Kerala is famous for its snake boat races. These snake boats are about 100 feet long and can seat 150 men. Strong mature wood like teak, etc are used to build these boats. The boats get their name from the curled ends of the boat which are shaped to represent cobra hoods. Skilled craftsmen spend months making a boat and decorating it. The boat is treated with religious reverence and footwear is not allowed aboard. The boats belong to affluent families or it may represent an entire village. The boats are decorated with silk umbrella, ornaments and tassels. The men dress in white dhotis and turbans. Traditional songs called ‘vanchipattu’ provide rhythm to the oarsmen. Of the 150 people aboard the board, four are helmsmen, 25 are singers and 121 are oarsmen. The snake boat race is an amazing depiction of team spirit as a single mistake from any one of them can easily overturn the boat.
Onam Snake Boat Races: The snake boat race that accompanies the Onam festival of Kerala is a sight that is unique and enchanting. It is a major tourist attraction that draws both domestic and international tourists. The legend behind this famous race is that the head of a renowned Brahmin family was offering his daily prayers and as part of the ritual he offered meals to poor people. On that particular day, he founded a beggar boy standing beside him. The Brahmin gave the boy a bath, new set of clothes and a good meal. The boy vanished after the meal and the Brahmin believed that he was a representation of God himself. To mark the day, he started a tradition of bringing food every year to the Aranmulla temple where he thought he spotted the boy again. His entourage was accompanied down the river by snake boats for protection from river pirates. As time progressed, the tradition gained popularity and more snake boats joined in leading to competition between the boats. Today, the fifth day of the Onam festival celebrations is marked by the Great Snake Boat Race of Aranmula or the Aranmula vallamkali.