Famed Nehru trophy boat race, the most competitive and popular of the boat races in Kerala, on the Punnmad Lake in Alappuzha has been postponed in view of heavy rains.
The new date for the mega tourism event, held every year on the second Saturday of August, is not announced yet.
The Kerala tourism department has made the announcement considering the risk from the heavy rain and flood.
As many as 78 boats, including 25 snake boats, were expected to contest in different categories in the race this time. 25 chundan vallams (snakeboats) will participate in the 66th edition of the boat race. Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar was invited as the chief guest of the event.
The Nehru Trophy Boat Race named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is conducted on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, on the second Saturday of August every year. 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.
The major attraction of the boat race is the competition of snake boats chundanvallams or snake boats. Chundans (snake boats) are an impressive sight, measuring over 100 feet in length, with a raised prow. They were called snake boats by the former colonial rulers, who based the name on a native boat found in Norway,although Kerala’s Chundans bear little resemblance to their European namesakes.
Preparations for the big event begin several weeks in advance. The snake boat is smeared with sardine oil for smooth passage through water, the best oarsmen are selected 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. Each ward in the village and at time rich individuals takes their turn in feeding the athletes on the days of the practice at mass feasts on the river banks.
Even in the days of untouchables, this was a feature of the regattas with caste Hindus, Scheduled Castes, Christians and Muslims sitting in the same row for the feast symbolising the communal amity in Kuttanad. In fact, the Church has a traditional role in the celebrations at Champakkulam though the water festival there is associated with a temple legend.
The history of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is associated with the visit of late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India to Alappuzha. He chanced a trip from Kottayam to Alappuzha by boat, through water logged Kuttanad. A pageantry of boats accompanied him on the trip.The first race was an impromptu once conducted in 1952 in honour of Panditji who visited Alappuzha.In that race of snake boats, Nadubhagam Chundan stood first. Panditji, who was thrilled and excited in the performance of the oarsmen, jumped into the Nadubhagam Chundan, forgetting all security arrangements.The boat proceeded to the boat jetty carrying the Prime Minister.On his return to Delhi in December 1952, Nehru donated a Silver Trophy, which is a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus.The trophy bears the following inscription above his signature.