Nehru Trophy Boat Race – Kerala’s Water Olympics!

It is indeed an Olympics of its own right… Not just a boat race, but sort of a mega sports event featuring gigantic boats alongwith a large team – unmatched in every respect in the whole world… That’s the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race of Kerala, South India.

Kerala tours

A colourful sports carnival that takes place on the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha (Venice of the East), on Second Saturday of August every year, Nehru Trophy Boat Race is known for its thrilling competition and mass appeal.

The most striking feature of this event is the Snake Boat, locally known as ‘Chundan Vallam’ – A huge wooden boat over a 100 feet  in length and with a raised prow adding to its majestic appearance. A Snake Boat can carry around 100-120 rowers.

A little flashback…

Given the name ‘Snake Boat’ by the erstwhile colonial powers, perhaps due to its dazzling movement thro’ the waters like a snake; this wooden marvel has long been associated with the history of Kerala. During the medieval era when Navy ruled supreme, snake boats played a decisive role in the victory of many local kingdoms that existed in Southern Kerala region.

Origin of Nehru Trophy Boat Race…

In the palm-fringed, water-logged areas of Alappuzha and Kuttanad, various models of wooden boats were the prime vehicles of transportation since ancient times. The 1st Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Kerala (which was Thiru-Kochi State, then) in 1952. In the honour of Prime Minister, the first unofficial Snake Boat Race was conducted. Out of several contestants – each featuring a snake boat with 100 odd teams – a team named ‘Nadubhagom Chundan’ came first.

Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed by the fast paced boats and their oarsmen’s skills; that he insisted on a ride on the winning boat, soon after the race. He was given a rousing ceremonial farewell in the Snake Boat. Later, Nehru donated a Silver Trophy (a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus) with his signature. Thereafter, people of Alappuzha began to organize and conduct Snake Boat Race every year, in the fond memory of the then-Prime Minister. This soon came to be known as ‘Nehru Trophy Boat Race’.

Over the years, the Nehru Trophy race has grown to be the most competitive and popular of all the boat races in Kerala. For the people of Alappuzha / Kuttanad, this is more like their national festival. Organizing and conducting this event is a matter of pride and joy for them.

The preparations for this celebrated occasion begin several weeks in advance. Snake boats are smeared with sardine oil for smooth passage through water … Very best oarsmen are selected … Then, under the supervision of the senior-most oarsmen, vigorous practice sessions commence …

Each snake boat accommodates 100+ rowers sitting in two rows and 5 other oarsmen. There are other group of people standing in between; singing the ‘Vanchi-pattu’ (boat songs with hymns) which gives a rhythm for the rowers to charge forward, all-together.

This synchronized way of rowing needs long and devoted training and inherent aptitude. Team work is so important that even a silly neglected act of one participant can lead a boat to lose the race.

During the preparations, each ward in the village and rich individuals takes their turn in feeding the would-be participants, which each & everyone does proudly. All folks, whatever be their religion / status, stand as a single entity to make the approaching race a grand success.

On the day of the Snake Boat race, the venue ‘Punnamada Lake’ will be brimming with excitement. Hundred-Thousands of people, locals & tourists, assemble to watch the race.

The 1400+ meters long water-race-course is divided into various tracks for the conduct of this competition. As the race starts, these big water vessels rip through the tracks, resembling quick snakes… Oarsmen splash the oars in unison with the rhythmic chants of ‘Vanchi-pattu’ and drum beats… The backwaters get ‘electrified’ … Spectators go wild with frenzy …

As the boats race to finishing point, the atmosphere will be beyond words !!!

Unparalleled in thrills, Alappuzha’s (Kerala) most important sports event is now regarded as the greatest water sport show in the world.


For those who want to witness this “largest team sports in the world”, here are a handful of tour packs to choose from …


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