Thursday, November 11, 2010

Festival of Lights

It was Diwali last week and bazaars all over the city of Bangalore and everywhere in the country were “places” to experience the sanctity and joy that comes with this festival of lights. In a simple way, place means ‘character’ of a space. This is a term that needs to be understood since the design of architecture and city planning are based on experiential learning. As I now write this blogpost about a walk in the bazaar during the Festival of Lights, I think about the meaning of place and its relevance to an understanding of the Indian bazaar.

There are shrines and temples on the way to Gandhi Bazaar that are beautifully decorated with lights of different colour. The pushcart vendor and his business thrive in the shared light and shared festivity. 

Christian Norberg-Schulz mentions George Trakl’s poem Winter evening in his writings on the phenomenology of place. He says it is more than a point in the calendar. In our own context, we try to analyse this. Winter evening – it tells you that it is winter, it tells you that it is evening. Winter evening has two attributes – winter and evening. It conjures images of cold weather, dull and husky air, a sky that has less light than otherwise. Whereas winter is related to time of the year, evening is related to time of day. There is a small phenomenon embedded within a larger phenomenon. Within a city, different places have different numbers of attributes that define its character. Here again, some perceive all the attributes and create their definition of the character of the space. Others perceive a few of the attributes which make up for them another character of the space or the sense of place.

The Plaintain leaves that are being offered for sale on D.V.G. Road at Gandhi Bazaar become the decoration for the footpath as shoppers turn the corner, some to stop and buy the leaves for this auspicious time of the year, others to move onto the street beyond. 

Place is always more than the spaces we design. A place may have collective memory. Its character may be defined from what people remember about their experiences of or within that space. Each person in a city has a set of memories. These add up to make a place what it is. What Gandhi Bazaar is as a place could be defined by the collective memory of the many generations who have lived in Bangalore. 

The streets are made more beautiful by the lights that are up for sale and also the lights that the shopowners have jointly organised making the entry to the shopping experience more special.

Sometimes, an event also has a collective memory. For example, the collective memory of the Commonwealth Games 2010 would comprise of what took place before the start of the games and towards the preparation of it. It could also be the winning of medals from the Indian players. For an event of this nature, the collective memory of the place would necessarily need to be built up from people who are not only living near the stadium, or living in Delhi but people from all over the country. Similarly, the festival of lights builds up memories of the Gandhi Bazaar in our minds in many different ways. 

As years pass by, the Diwali festival is celebrated with new kinds of paper lantern designs coming out each year. The clay diyas or lamps continue to be sold year after year.

If one were to explore the idea of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ - what are the inside and outside spaces in the context of a city? I may enter Bangalore from its outside, from another town, from a highway. I am now inside Bangalore city. In the past, a settlement had sometimes a fort and the walls of the fort determined the inside and the outside. A wall is the element that creates often the inside and the outside, also in a house. It creates an enclosure. What kind of enclosures do we have within our cities? The wall or the boundary. In a house, the wall is the boundary. In a city, the boundary may not be a visual barrier. The boundary may be a river, for example. In Benares, there is river, there are the ghats and there is the town. The ghats are not just a “series of steps’. There is a character, a sense of place. It has also collective memory.

There is a gentle rain and shoppers take shelter for a while. Soon the bazaar is alive again with some choosing paper lanterns and others gathering at the Granthige stores to choose what they need for the puja at home.

If you visit D.V.G.Road in the Gandhi Bazaar area during Diwali time, there is also an inside and an outside. One of the streets is covered with arches of lights, there are festoons and lanterns for sale, there are kiosks of popcorn, there is the loudspeaker announcing offers for discount sales. There is a note of welcome in the air as you step into the “inside” of the festive bazaar street with its arched lights. In India, with each festival season, urban spaces take on a different character. In the Bazaar, a sense of place is created with its own meaning for each of us. 

Read about :
Mylapore Temple Bazaar, Chennai
Fish market, Mumbai
Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore
An afternoon in Festive Dussehra


LeX said...

Festival of light! I like this festival! In Malaysia we call it Deepavali!


Indian Bazaars said...

LeX: Thanks for dropping by. Its the same in India too.

Since I didn't mention the significance of the 5-day festival earlier, I include it now:

The first day is called Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi. The word Dhan means wealth. On this day Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening when tiny diyas are lit, to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. The second day known as Narakachaturdashi, marks the defeat of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. The third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi-Puja. This day is also celebrated as the return of Lord Ram along with Sita & Lakshman, after 14 years of exile and his victory over Ravana. To celebrate his return to ayodhya, his subjects illuminated the kingdom with innumerable diyas or oil lamps. The fourth day is Padwa which marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya. It is also marked as the beginning of the Hindu New Year. The fifth and final day of Diwali is known as Bhai-Dhuj.

Gjertrud Hals said...

I have been reading your blog since I returned home, and find great pleasure in it!
I am also trying to start blogging, I never did it before, and so far I am just testing it out.
Nice to meet you at Wwca in Mubai!
Best from
Gjertrud Hals

joshi daniel said...

nicely documented!

Indian Bazaars said...

Gjertrud Hals: Thanks for remembering me. Its been nice to see your work at your website.

Joshi Daniel: Thankyou.

Meena Venkataraman said...

Lovely!..Made me miss home :(