Boat Race History
Kuttanadu is another place like Venice in Holland, where cultivation is done below the sea level (2' to 6' lower) by constructing dykes (‘azhi' and ‘pozhi'). According to the great epic of Mahabharatha, this place had been a dense forest named “Khandava Vana” which was very rich with medicinal herbs. The epic says that ‘Agni', the lord of fire, consumed it for remedying the indigestion caused by the continuous consumption of “Ghee” (Melted Butter) offered by the ‘rishis' (saints) for a prolonged period of time. This dense forest was immensely rich with plants of medicinal value that helped to cure Agni's indigestion.
The inhabitants here say that the name Kuttanadu came from the Malayalam word “Chuttanadu” meaning ‘the burnt land'. Excavators still come across charcoal in abundance in the Purakkadu, Karumady and Thottappally regions of Kuttanadu. In fact, some of the places in Kuttanadu like ‘Kainakari', ‘Ramankari', ‘Mithrakari' etc. are named after charcoal; ‘kari' meaning charcoal.
Some people say that this region was named ‘Kuttanadu' after “Chenkuttavan” who ruled this place long time back.
Kayamkullam, Purakkadu, Chembakasserri (Ambalappuzha), Thekkancore, Vadakkancore were the prominent dynasties in Kuttanadu during the 1400-1500 period. There main force of Militia was the naval force as all these terrains were surrounded by water bodies.
The rulers of Chembakasserri dynasty and Kayamkulam dynasty were fanatical enemies. So in 1614 Chembakasserri Thampuran, the ruler of Chembakasserri dynasty and the only Brahmin king (all the other rulers were warrior caste) had declared a reward for those who could come up with the fastest boat with maximum weapons and soldier capacity. Thus Venkida Narayanan Achari of the Oorukkari region presented before the king, a miniature model of boat made of coconut husk and coir ropes and explained him about its advantages as follows.
I should be incapable of drawing a single stroke at the present moment; and yet I feel that I never was a greater artist than now. When, while the lovely valley teems with vapour around me, and the meridian.
- Both the Stern and the Nose were proportionally higher than the middle part of the boat. So those who stand at the stern could see long distances from its elevated position, which helps them to change the course of the boat or boost extra leverage with a few strokes of the sculls, which is equivalent to ten oars.
- Four people could be placed in the stern position for inflicting massive power surge of 40 oars at a time. There was a provision to seat 8 scullers at nose to maneuver the boat easily as this part is above the water.
- 64 oarsmen could be seated in the middle of the boat as they were capable of delivering a massive power surge for this lean boat which is 26.25 meters long and 80 cm wide at the center part. Arms could be stored underneath the ‘ Vedippadi' were the elite warriors used to stand waiting for their ambush. Should there arise a need for an extra boost for the oarsmen, or a sudden change in the course of the boat, the scullers at the stern strike a few massive strokes with their mighty sculls and the boat dashes like a bolt of lightning through the water with immaculate speed.
The king was flabbergasted with this design and ordered to make it immediately- which eventually led to his victory over the ruler of Kayamkulam. This was the first ‘Chundan' boat build and over the years there have been modifications to improvise the exclusivity. As the rule of the monarchy ended, the elite war ships become recreational objects.
Changes in the design and functionality became inevitable as the use and utility went different. For e.g. These Chundan boats from Aranmula and surroundings still have a high nose and a very high stern as they were not racing boats but just show boats.
The Alleppey Chundans are having smaller stern and a nose almost parallel to the water in order to attain maximum speed by increasing the strength of oarsmen.
The latest Chundan from Alleppey region named Paippadan Chundan is 39.39 meters long and with a maximum Vedippadi width of 62.5 cm is sufficient to accommodate 100 oarsmen. This boat covered 1350 meters to finish first at the 53 rd Nehru Trophy Boat Race in 4 minutes and 57 seconds!!!
The land Kuttanadu comprises of lagoons and canals cris – crossing the main land, edged by silver sands of Arabian Coast. Being situated below the sea level, the entry of sea water has to be checked by constant pumping or constructing dykes called ‘azhi' or ‘pozhi'. Coconut plantations are maintained over elevated land where as paddy is cultivated in damp land. Earlier there had been only one yield of paddy in a year which in local dialect was known as ‘Oru pooppu'. After the construction of the two check dams - one in Thottappally and the other in Thannirmukkom, it is made possible to have two yeilds called ‘Eru pooppu'.
Has the basic characteristic of this region being agriculture and the main mode of transportation being water bound, the life of the people around here become so inter-related with boats and canals. With the passage of time, they gradually developed a culture based on agriculture, observance and established custom. The social strata based on profession, culture and beliefs made them look for avenues of enjoyment while on work. For .e.g. a solitary person spinning the ‘Ela Chakkra' to expel the water out of fields , in order to amuse himself and ease his solitude ,has songs for this occasion which is known as ‘Chakkrapattu'. The women, while planting the ‘Njaru' (sapling of paddy) has songs called ‘Njattu pattu'; ‘Thekku pattu', to flush the water off the fields; ‘Koithu pattu' for harvesting the fields and ‘Poli pattu' for cleansing the grains. The festivities, the trade, commerce and their believes were so influence by this cultural strata.
The ‘Vanchippattu' or boat song often sung by the boat rowers in order to overcome the boredom and refresh themselves during the whole day long travel uniquely maintains a pleasant tune and vary the pitch according to the speed and acceleration of boat. The rowers have a wide verity of songs- basically related to the heroes or myths of the time. There are different versions to these songs such as Southern songs, Northern songs, Panar songs (songs sung by a nomadic community called ‘Panar') and Kuthiyotta songs which are for the contest and festivals.
Types of Boats
- 1. Chundans were the war ship during 1600-1700 which ensured the victory of Chempakasserri over the ruler of Kayamkulam.
- 2, Iruttukutty also known as Vadakkan Oddy were used by the pirates in the lake because they were faster and they do not make much noice in the water.
- 3, Churulans were pushed through the water with the help of poles, instead of oars. these were used by rich aristocrates for travel. Now this catagory race is restricted for women.
- 4, Veppu also known as Parunth Vallan (Kite-tail). Their purpose was to accompany the Chundans while they venture for a battle with provisions for the soldiers.
- 5, Company boats have it's nose like that of Churulan and it's stern like Chundan, they are also called Thekkan Oddy. Now this catagory race is also restricted for women.
- 6, Palliyodams have huge sterns than Chundan. Unlike the Chundan, the nose of the Palliyodams are higher which helps the manoverablity much faster.