Boat races are a significant part of the culture and tradition of Indian state of Kerala. It is an annual boat race that offers great excitement for the viewers. Nehru Trophy Boat Race is a popular Vallam kalli which means boat play/game. It is held on the second saturday of August every year in the Punnamada Lake, near Alappuzha. It is the most competitive and popular of the boat races. The course is 1.4 km in Punnamada Lake.
On the day of this fiercely fought boat race, the tranquil lake front is transformed into a sea of humanity with an estimated two lakh people, including tourists from abroad, coming to watch the event. For the people of each village in Kuttanad, a victory at this race for their village boat is something to be celebrated for months to come. The drum beats along with the chanting of the boat songs known as Vanchipattu builds the environment for a perfect event. The frenzy of activities held during the boat race imparts a distinct character to the event. This time of Nehru Trophy Boat Race was on August 12. 'Champakkulam', 'Kavalam', 'Karichal', 'Jawahar Thayangari', 'Kallooparamban', 'Pacha', 'Pulinkunnu', 'Nadubhagam', 'Cheruthana', 'Kandangari' and 'Paippad' are the chief competitors for the trophy.
The most popular event of the boat race is the competition of snake boats chundanvallams or snake boats. Chundan Vallams are built according to specifications from Sthapathya Veda. It varries from 100 to 135 ft in length. The largest of the 'Chundan' boats can seat a hundred and twenty rowers, sixty on each side. It resembles a snake with raised hood.
A splendid procession unfolds with all types of 'Kali-Vallangal' or RACING BOATS, led by the largest and the most majestic of them, the 'Chundan'. On boat race day, the 'Chundan Vallams' are slicked down with a special oil to make them glide effortlessly through water. The crews then visit a shrine carrying the stroke and largest steering oar with them.
And having offered prayers to the Almighty, they are now ready to war with their fellow men. Its rowers sing songs known as ' Vanchi pattu ' to the rhythm of the oars which is a feast for the eyes and the ears. Vanchi pattu is a kind of poetry which means rooted in nathonnatha vruthum, a pulsating rhythm resembling the crest and trough of waves in water. During the boat race each boat carries about 95 oarsmen, 10 nilakkar(cheerleaders) and 5 amarakkar(controllers).
Other categories of boat which participate in the boat race are hurulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, veppu Vallam, Vadakkynody Vallam, kochu Vallam etc. The numerous beaded umbrellas held aloft in each boat, the gilded sterns of the ebony black snake boats and the changing patterns that the rowers weave with their oars transform the lake into a kaleidoscope. Floats giving glimpses of Kerala's rich cultural heritage follow the race boats, with artists performing "kathakali" "theyyam" "panchavadyam" and "padayani". The snake boats line up at the starting point for the great race. The flag falls in a blur and suddenly the thumping begins. The crowd erupts into a roar, birds flutter up from their perch on the trees and the snake boats hiss their way down the lake in a haze of spray, fighting a pitched battle in the dappled waters.
Even in the days of untouchables, this was a feature of the regattas with caste Hindus, Scheduled Castes, Christians and Muslims sitting in the same row for the feast symbolizing the communal amity in Kuttanad. In fact, the Church has a traditional role in the celebrations at Champakkulam though the water festival there is associated with a temple legend. Large and spectacular 'chundans' glide towards the finishing line like meteors in the sky with water splashing violently on both sides like streaks of lightning. This is an unforgettable and truly special scene. The participants in this race compete fiercely to come out as winners. There is a frenzied excitement in the air. The air reverberates with cheers and applauses.
Boat races are among the grandest traditions still alive and thriving in Kerala. To promote unique tourism, Kerela lines up Boat Races in IPL Format. The Kerala Boat Race League will evolve into a world-class tourism product, according to Minister for Tourism, Cooperation and Devaswoms Shri Kadakampally Surendran. The Kerala Boat Race League will evolve into a world-class tourism product and will deliver an unparalleled experience to people all over the world.
The Kerala Boat Race League won’t affect the significance of any of the snake-boat race. The Kerala Boat Race League will include various boat races from five districts, excluding the ones that are held in relation to religious customs and traditions. The Tourism Department will also push for publicizing the event by holding promotional campaigns on a global scale to attract tourists from across the world. The Kerala Boat Race League will also be added in the Tourism Calendar.