The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the internationally famous and most popular Boat Race or Vallam Kali of Kerala held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, Kerala, India. Vallam Kali means boat play, but can be translated to boat race in English. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister of India. Every year the boat race is held on the Second Saturday in the month of August. 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 for watching it. 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.
Chundan Vallams or snake boats
The competition of Chundan Vallams or snake boats is the most popular event in the Boat race. The Chundan Vallam is approximately 100–120 foot long canoes and are made up of a type of wood locally called as “Aanjili thadi“. Like the neck of an angry snake it curves to a height of fifteen to twenty feet. The prow is pointed and stands four feet above the water with its glistening brass embellishments. The boat can seat about 120 rowers in two rows on both the sides and its movement is like a snake and hence it got the name Snake boat. So the race is also known as Snake boat race in English. The Chundan Vallam also has the record as “the biggest water vessel used for sports purpose”.
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The rhythmic and the synchronized way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle. The ceremonial water processions, floats and decorated boats add to the beauty of the event. The splendid procession unfolds with all types of ‘Kali-Vallangal‘ or RACING BOATS, led by the largest and the most majestic of them, the ‘Chundan‘. The oarsmen splash the oars in unison with the rhythmic chants and beats of drums. The movements of competing boats are so thrilling that the spectators get a tune with the excited mood of the surrounding uproars.
Its rowers sing songs known as ‘ Vanchi pattu ‘ to the rhythm of the oars – a feast for the eyes and the ears. 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 race starts as the starter’s flag goes up.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India visited Kerala in 1952. He was given a roaring reception by the people of Alleppey, escorted by the huge snake-boats. Panditji, who was thrilled and excited in the performance of the oarsmen, jumped into the snake boat, forgetting all security arrangements. Having gone through the tremendous excitement of sailing in a snake-boat Jawaharlal Nehru donated a rolling trophy to be awarded to the winner of the race. The trophy is a replica of a snake-boat in silver, placed on wooden abacus on which the following words are inscribed.
“To the winner of the boat-race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore-Cochin”.
This Trophy later came to be known as the Nehru Trophy.
The Length of the track is about 1400 m and there are 4 tracks of 10m wide.
The preparation for the Race
The preparation for this event begins several week in advance. The best oarsmen are selected from each village and under the supervision of the senior most oarsmen, the practice sessions begin. Around 150 oarsmen, who would represent the village, take the vow to observe strict abstinence and celibacy till the oars to each of them. They have special diet known as Valla Sadhya the mass feast.
Tickets are available from various Govt. Offices of Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Kottayam District and from the Office of the District Tourism Promotion Council and Tourism Office Alappuzha. There are 8 types of tickets and the rate range from Rs. 100 to Rs. 2500.