The Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, held on the second Saturday of August every year, is the most competitive and popular of the boat races. 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, coming to watch the event. 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.
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.
"To the winners of the boat race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore Cochin. "
This trophy later came to be known as Nehru Trophy, and in fond memory of great Panditiji, the people of Alappuzha celebrate the Nehru Trophy Boat Race every year.
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