Vembanad comes alive with Vanchipattu

Practice session for the boat race season in full swing at Kumarakom
The people of Kumarakom these days are waking up to the pulsating shouts of mighty oarsmen propelling in unison and blazing past the canals here.
The village has turned into the practice venue for the snakeboats from Kottayam that are preparing for the upcoming season, which begins with the Nehru trophy on August 10. The scenes of their oars splashing the water to the rhythm set by Vanchipattu have ushered in so much enthusiasm that people, including foreigners, are thronging the canal banks here . The teams from Kottayam that are in the fray this time are Payippad Chundan by the Kumarakom Town Boat Club, Viyapuram Chundan by the Vembanad Boat Club, Devas by NCDC Kaippuzhamuttu, Jawahar Thayankari by Navajeevan Arppokkara and Kattil Thekkethu by the the Kumarakom Boat Club. Of these, all but one have opened their training camps in the village here. The Kumarakom Boat Club, which appears for the Kattil Thekkethu this season, is camping at Kollam.
Besides Vembanad Lake, the Pennar Thodu, Kotta Thodu, and Mutherimada form the major training venues in the village. While the practice race sessions, which simulate actual race conditions, are held only in the mornings and evenings, the camps comprise orientation classes for oarsmen and physical training sessions. “A lot of people are dropping by to see the practice sessions, especially in the evenings. Our training on the ‘chundan’ will continue till Thursday, following which it will undergo some conditioning and decoration ahead of its first race on Saturday,” said Jameskutty Jacob, captain of the Jawahar Thayankari team.
The cost factor
It costs around Rs. 30 to Rs. 35 lakh for each team to train ahead of a major tournament. During the season, the oarsmen are paid around Rs. 1,000 a day, along with food. “It is prohibitively expensive, but then, you cannot approach a race without professional oarsmen and conditioning camps. Sponsorship is the only way for teams like us to survive,” said Ajaya Ghosh, secretary of the Vembanad Boat Club. About a quarter of all teams comprise professional oarsmen from other States, who are hired on a seasonal basis.

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