Kerala snake boat races back after Covid | India News

It’s like a march-past on water, over 100 oarsmen paddling in perfect unison, their sleek wooden craft speeding like an arrow to its target. In the run-up to Onam, Kerala’s snake boat race season – arguably the world’s biggest team event – ​​has returned to God’s Own Country after a hiatus of two years. This Sunday will see the biggest race of the season, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NTBR), at Punnamada lake in Alappuzha district where 20 of Kerala’s 29 snake boats will be in action.
There are four snake boats (so named because of their sinuous shape) in each race, and each heat is a humdinger. The boats race stern to stern, seemingly skimming the surface amid the deafening roar of spectators on the shore, and make the 1,150-metre finish line in around four minutes. It’s a spectacle of not only strength and stamina but also synchronization.
Lake Oar-chestra
The oarsmen row to a rhythm to avoid crashing their oars, says CK Sadasivan, a former CPM MLA who captained a snake boat team for 12 years. “In the boat, at a specially designed part, a large wooden pole is used to create the rhythm,” explains Sadasivan. Traditionally, the oarsmen sang Vanchipppattu (boat songs) but as the competition became intense, pole beating replaced the singing.
Kainakary Surendran, who has researched the Vanchippattu tradition, says a couple of planks in the middle of the boat floor are loosened and one non-rower pounds this part with a heavy wooden pole to create the required rhythm. “A Kuttanad (region covering Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts) native’s heart starts beating faster on hearing this sound. During my childhood, we could make out a snake boat passing through our locality by just hearing this sound,” says Surendran.
Muscle And Money
Boat dimensions and crew vary, but they are typically about 40 meters long, 1.5 meters wide, with 130 oarsmen. The snake boats are mostly named after the locality they represent or the family which owns them, and boat clubs usually row a different boat each season. With 12 NTBR wins, the Kainakary-based United Boat Club (UBC) has one of the most successful snake boat teams, and its boat this season – Karichal – has won the trophy a record 15 times.
UBC patron KA Pramod says winning takes much hard work and money. Selected oarsmen get special training for a month and are paid Rs 1,000 to 1,500 daily till the end of the season. The UBC team is actually trained by Captain (retired) RK Pillai of Madras Engineer Group (MEG). “Good oarsmen will naturally go to clubs that offer good money and training facilities,” says Pramod. Many clubs now recruit oarsmen from the police, Army, Navy, Sports Authority of India, Sports Council and from the Northeast. “We take extreme care of their diet. Local sailors reside in their houses while we arrange homestays for outstation oarsmen,” says Pramod.
IPL Of Boat Races
Sadasivan, the former MLA, was instrumental in reviving the snake boat races through the Champions Boat League (CBL), modeled on the IPL. “The new system is of great help to the clubs who were already drowning in debt. In the League, they are getting good prize money and bonus as well,” Sadasivan says. The top nine teams in Sunday’s race will qualify for the CBL. “CBL has given an international flavor to the snake boat races. Hope the change will address the financial issues being faced by the clubs also,” says Pramod

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