Alappuzha is famous for its annual boat race, held
on the second Saturday of August every year. The long
elegant snake boats, with crews of over hundred men
vying to win the coveted trophy, attract spectators
from all over.
This was started in 1952 when India's first Prime Minister,
Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Alappuzha, and inaugurated
the function in which the gigantic snake boats with
over 100 rowers in each raced one another.
It is called a Snake Boat Race as its 135 feet length
has since been overtaken by Vellankulangara snake boat,
which is 140 feet long.
In the year 1952, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
visited the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin. On his way
to Alappuzha district from Kottayam he was given a roaring
reception by the people of Alappuzha, escorted by the
huge snake-boats. Having gone through the tremendous
excitement of sailing in a snake boat popularly known
as Chundan he donated a rolling trophy to be awarded
to the winner of the Snake Boat Races to be held every
The trophy is a replica of a snake boat in silver,
placed on wooden abacus on which the following words
of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the first prime minister
of India are inscribed above his signature.
"To the winner of the boat-race, which is a unique
feature of community life in Travancore-Cochin".
This was later christened, 'Nehru Trophy'.
From then onwards, year after year, the boat race has
grown into Alappuzha`s most important event.
The story of these battling boats goes back 400 years
in history when the rajas of the erstwhile principalities
of Chempakasseri (Ambalappuzha), Kayamkulam, Thekkumkoor
(Changanacherry) and Vadakkumkoor (Kottayam) in the
old Travancore area, which were part of the present
Alappuzha district and Kottayam district, frequently,
crossed swords on the backwaters of Kuttanad. The Chempakasserry
troops suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the
superior navy their rivals commanded. It soon dawned
on the Chempakasserry Raja that the real defect was
with his war boats, which were sluggish and cumbersome.
He called all the boat architects in the land to his
court and told them of his desire to have better and
faster boats for the troops. After days of hard labour,
a man who was reputed to be the best boat architect
in Chempakasserry, Koduppunna Venkitanarayanan Asari,
came up with a specimen which satisfied the raja’s
requirements. It had speed, manoeuvrability and capacity
to carry 100 able-bodied warriors on board and its eel-like
construction was most ideal for launching an ambush
since it could be easily kept concealed behind the overhanging
bushes on the river banks. The Asari was generously
rewarded and in the subsequent battles, the Chempakasseri
Raja emerged victorious.
When a village decides to have a new snake boat, a
committee is formed to raise the Rs.6 lakhs; it requires
now to build the boat. The boat architect is summoned
and the search for the “anjili” (which is
the common name or the familiar name for this) tree
of the required size often takes the villagers to the
high ranges of Kerala. As the snake boat takes shape
out of the huge trunk, the ‘asari’ relies
mainly on his instinctive estimates.
Of late, the boat builders’ prime concern is
to make the snake boat as long as possible so as to
seat more and more rowers for speed. The Nedumbhagom
snake boat recently entered the Guinness Book of Records
as the longest rowing boat in the world.
The celebrations that mark this annual event include
music and folk dance performances and of course the
The Nehru Trophy boat race is organized every year
on the second Saturday in the month of August. The drum
beats and boat songs called vanchipattu that complement
these boat races almost work the spectators and the
oarsmen into a frenzy of activity and adds a sense of
thrill to the entire boat race.
So come and visit Alappuzha with the site Kerala Backwaters
during the time when the Nehru Trophy boat race takes
place. This adventure filled water sport is definitely
worth a visit during your Kerala backwaters tour to
Today the Boat Race has grown into Alappuzha's single
most important tourist event with boats being sponsored
by different villages. Competition is severe as the
boats with over 100 rowers in each, race to finish to
the accompaniment of rousing music.