It will take just one trip to Kerala to realise the coziness and opulence offered by the backwaters here. The soothing water stretches, their caressing cool breeze, the lip-smacking fish fries everything mingle together to amuse all your senses. But when the 138-feet-long snake boats slice the silence of these taciturn water stretches, it altogether turns to a different panorama.
Snake boat, so called for its resemblance to the shape of a hooded snake, is the traditional war boat of Kerala. The local populace called it by the pet name Chundan Vallam, which literally means beaked boat, for it has a pointed prow which stands four feet above the water and gives the impression of a beak.
Designed by an architect named Devanarayana, the snake boats were originally conceived as war boats. Though the wars were resolved later, people wanted to keep up the spirit of this wondrous multipurpose boat. Hence started the spectacular sport called boat race.
In the centre of the chundan vallom, which was earlier the place of the canon, stand two people who beat the odithatta (fire platforms) with poles and sing the vanchippattu (songs of the boatmen) to maintain the rowing rhythm. While the strongest oarsmen sit at the front to set the pace, the back is managed by six hefty amarackars (helmsmen) who stand and help steer the boat. The person at the highest point of the boat is the chief oarsman.
Every snake boat represents a village. For the villagefolks it would be their breath and pride. A single snake boat can occupy 100 oarsmen and thus a boat race is the largest team sport in the world.
Palliyodams are Aranmula's unique snake boats. Devotees of Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy temple regard it as the divine vessel of the deity. It is unique in its shape and structure that only the amidship portion of the boat touches the water. Over the years the snake boats have become an icon of pride of Kerala. The Nehru Trophy boat race, held on the second Saturday of August every year, is the most popular of all boat races.