got so interested by a ride in such a boat, including the escort provided to him by the locals gathered on snake boats that he presented to donate a trophy for the winner of such a race.
The race is held on the second Saturday of August every single year at the Punnamadu Lake close to Alappuzha in Kerala. The beautifully adorned lengthy boats are filled with oarsmen belonging to each village as they vie for this historic event. The splash of water against the water mingles with the rhythm of ‘Vancipattu’ which is a boatman’s song sung by some 25 singers aboard the boat. It is worth inquiring into the effort that goes into the preparation for the occasion as the village guys start preparing a number of weeks in advance with practice sessions of rowing under the supervision of seniors. The boats are also tended to with utmost care as the males polish it with fish oil, coconut shell carbon and eggs, all with the intention of attaining fast speed for the boat.
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Sources – Kerala resort, Kumarakom resort