The Champions Boat League (CBL), a brainchild of Kerala’s tourism department designed on the model of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to provide fresh impetus to the state’s cultural flagship of snake boat races, made an emphatic beginning in the waters of the Punnamada Lake on Saturday.
The event, in its inaugural edition this year, was attended by former Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran and finance minister TM Thomas Isaac.
In his address, Tendulkar said Kerala and it’s people showed rare resilience especially after back to back disasters in the form of floods and landslides. In fact, the CBL event, initially set for August 10, was pushed back in the backdrop of the floods this year.
“To overcome the past challenges would not have been possible without the spirit and resilience of Keralites. My prayers and thoughts go out to all the families who lost their near and dear ones. I would also like to applaud the organisers for putting up such an event in a span of just 20 days,” the master blaster said.
Tendulkar also stressed that while Cricket involved up to 16 people in a team, a snake boat race involves over 100 people. “That requires tremendous understanding between the members and the skills of coordination from the captain,” he added.
CM Vijayan remarked that the boat league reinforces the spirit of unity among the people. “True, you compete with each other with your boats. But at the end of the day, it is all about he harmonious relationship between us human beings,” he said.
The CBL, which is set to witness 12 races at different locations across Kerala up to November 1, got off to a start with the prestigious Nehru Trophy boat race. The race, that formally began in the early 50s, was named after India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru after he witnessed the race once during his visit to Alappuzha. The rolling trophy given to the winners of the race each year was donated by Nehru himself.
On Saturday, the Pallathuruth boat club, better known by its boat name of “Nadubhagam” emerged the winners in the race, fending off a stiff challenge from the legendary Chambakulam team which came second and the Karichal team that came third in the race.
Thousands of raucous race fans, assembled on both sides of the verdant backwaters, cheered and hooted as the Nadubhagam team inched ahead of its rivals by less than three seconds. The Nadubhagam, Chambakulam and Karichal teams finished off with record race durations of 4.24 minutes, 4.27 minutes and 4.37 minutes respectively. In the heat races, boat clubs comprising entirely of women also participated. There were teams of the Kerala Police as well as the popular self-help group Kudumbashree.
Teams of the state police, Coast Guard and other rescue agencies were on standby as the boats raced to the finishing line.
Snake boats or “chundam vallam” are essentially long canoes that can seat 100-160 rowers and can have a length between 100 and 138 feet. 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, giving its its famous name. The rhythmic swaying of the male rowers as they paddle in impeccable unison, the thrusting of the oars hard into the water accompanied by traditional ‘vanchipattu’ or boat songs – all of which collectively define snake boat races in Kerala are a delight to watch. The races, that traditionally take place close to the harvest festival of Onam, attract a lot of tourists who make their way to the state.
The CBL is expected to help Kerala not only revive it’s snake boat clubs that face acute financial crunch but also attract more tourists during the four month offseason beginning with the monsoon in June.
The CBL race winner in each leg will get a cash prize of Rs 5 lakhs followed by Rs 3 lakh for the runners up and Rs 1 lakh for the team coming in the third spot. Additionally, all participating clubs will get a bonus of Rs 4 lakh. The races are ticketed and broadcast on premier sports channels including Doordarshan.