Nehru Trophy Boat Race 2023: Pallathuruthy Boat Club powers Veeyapuram Chundan to 4th title in a row

With a legacy spanning over 60 years, the NTBR is an embodiment of Kerala's rich cultural heritage.

ByGeorge Michael

Published Aug 12, 2023 | 8:42 PM Updated Aug 12, 2023 | 8:42 PM

Representative image (Creative commons)

The cantor stood in the middle of the elongated vessel’s second half, singing the vanchipaattu — or the boatman’s song — as hundreds of oars splashed in perfect sync, harpooning the snake boats through an electrifying afternoon.

The whooping crowd danced in excitement, on land and in water, the coconut palms lining the banks of the Punnamada lake in Kerala’s Alappuzha swayed as if in approval. This was the moment Kerala has been waiting for since 4 September, 2022.

All roads in Alappuzha and other parts of the state led to Punnamada on Saturday, 12 August.

The 19 snake boats and their oarsmen had arrived early, and even mock-raced in between heats of other boats in a bid to clock better timings. The humidity did not deter the crowd, excited and feeling the rush of adrenaline engulfing them.

A helicopter bringing Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan whirred back without landing in inclement weather conditions, but it failed to dampen the spirit of the milling crowd.

In Vijayan’s absence, Minister for Culture Saji Cherian inaugurated the 69th edition of the famed Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NTBR), the “Backwater Grand Prix” as Wimbledon had put it, at 2 pm.

NTBR 2022: Snake boat race held with traditional fervour

Kings of the backwaters

The show was yet to begin, and people jostled for vantage positions. Some, not bothered about getting drenched, even decided to watch the grand finale from the water.

Meanwhile, the snake boats — the kings of the backwaters — oiled and decked up, majestic and with a stoic calmness, lined up beyond the starting line. The crowd erupted with joy at the sight, since they knew the calmness was just the harbinger of an exhibition of unbridled strength, speed, oarsmanship, and fine synchronisation — a feast for the eyes.

They knew that the storm was about to begin, and hundreds of pairs of eyes scanned the boats for the Pallathuruthy Boat Club, steering the Veeyapuram Chundan that would, in a few moments, dart away from the starting line for the team’s fourth consecutive NTBR trophy.

However, not all bets were put on Veeyapuram. Other boats, too, had a significant fan following.

Related: Vessel capsizes during Champakulam Moolam Boat race

Olympics on water

This annual spectacle, often referred to as Kerala’s “Olympics on Water”, is the celebration of prowess and camaraderie that transcends time. With a legacy spanning over 400 years, the racing boats are an embodiment of Kerala’s rich cultural heritage.

The stakes were high in the snake boat category and the competition, fierce. Naturally so since the kings were fighting it out. Five heats, each showcasing sheer determination, power, and teamwork, skim over the brackish, placid waters of Punnamada. The top four kings would earn their place in the grand finale.

A remarkable aspect of the snake boat category was that 95 oarsmen steer it, highlighting the immense teamwork required to navigate the graceful giants.

The sun moved west, playing high-and-seek as if to get a better view, and occasionally painting the coconut fronds with a golden hue as the finals of all boat categories began at 4 pm.

The excitement and anticipation reached their crescendo as 72 boats, including the 19 chundans, prepared for the prolific culmination of their efforts that spanned over almost one year. The occasional rain had little effect on the teams or spectators.

Also read: Wimbledon is raving about Kerala’s ‘Backwater Grand Prix’

Photo finish

With a length of approximately 1,400 metres and four 10-meter-wide tracks from the east, the race was nothing short of a mesmerising spectacle. The heart-pounding rhythm of oars hitting the water and the synchronised rowing — with the oarsmen leaning forward and then swaying back — created a visual and auditory masterpiece that captured the event’s essence

Raw power, determination and coordination were on display as the finalists in the snake boat category, Nadubhagam Chundan of UBC Kainakary, Chambakkulam Chundan of Kumarakom Boat Club, Mahadevikkadu Kattil Thekkethil Chundan of the Police Boat Club, and Veeyapuram cut through the waters, neck-and-neck, bringing the spectators to the edge of the seats and on their feet.

Veeyapuram darted across the finishing line, clocking 4.12.22, presenting the Pallathuruthy Boat Club its fourth consecutive trophy. Champakkulam lost by six milliseconds, and Nadubhagom came third (4.22.22). Kattil Thekkethil came last taking 4.22.63.

Also read: Houseboats, great views hide impending death of Vembanad lake

Display of unity

“The display of unity of the people of Kuttanad always comes to the fore during this event, Let this year’s edition be another example of the camaraderie of the people of Alappuzha,” Minister Cheriyan earlier said while inaugurating the function.

Speaker MB Rajesh, ministers P Prasad, K Rajan, V Abdurahiman, District Collector Haritha B Kumar, and other dignitaries witnessed the grand event that also marked the beginning of Onam festivities.

The race was a “green fest” this year, with around 135 personnel of the Haritha Karma Sena deployed at various points preventing plastics and other non-biodegradable materials from polluting the venue.

This year, the event used modern starting and photo-finish systems to determine the winners.