The very mention of Vanchipattu, the energetic songs egging on oarsmen to floor the pedal in boat races, brings to mind images from the backwaters of Kuttanad. But in a surprising twist, when Vanchipattu became a competition item for the first time at this edition of the State School Art festival, the winners all came from regions outside that geographical area.

The first three places in the high-school-level competition were won by teams from Kozhikode, Kottayam, Malappuram and Thiruvananthapuram. Though some of the teams sought help from the Kuttanad region to practise, many others perfected the art using in-house talent.

The competing teams performed a mix of the two dominant styles of Vanchipattu — Kuttanadan and Aranmula. Most of them opted for performances with few props on stage, whereas a few brought in models of boats and oars to deck up the stage.

Way of life

For the team from the SNDP Higher Secondary School at Kuttamangalam, Vanchipattu has been a way of life for the past nine years.

“We have been training our students in rowing and Vanchipattu on the backwaters near our school. Teams from our school have won the Vanchipattu competitions organised as part of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race annually,” says the team’s guru, Sisupalan, who used to sing for the Kaineri team at the race in the 1980s.

Team composition

Each Vanchipattu team consists of a main singer (Nilakaaran), the rowers who sing the chorus (Thozhakaar) and Idiyan, who beats time by pounding an “Olakka” (wooden pestle) on the ground. The coordination in the movements, faithfulness to the chosen style and sharpness in maintaining the tempo throughout the performance were the decisive factors in deciding the winners.

If the crowd response when the songs reached a crescendo was anything to go by, Vanchipattu has surely made a mark on its arrival.

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