The Nehru Trophy Boat Race, the most colorful water sport in Kerala, is conducted at PUNNAMADA LAKE in Alappuzha on the second Saturday of August every year and this prestigious cultural event of Kerala has been attracting people from all over the world.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race is a festival for the people of Alappuzha. Though it is a festival,what stands apart is the sportive spirit among the participants of the race.
he trophy named 'NEHRU TROPHY' is awarded to the winner of the boat race.The trophy is a replica of a snake-boat in silver, placed on wooden abacus on which the following words of Punditji are inscribed above his signature.
"To the winner of the boat-race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore-Cochin".
In the year 1952, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru visited the erstwhile Travancore - Cochin. On his way to Alappuzha from Kottayam the people of Alappuzha, escorted by the huge snake-boats, gave him a roaring reception. Having gone through the tremendous excitement of sailing in a snake-boat popularly known as Chundan, Jawaharlal Nehru donated a rolling trophy to be awarded to the winner.
This trophy was later christened, 'Nehru Trophy'. The first race was an ‘impromptu’ one held in honour of Panditji. On that occasion Ten Snake boats were present and Nedubhagam Chundan won the race. In 1953 the boat race was not conducted. In order to commemorate the occasion every year "Nehru Trophy Boat Race" is conducted in all splendor by the Nehru Trophy Boat Race Society. Many different kinds of country-boats like Iruttukuthy, Veppu and Churulan also participate in the race; women and students also compete in the events over a distance of 4850 ft. The beautiful scenery of the race area together with the exciting snake-boat race, will ever remain a cherished memory for the onlookers.
The presence of high dignitaries and distinguished personalities has enhanced the fame of the NTBR over the years. This prestigious water carnival celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002.In fact Nehru Trophy Boat Race has enabled Alappuzha to achieve prominance in the World Tourism Map.
THE STORY BEHIND BOATRACES
The Rajas of Yore
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 labor, 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, manoeuverability 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.
The story goes on to tell how the defeated Kayamkulam Raja sent a spy to Chempakasserri to learn the secret of the new war boat. The spy, a handsome youth, succeeded in seducing Asari’s daughter. The girl’s mother was overjoyed by the prospect of getting him as her daughter’s bridegroom and persuaded her husband to teach him the construction of the boat.Needless to say, the deceitful youth disappeared the moment he thought that he had learnt the secret. Asari was imprisoned by Chempakasserri Raja for treason. But he was released and showered with many honors when the snake boats built by the Kayamkulam Raja proved to be no match for the war boats of Chempakasserry in the next battle. The subtleties of the snake boat’s design are hard to pickup and even today it requires years of apprenticeship under a master boat architect before one could independently undertake the construction of this ancient boat.
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” 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. But its 135 feet length has since been overtaken by Vellankulangara snake boat, which is 140 feet long.
The boat race is a sport that signifies excellent team spirit, integration and amity of the people of this backwater country and is a great occasion for excitement. It vividly portrays the life of a vibrant people. Boat races are celebrated as the festival of backwaters with all pomp and splendor. In fact these water carnivals are inseparable from the life of a community, which is dependent on boats for commuting and communication in a water logged area. Perhaps snake boat race would be the only sporting event in the world in which hundreds of people participate in a competition. It stands as a symbol of communal harmony; but at the same time it is also a competition of muscle power.