Nehru Trophy – racing through the backwaters

Gearing up for the boat race - Nehru Trophy 2019

Picture the serene backwaters of Kerala with its rain-washed monsoon splendor. Add to that, a number of boats flashing through the waters, racing each other with over a hundred paddlers thrusting their oars in union. That’s the Nehru Trophy Boat Race for you.

Something that began as a Vallam Kali or a boat game, grew into what we know today as the competitive Nehru Trophy Boat Tri Race held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha (popularly known as Allepey) in Kerala. The Snake boat race or the Chundan Vallam is the most popular race of the event there are a number of other races that are much anticipated as well. Owing to the popularity and the growing participation and fanfare around the event, Kerala now has a Champions Boat League (CBL), modeled after the Indian Premiere League, with 9 teams fuelling competition in 12 races. The boat race is a notably unique sport native this God’s own country and is no mean feat. With 64 or 128 participants rowing the boat at a time in perfect union, it is a demonstration of great physical rigor and coordination.

In this region, known as the Venice of the East, boats are a way of life and a number of water festivals are celebrated based on legends associated to various temples in the area. What started off as playful boat races, then went on to become boat festivals where the boats were used for musical processions. Close to 70 years ago, the boat races have come into existence as a competitive sport.

The strength of synchrony

The event is one that calls for brotherhood and unity in the community as natives of the localities come together with much enthusiasm to represent their locality. The expenses are often taken care of the funds raised by the community. It is a time when teams come together, healthy competition engages people across the region and natives from across the world come back home for a fun filled visit.

There is also an intriguing history of conflicts that occurred among the local rulers of neighboring kingdoms which often led to combat on the waters. Developing the design and architecture of the boat to overpower armies with strength and agility was the need of the hour. Koduppunna Venkitanarayanan Asari is the brilliant boat architect who designed the invincible snake boat that led to the victory of the Chempakasseri back in the day. The subtle elements of the boat make it a living legend requiring years of apprenticeship and precision to replicate.
Nehru Trophy Boat Tri Race is, therefore, not just an indigenous sport but also one that promotes Kerala’s heritage – at the cusp of history and geography.

The event is tentatively scheduled for November this year. Here’s hoping that the pandemic makes way for the waves!


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