Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bazaar on a Temple street

At the street junction, a signboard that says ‘Thiru Annamalaiyar Thirukkoyil – Thiru Manjana Gopuram (South)’. The street to the right where the board points leads to the South Gopuram of the Arunachaleswarar Temple. This is what one may call the Temple Street. It has its own bazaar. There are push carts that sell plastic toys for children, for families who visit Tiruvannamalai to worship the Lord but also to rest and to enjoy a vacation. There are pushcarts with dates and halwa. There is the three feet diameter shallow bamboo basket that is balanced on the backseat of a stationery bicycle – the Indian shop that is customary of many small towns in India. It has on sale garlands of jasmine and garlands of rosepetals. There is the idli stall by the side of the plaintain bhajji stall and lungis on sale balanced on the more sturdy TVS motorcycle.

The morning conversations between the old-time traders and the old-time residents on a street in Madurai in the Meenakshi Temple zone. Conversations of this kind may have been more frequent and at the heart of bazaar culture when a bazaar was a place co-developed by the users. Today, the social distance has increased between the buyer and the seller and the bazaar is seen as a noisy, chaotic place to which the user has no sense of belonging.

I have walked the entire length of the temple walls at Tiruvannamalai. As I go past the south gopuram and towards the East-facing Rajagopuram, there are more permanent shops with corrugated asbestos roofs. Some of these sell framed pictures of deities and stone statues of nandi and ganesha. Other shops that you come across are the ones that sell brass puja items and steel utensils and shops with glass bangles. There are wholesale banana dealers in shelters with bamboo and banana leaf roof. Some shops are smaller and have on sale kumkum, turmeric powder and sandalwood. There are agarbathi or incense stick vendors and shops with aluminium pots and pans.

A Rajasthani Bhojanalaya or Eating place in the vicinity of Meenakshi Temple which is visited by both domestic tourists from all over India as well as by large numbers of international tourists. Here is a restaurant that serves north indian food in a predominantly south indian locality catering to the local people, the traders or shop owners, many of who are from gujarat and rajasthan and also to those who visit the temple as pilgrims from north india. Bazaars in temple streets in contemporary India have eating places that include the Indian chinese and the Italian Pizzeria.

I am curious to see what sells just outside the main gopuram. The most important place is the shop where you keep your footwear for a token amount while you go inside the temple barefeet. This is a shop you see in every temple street. In Tiruvannamalai, just outside the main entrance to the Arunachaleswara temple, there are two main shopping lanes – one that sells copper and brass and another that sells coconuts and flowers. I look up to read the name of a shop : ‘Gandhimati Metal Store P.V.R.S.Velliyan Chettiar & Brother – Copper, Brass vessels manufacturers & merchants and Stainless steel merchants, Sannathi St., Tiruvannamalai’. This is the main bazaar which is always full of people who come to the temple. The shop itself is constructed with metal I-sections for columns and rafters with wooden fascia board in a simple but slightly ornamental motif.

This is a bazaar on a temple street just like any other bazaar on a temple street, like the one in Mylapore in Chennai or the one adjoining the walls of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, because it is also dotted by the Guest houses and the Lodges. Here, in Tiruvannamalai, there is the Hotel Arunachala, the Annamalai Guest house Lodge and the Abbirami hotel offering a place to rest for all those pilgrims and shoppers who are part of the temple and bazaar environment for those few days of the year.

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