A spectacular show of long, chiselled boats resembling black snakes gliding across water enthralled thousands of spectators at the 65th Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the Punnamada lake here on Saturday.
A record 78 boats of different sizes, carrying 20 to 100 rowers on board, raced on the picturesque water body in Alappuzha, a prominent port town of the past that retains its old-world charm.
Of the 78 boats, 24 were ‘chundans’ (snake boats), each with a carrying capacity of about 100 rowers. Twenty chundans took part in the race in five heats, while four participated in an exhibition race. These boats raced in the afternoon, while the event for the smaller boats began in the forenoon, under a clear sky. Smaller craft were categorised into different groups such as Iruttukuthi, Veppu, Churulan and Thekkanodi. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the main event. Mr. Pinarayi said that the race, which has become a national festival of Alappuzha, symbolised unity of the people. It was being conducted beyond caste and class barriers, he said. He lauded the introduction of new techniques at the starting point, and a digital timing system to ensure accuracy.
Enthusiastic crowds cheered the oarsmen who exhibited their prowess, splashing through the water. They rowed in unison with all their might, looking out for equally determined rivals.
Rowers undertake rigorous practice in the days preceding the race to ensure a flawless, synchronised performance.
As the boats advanced on the water body, Vanchipattu, the rhythmic cheering song, rent the air. Viewers watched with bated breath.
Most boats, sponsored by clubs in different places, were represented by boat race enthusiasts assembled along the lake banks. The event is labelled the Olympics of Kuttanad. While men took the lead with the snake boats, women displayed their rowing skills in smaller craft in the Thekkanodi tharavallam and Thekkanodi kettuvallam categories.
Cap on outsiders
The Nehru Trophy Boat Race Society, which conducts the competition under the stewardship of the district administration, had limited the number of rowers from other States to 25%. The regulation was imposed to limit the participation of migrants and members of the Defence Forces, in order to ensure fair play.