The calm backwaters of Alleppey come roaring alive every year on the second Saturday in the month of August. The waters are dotted with the famed snake boats fighting neck to neck in the palm fringed Punnamada Lake in Alleppey; each vying to be the victor and the proud owner of the prestigious Nehru Trophy.
The history of these unique and carefully engineered ‘Chundan Vallam’ or the Snake Boats takes us about more than 400 years back in time when kings of yester years, Chempakasseri (Ambalappuzha), Kayamkulam, Thekkumkoor (Changanassery), and Vadakkumkoor (Kottayam) fought battles on these boats in the backwaters of Kuttanad.
The snake boats are originally known as the “chundans” in the native tongue has its rear portion towering to a height of about 20 ft., and a long tapering front portion; it resembles a snake with its hood raised. Its hull is built of planks precisely 83 feet in length and six inches wide. It embodies the prowess of the ancient Indians in Naval Architecture.
In can accommodate about 100 oarsmen who produce 90 to 120 strokes per minute of which, the 100 foot ‘chundan’ is adept at covering a distance of 1.4 kilo meters in 5 minutes.
Nehru Trophy Tradition- The beginning
The roots of the passionate tradition was laid down in the year 1952 when the then prime minister of India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru underwent the magical allure, the fiery gusto and sheer passion and excitement of the majestic boats, when he bore witness to the race orchestrated in his honor. This was followed by his enthralling journey in the regal “Nadubhagom Chundan” (the victor of the race that day) towards the Alappuzha jetty .The experience inspired him to donate a rolling trophy to be awarded to the winner of the race each year.
The Silver Trophy is a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus and bears the following inscription above his signature:
“To the winner of the boat-race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore-Cochin.”
Since then, the race that breaks across all communal barriers, came to be christened the Nehru Trophy and holds a significant position in the world tourism map. The majestic beauty of the backwaters swarming with spectators coupled with the surging energy of the race heightened by the rhythmic chorus of the “vanchipattu” or the boatsmens’ song is truly an ambience worth experiencing.
A communal water sport that is marked as one of the most colorful one in Kerala; the Nehru Trophy, attracts a huge number of spectators from all over the world to witness the high adrenalin pumping event which is more of a tradition and heritage of the people in the region than just a race.
The arrangements and the prep ups for the race begin well in advance over several weeks; the boats have to be brought to top performance and smeared with sardine oil for smooth passage; about 150 oarsmen selected to represent each village; then the commencement of the practices sessions.
The health and well being of the oarsmen turn into the chief priority of each of the villagers with the rich and the wealthy bearing the brunt of all the incurred expenses irrespective of religion or castes. During this regatta, the Hindus, Christians and Muslims all feast together setting an example of communal harmony and unity for the whole of India. For each of the villages in Kuttanad, a victory at this race is a symbol of prestige and celebration to be carried forward for many months to come.
Dignitaries and distinguished personalities from all over the country travel to Alleppey this time of the year to be a part of this prestigious water carnival. This would be the right time for those who crave to get a real whiff of the backwaters, to throw their bags over the shoulder and find their way into the mesmerizing greenery and traditions of Kerala, as the Nehru Trophy celebrates its 62nd year of its illustrious race on the 9th of August, 2014.
Alleppey is an easily accessible district lying at a distance of 80 km from the Cochin International airport which is a 70 minutes drive by the NH47.
It is also accessible by the railroad from Ernakulam wherein the railway station is at a distance of 8 km from the destination.
Witnessing the great event
It’s a commercial event and you’ll need to buy tickets from the tickets stands on the way to get an optimum unless you are ready to settle onto the banks amidst excited frenzy of the local viewers. The viewing angle gets better with the amount of money you are ready to shell out for the spectacular event. It would be a wise decision to carry an umbrella along if you do not want to get caught under the sudden monsoon drizzles.