First boat race of the season: Champakkulam Moolam vallamkali's 100th edition on June 22

Champakkulam Moolam vallamkali is the oldest snake boat race of Kerala. Photo: Manorama

The season of Kerala's boat races will officially begin on June 22, Saturday, with the Champakkulam Moolam vallamkali, Kerala's oldest snake boat race, on River Pampa. The event celebrates its 100th edition this year and six snake boats will take part in the competition, which begins at 2 pm. Unlike last year, the race will not have a competition for women, this time. Moreover, the organisers are keeping the milestone a low-key affair. Ajith Pisharath, a member of the Champakulam Boat Race committee, said, “We couldn't organise the event as well as we would have liked to due to the Lok Sabha elections and its code of conduct. So, we have decided to keep it a low-key affair this year and organise a grand celebration marking the centenary of the boat race next year.”

The snake boats compete for the prestigious Rajapramukhan Trophy, which is a silver cup that was instituted by Travancore king Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma as the prize for the winners of the event in 1952. Last year, the trophy was lifted by Nadubhagam Chundan rowed by members of the UVC Kainagiri Boat Club, with Cheruthana Chundan rowed by Thalavady Boat Club emerging as runners-up.

Why no women's event this year?
While there used to be a women's boat race till the previous year, this year it has been nixed from the event. “Last year, two of the boats rowed by the women capsized in the ripples caused by a speed boat. Due to timely intervention, we could ensure the participants were rescued. However, the incident has prompted us to put a temporary pause on the women's event,” says Ajith. Rowing the 138-ft long Chundan Vallam in the 1240-m long boat race is no mean task and calls for rigorous training.

The Champakkulam boat race begins at 2 pm on June 22. Photo: Manorama

The 'imported' participants
Each snake boat participates with 100 oarsmen, of which 25 are apparently ‘imported’ from outside. “Each team is allowed to have 25 members of their oarsmen to be selected from outside. Men who are trained for these types of events are brought in from the north Indian states and even Nepal. At times, these men are stronger and have more stamina than our native oarsmen here due to the tough training they receive. Their participation brings an extra edge to the competitive spirit of the event,” says Ajith.
While an intensely competitive event, the Champakulam boat race takes place on the Moolam day of Gemini month, which symbolises tolerance and unity with the participation of people from all castes and religions. It is also the only boat race that is funded directly by the state government.

Tickets, venue location and more
There is no ticket entry to the Champakulam boat race and those interested can just reach the location to enjoy it. The region where the race is held is located 20 kilometres away from Alappuzha town centre. From the point called 'Changanassery Mukku' in Alappuzha town, take the Alappuzha - Changanassery Road. Once you reach Mankombu, take a right to enter the road towards Edathua. In about half an hour, you will reach St Mary's Basilica aka Champakkulam Valiya Palli. The boat race is held in front of the church. The nearest railway station is Alappuzha, situated 26 kilometres away from the boat race venue. 
Other places of interest
The renowned St Mary's Basilica, also known as the 'Champakkulam Valiya Palli,' is situated here. Considered one of the oldest churches in India, it is said to be one of the 7 churches established by St Thomas in 427 AD.

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