Nehru Trophy Boat Race- Kuttanad’s Olympics on Water

 The entire Kuttanad is eagerly waiting, to see which Chundan will lift the coveted Nehru trophy; they have been waiting for this moment for last one year. Preparations are in full swing, all over you see practice races, people from all parts have started coming in, and gallery’s work is in progress, it is the race time, the World famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, held on the second Saturday of August every year. 58th Nehru Trophy Boat race is happening on 14th August 2010

Nehru Trophy race is the most competitive and popular of the boat races. On the day of this fiercely fought boat race, almost two lakh people gather to watch the event. For the people of each village in Kuttanad, a victory at this race for their village boat is a matter of great pride and something to be celebrated for months to come. It is also one of the main tourist attractions in Kerala.

 

Photo courtesy: nehrutrophyboatraces.com

Nehru Trophy

The first boat race was organized in 1952 in honour of late Pandit Jawarlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India visit to Alappuzha. 8 Snake boats participated in the procession, Nadubhagom, Chambakkulam , ParthaSarathy, Kavalam, Valiya Diwanji, Napoleon, Nethaji and Gear Goss. The winner was Nadubhagam Chundan. Panditji donated a Silver Trophy, which was a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus. This trophy later came to be known as Nehru Trophy.

Boats’ own country

Kuttanandu is a place of boats. Different kinds of boats are seen always roaming over the waters of this part of the Kerala. The boats are differentiated based on their purpose, all home-made out of indigenous materials.  All these boats are used for the race, ranging from to the smallest one which measures 18 feet and accommodates almost a dozen crew, to the biggest ones called snake boats. A lot of skill, labour, time and money go into the making of these boats which are objects of envy and wonder.  The most popular varieties of Racing Boats are called Chundan, the magnificent Snake Boats, nearly a hundred feet long and with 150 rowers, Churulan, pleasure boats used by rich people in olden days Odi (Iruttukuthi), earlier used for smuggling and Parunthuvalan (Veppu), boats that were used to carry stores for the soldiers in olden times and each differs from the other in the shape of the helm and prow, and capacity to accommodate the crew.

The major attraction of the boat race is the competition of snake boats (chundan vallams), measuring over 100 feet in length, with a raised prow. Over 100 people are needed to race a snake boat. The Nedumbhagom snake boat which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest rowing boat in the world was 135 feet in length. Now Vellankulangara snake boat hold that record, which is 140 feet long. The Chundan Vallam also holds the record as “the biggest water vessel used for sports purpose”.

Preparation

Preparations for the big event begin several weeks in advance. Selection of the oarsmen is one of the crucial events. The best oarsmen are selected and trained under the supervision of the senior oarsmen. They take the vow to observe strict abstinence and celibacy till the race is over. The synchronized way of rowing needs long and devoted training. A single neglected act of a single oarsman can lose the race.

Each ward in the village and at time rich individuals takes responsibility of feeding the athletes on the days of the practice. Mass and sumptuous feasts are arranged for the athletes during these practice sessions. Boats are also treated with special care. The boats are made out of single tree trunks, usually Kadampu and Anjili (Artocarpus Hirsuta) The boat is smeared with sardine oil for smooth passage through water.

Community Participation

One of the reasons for the success of the event is its community participation. Most of the race boats belong to the joint ownership of the people of the locality. Single owner boats are often hired out by a group of people belonging to a particular locality for the purpose of participating in a boat race.  Money required for the preparation and the race is collected from the locality itself.  And boat race season is the occasion for stirring the warmth of friendliness and brotherhood in the locality

The festival begins with a colorful procession of various boats. They move in a formation down the 1.4 KM stretch of the lake and oarsmen singing couplets from “Kuchelavritham Vanchipattu” the classic Malayalam poem written by Ramapurathu Warrier to entertain King Marthanda Varma of Travancore in early 19th century during a boat journey from Vaikom to Thiruvananthapuram. The numerous beaded umbrellas are held aloft in each boat and various floats depicting Kerala’s rich cultural heritage follow. Various artists perform “kathakali” “theyyam” “panchavadyam” and “padayani”.

The race happens over a length of about 1370 meters that is divided into eight tracks, each of 30 meters width for carry out of the competition. Oarsmen singing Vanchipattu can be heard from a distance. The people of Kuttanad are keenly waiting for the D day, their Olympics on water.

How to reach Alappuzha?

By Air

Thiruvananthapuram International Airport and Kochi International Airport are the nearest airport. Thiruvananthapuram to Alappuzha is 150 km and Kochi to Alappuzha is 75 km

By Bus

KSRTC buses are plenty which are connecting all the major cities in Kerala. Private luxury coach buses are also available from destinations like Bangalore and Chennai

By Train

Alappuzha is well connected by train from different parts of India. Alappuzha railway station is within the city limits