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Nehru Trophy Boat Race Alleppey

As August draws near, there is excitement in the air on Punnamada Lake in Kuttanadu, near Alapuzha, in Kerala. The D- Day falls on the second Saturday of August, when the polished boats are readied for the renowned Nehru Boat Race – The most awaited boat race of the year...

The race is known as Nehru Boat race in memory of India’s first prime minister, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was so enthralled by the boat races of Kerala, that in December 1952, he donated a silver trophy – a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus to the winners. The trophy bears the following inscription above his signature: “to the winners of the boat race, which is a unique feature of the community life in Travancore Cochin” The trophy later became the Nehru trophy, with a grand race being organized every year in his memory. In Kuttanad, boat racing is both a religion and a passion. Every village wants to win the trophy and participates with vigor and intense preparation. Due to its abundance of lakes and rivers, Kuttanad is an appropriate place for a water sport of such magnitude like boat racing. It is a one of its kind race, as no other sport has so many members in a single team. The players need to perform in a disciplined manner and each one of them is supposed to have sound knowledge of the sport. 

A strong snake boat costs around six lakh rupees and money is raised be a committee to build one. The Vellankulangar snake boat, which is 140 ft long, has beaten 135 ft long Nedumbhagom snake boat, which holds the Guinness Book of world records for the longest race boat. The longer the boat, the better for a snake boat, as more rowers can be accommodated for more speed.
The glided sterns of the ebony – black snake boats and the colorful, beaded umbrellas on each boat appear like a beautiful painting against the back drop of the lake. The race boats are followed by other boats displaying the rich culture of Kerala, with artists performing traditional dance and music forms like Kathakali, Theyyam, Panchvadyam and Padayani.

The day of the race sees an estimated two lakh spectators thronging the lake to enjoy the event. The event is so popular, that apart from the locals, there is a sizeable presence of foreign tourists as well. During the race, the boats look like huge serpents moving at great speed in the lake.
Soon the snake boats are ready for the race and line up at the starting point. As the flag goes up, the race starts with a furor. There is the thumping of drums and rowing with the rhythm, the players steering with all their might and the crowds screaming. The lake transforms into an area filled with the roars hitting the water 100 – 120 times per minute.
Measuring over 100ft in length, the boats have a capacity for around 120 rowers. They are usually made from Anjali wood, but sometimes teak and Kadamb are also used.
The length of the racecourse is around 1370 m and it is divided into different tracks. The boats appear like fast – moving snakes when racing through the tracks, and are a magnificent sight to watch. The splashing of the oars, in unison with the rhythmic chants and drumbeats, make it an experience of a lifetime.