Young IAS Officer Turns Kerala Backwaters Boat Race Into Most Sought After Event
- Muskan Khandelwal
- Published on 25 Aug 2023, 4:06 pm IST
- 4 minutes read
- The Nehru Trophy Boat Race, named after Jawaharlal Nehru, is conducted on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, on the second Saturday of August every year
- IAS officer Suraj Shaji has conducted the event consecutively for the second year of his posting as a sub-collector
- The social media advertising resulted in a record-breaking online ticketing revenue of Rs. 16 lakhs this year
The tranquil Punnamda Lake near Alappuzha in Kerala was once again a scene of vibrant energy and excitement as thousands of spectators, including tourists from various places of the country, gathered for the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NTBR) on the second Saturday of August. This fiercely contested event, named after India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, witnessed its fair share of thrills and a surprising turn of weather.
NEHRU TROPHY BOAT RACE
Speaking to Indian Masterminds, 2019 batch IAS officer Suraj Shaji, the Sub-Collector of Alappuzha and the driving force behind the event organising, shared his insights about this year’s race. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is a unique spectacle that transforms the serene lakefront into a bustling sea of humanity. The major attraction of the event is the intense competition of snake boats, locally known as chundanvallams, which stretch over 100 feet in length and sport a distinctive raised prow.
Preparations for the event start well in advance, with meticulous attention to detail. The snake boats are specially treated with sardine oil to ensure their smooth passage through the water. The finest oarsmen are selected, and rigorous practice sessions, supervised by the most experienced rowers, ensue. About 150 oarsmen, representing their respective villages, take a vow of abstinence and celibacy until the race. The entire community comes together, contributing to the athletes’ nutrition and well-being through mass feasts along the riverbanks.
SPONSORSHIP & TICKETING
The organising of the NTBR is a commendable feat. Managed by a society under the District Administration, the event’s honorary chairman is the District Collector (DC), while the Sub-Collector serves as the society’s secretary. From infrastructure setup to advertisement campaigns and ticket sales, the society orchestrates every aspect of the event.
This year marked the second time Mr. Shaji presided over the event as a Sub-Collector. The 2023 edition witnessed the triumph of the Pallathuruthy Boat Club from Alappuzha in a thrilling showdown. The NTBR is also a testament to community engagement and financial ingenuity. With a budget of approximately 3 crores, the government contributes around 1.2 crores, while the society garners the remaining funds through sponsorships and ticket sales.
Asian paints came on board as the title sponsor. Other sponsors were Bajaj Pulsar, Nestle, Araldite, etc.
It was under Mr. Shaji that the society started selling merchandise and publishing magazines and coffee table books to commemorate and popularize the event. “We also had a VR enabled bus which went around the town giving people an idea abt experience the race up close,” the officer added.
SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE
In an era of increasing digital influence, the NTBR made significant strides in its online presence. A dedicated social media team was brought onboard, elevating the event’s digital footprint and enabling pan-India outreach. The inclusion of private partnerships and an emphasis on social media advertising resulted in a record-breaking online ticketing revenue of Rs. 16 lakhs this year.
Despite the challenges posed by unexpected rain during the final race, the event was hailed as a grand success. The persistent enthusiasm of the spectators, coupled with meticulous planning and execution, showcased the NTBR’s status as one of the most attended events in recent memory.
The event’s uniqueness extended to its mascot as well, with an elephant gracing this year’s boat race. Community involvement was enhanced through public entries for the mascot, which were evaluated by a committee led by the district-level information officer, alongside the DC and Sub-Collector.
A group of college students in Alappuzha also prepared eco-friendly invitation letters and miniature snake boats for the NTBR race from water hyacinth which is an invasive aquatic weed. “This year we printed invite diaries and other gifts from society on paper made from this material,” Mr. Shaji added.
The Nehru Trophy Boat Race continues to be a captivating display of Kerala’s cultural heritage, sporting excellence, and community spirit. As each year brings new innovations and challenges, it stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of tradition and modernity.
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