Updated: September 3, 2019 7:17:07 am
The Champions Boat League (CBL) has been conceived by tourism officials in Kerala on the model of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to transform the state’s legendary and historically-significant ‘vallamkali’ (snake boat races) into a world-class sporting event.
The initiative has been planned keeping in mind the increasing flow of domestic and foreign tourists towards the state’s verdant backwaters to witness the spectacle. This year, the CBL will make its debut with top participating clubs taking part in 12 races across six districts in three months starting in August. A special purpose vehicle (SPV) will be set up to conduct the league.
What’s the history of snake boat races in Kerala?
The snake boat, or ‘chundam vallam’ is essentially a long canoe that can seat up to 100 rowers and can have a length between 100 and 138 feet in length. While the front portion of the boat tapers with a pointy end, the rear end can rise up to a height of 20 feet — the entire wooden structure resembling a snake with its raised hood, hence the name.
Snake boat races owe their origins as far back as the 13th century when princely kingdoms, located in present-day Alappuzha along the backwaters, would have raging battles in the water. These battles used to be fought on the snake boats especially constructed for the purpose. In fact, the construction mechanisms of such boats are even said to be recorded in the Vedas.
The races involve 100-125 rowers paddling in impeccable unison accompanied by rhythmic beats of drums and high levels of energy. Lakhs of people crowd along the banks of the backwaters watching the snake boats race by. To charge up the oarsmen, the boat races also involve the ‘vanchipattu’, a kind of poetry in Malayalam sung in perfect rhythm.
Is the state government investing in the CBL? Are there cash prizes for the winners?
Yes, the Kerala government plans to spend Rs 40 crores on the event which will help fetch a revenue of Rs 20 crores through ticket sales and sponsorships. The team to win the first prize will win a cash award of Rs 25 lakhs, followed by Rs 15 lakh for the runners-up and Rs 10 lakh for the third-placed team. The state’s finance minister, TM Thomas Isaac, has said the event has the potential to become a Rs 150-crore event in five years, growing bigger in scale with live telecast and sponsorship rights.
How many races are there?
Nine participating teams will participate in the league, with its starting race being the Nehru Trophy on August 10. Based on the teams’ performance and finishing time in the Nehru Trophy, nine of them would proceed further in the League. The other races are Pulinkunnu (Aug 17), Thazhathangadi (Aug 24), Piravam (Aug 31), Marine Drive (September 7), Kottappuram (September 14), Ponnani (September 21), Kainakari (September 28), Kayamkulam (October 12), Kallada (October 19), Karuvatta (October 25) and the Presidents Trophy (November 1). November 1 also happens to be Kerala formation day.
Will people have to pay to watch the races?
Yes and no. According to the finance minister, special galleries will be set up for people paying to watch the races. There will be eight categories of tickets priced from Rs 100 to Rs 3000. There are also consultations on premium tickets. At the same time, there will also be facilities for people who want to watch the races without paying.
What does the state hope to achieve through the CBL?
One, the state looks at boosting its tourism potential by flagging the CBL as a premier sporting event in the state that holds aloft it’s oldest traditions. The August-November period, a lean season in the state’s tourism calendar, can draw tourists, both foreign and domestic, to witness the event along with enjoying the monsoon. Two, just like the IPL did for domestic cricketers who wait in line to get selection into the national team, the League will financially help the participating clubs who comprise of young men from disadvantaged families. Third, it will keep alive regional boat races which struggle for financial aid.
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