Kerala’s famed snake boat race attracts thousands

August 9th, 2008 - 5:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Alappuzha (Kerala), Aug 9 (IANS) Every inch of space along the banks of Kerala’s Punnamada lake was swarming with people, including tourists, as the state’s famed annual boat festival kicked off Saturday with an array of the over 100-foot-long snake boats and smaller boats taking part in racing events. The 56th edition of the boat festival - Nehru Boat Race - began with a colourful mass drill on the lake by the participating teams. Central government’s Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde lit the traditional lamp and inaugurated the event.

Every bit of space in the lake water was occupied as a large number of small boats arrived from the nearby area of Alappuzha.

Manoj Mathew, who is settled in the US, said this was one event he had always wanted to see, “and finally I am here”.

“This time I had planned my visit in such a way that I would not miss the event. We hired a boat from Kottayam and have berthed it in the lake. Believe me, I have been to several places around the world, but this is just incredible,” Manoj told IANS, sipping a drink of fresh toddy.

The 1,360-metre race will have 16 snake boats and around 45 smaller boats taking part in various events.

The snake boat race is the most prestigious race and the winner gets the Nehru Trophy.

Four tracks have been marked in the lake water. The length of a snake boat varies from 120 to 140 feet. There are about 120 oarsmen in each boat.

An added attraction this time is the presence of an all-women team representing the Kumarakom Vanitha Boat Club that is taking part in an exhibition race in a snake boat made of metal and not of the conventional wood.

A seven-member women’s team led by Britain’s Julie Amor is here this year too from Dubai - participating for the third successive year. They will row alongside around 25 women from here in a competition event in the small boat category.

Tomy Pulikattil, executive committee member of the race, told IANS that the response to the event had been fantastic.

“The highlight this year has been the presence of a big contingent of tourists from Britain. This time, the weather gods have been more than kind and the atmosphere is electric,” said Pulikattil.

The race is associated with former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to the state in 1952 when a pageantry of boats accompanied him on his trip from Kottayam to Alappuzha.

An impromptu race was conducted in Nehru’s honour. Nehru, who was thrilled by the performance of the oarsmen, jumped into a ‘Nadubhagam Chundan’ (snake boat) forgetting all security arrangements. The boat proceeded to the jetty with the then prime minister on board.

On his return to Delhi, Nehru donated a silver trophy, a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature. This is the trophy that the winner in the snake boat category gets.

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