Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Marketplace as Urban Heritage – the Devaraja market in Mysore

The Devaraja market in Mysore was built during the reign of Chamaraja Wodeyar IX (1868 – 1894). It is said that there was at this place a small weekly market which may have been as old as the origin of the city itself. A few months ago the Mysore City Corporation invited a team from UNESCO to study the heritage structure and to help restore it. As I recollect the experience of the Devaraja market from my recent visit, I think about the ways in which we assimilate our observations and how we share our discoveries and our concerns. Often, we express ourselves in words and in pictures. If one had to make a film about the Devaraja market and its heritage, how would one begin?

I realise that the beginning of a film is not like the beginning of a book. In a book of non-fiction, you would begin with the Contents page. The reader must know what is to come in the pages that follow. In a book of fiction, there is no Contents page. It may be a story of love or a story of mystery and the ending must not be revealed. I suppose a Feature film would be made differently from a Documentary film. But, in a film, is it ever possible to have a Contents page? If one were to make a film about the Devaraja market, would it be about Urban heritage or about Architectural heritage?

Whilst telling a story about the architectural heritage of a place, we tend to talk about buildings and their preservation and yet, it is in the making of this built-heritage, in the hands of the artisans, that the value of the tradition lies. Who made the wooden truss roof and how? Who built the stone masonry walls and how? Who prepared the lime plaster and what was the skill that made it possible? The architectural heritage value of a market is in the physical expression of its craftmanship and the film would need to be about the traditional artisans; their skills, their beliefs and their lives, because without them, this heritage would not exist.

On the other hand, Urban heritage is deciphered through reading its many layers and a film about the marketplace as urban heritage needs to be about the social life, the cultural life and the economic life of the market precinct. I discuss here about these two kinds of heritage because Devaraja market needs to be valued both for its Urban heritage and its Architectural heritage. When a marketplace occupies a substantial part of the urban fabric, it influences the life of the city and is itself changed by how the city grows around it.

When I walked through the Devaraja market and got a sense of its planning, I found that it reflected the same principles that were deployed in the planning of Crawford market in Mumbai, the Russell market in Bangalore and the Connemara market in Trivandrum. In all of these markets, there is an architectural façade that faces the street on two sides while internally there are large open spaces for the formal market building to function as if it were an informal marketplace. I have yet to study this aspect of our colonial market buildings and to find out the reasons for this unique planning where an urban space is embedded within the architecture of a building. So, there is the urban space or public square that lies outside of the Devaraja market but also an urban space or private square within it, for the exclusive use of traders.

When you look at the Google earth map of this area, it is interesting to see how the Devaraja market (in red) was geographically located in the city and its proximity to the Palace complex. This is quite similar to the positioning of the Russell market in Bangalore with the public square outside it being a meeting point of arterial roads of the city. I have earlier written about this aspect of the Russell market at Urban structure – City Market and Russell market 

The second Google earth image zooms in further and we can see that the south end of the market is close to the K.R.Circle and opens into the public space with the Dufferin Clock tower built in 1886. Nearby is the Devaraja Urs road, which is presently the high density commercial street of the city. The east side of the market is flanked by Sayyaji Rao road and at its north end you can enter the market from Dhanvantari road.

Currently, the day-to-day functioning of the market with its 842 shops, spread over three acres is looked after by the Municipal Corporation of Mysore. They have an office within the market building to manage its affairs. I had an opportunity to speak to Mr.Kuppuswamy, one of the staff members there. I learnt from him that the market is owned by the Corporation and it gives out spaces to vendors on a rental basis. The Corporation officer makes his rounds every day to collect rents from the individual vendors.

There are shops along the edges of the market that face the main streets and these pay rents from Rs.4000 to Rs.10,000 per month, depending on the area of the shop. Besides these, there are semi-enclosed stalls (angadis) that are in the large open space within the market complex, where rents vary from Rs.5 per day to Rs.50 per day. The Rs.5 per day are the fruit and vegetable vendors and the Rs.50 per day i.e.Rs.1500 per month are the Kum Kum shops and Flower shops towards the south of the market. The Municipal Corporation prefers to collect the rental charge on a daily basis since it reduces the risk of recovery. The buying and selling of fruits, vegetables, flowers, incense, betel nut, kumkum powder  seems to be the everyday life of the market, a life about the livelihood of the vendors and the needs of the people of contemporary Mysore.

Going back into history a little, I include here some excerpts from the book ‘History of the Wodeyars of Mysore (1610-1748) published by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore in 1996. The chapter on ‘Society and Economy’ notes that: “A market place or a bazaar was an essential feature of town life. A large number of people depended upon trade and commerce. The artisans, the cloth merchants, the metal smiths, oil mongers, carpenters, goldsmiths, jewellers, tailors, cobblers and so on lived in their respective localities. The rulers of Mysore encouraged trade and commerce by laying good roads in the kingdom, introducing a unified system of currency and standardising weights and measures in the kingdom. An important feature of urban economy was the organisation of guilds. The merchant guilds carried on trade in articles like cloth, cotton-yarn, betel nuts, tobacco, sandal wood, wax, ghee, turmeric, pepper, ginger, betel nuts, tobacco, sandalwood and so on.”

Today, as you experience a marketplace, you know you can go back and look at a Google earth image of it, you know you can trace its history in books, you can read recent newspaper reports about its daily affairs. You know a bit more each time. And, yet nothing seems enough. You hope that one day there will also be a film about the Devaraja market that will unravel a story of heritage and a story of time.


R Niranjan Das said...

Thats a lovely article. Been here a couple of times.

radha said...

Does the imposing building provide an entrance to the market? The first picture of the exterior is so misleading - the calm and quiet that leads to the maze of shops inside!

Anonymous said...

You're the epitome of writing kickass articles.

You write rarely but brilliantly.
A lesson learnt.

Really liked this one a lot. And you won;t blv i was listening abt CAVA at Mysore the other day :d

Kusum said...

I lived in Mysore when I was a child. I have faint memories of this market that I visited with my parents. Great article on this urban heritage structure.

Anjali said...

That building reminds me of the Tamil quarter in Pondicherry, the yellow color and the French influence on the structure.

Anu Gummaraju said...

Very informative! Great read. I visited the market as a grown up, appreciative of the building, the urban heritage and understanding what it means to the vendors and people of Mysore, only recently! So reading this is reaffirming.

Indian Bazaars said...

R.Niranjan Das: Thanks

Radha: You are so right. I reached the market at about seven in the morning and the street was so calm and quiet, and when i went in found there was so much going on!

Divenita: I read about CAVA after you mentioned it. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Kusum: Thanks for dropping by.

Anjali: It's nice that you draw a comparison between cities. What I find interesting in Mysore is the scale of the buildings and the streets - the stateliness along with the architectural features that brings this unique character that you sense as you move through the city.

Anu Gummaraju: That morning, a few vendors talked of the heritage value of the market, of market fires here and elsewhere. It is strange that the decisions about a public space such as a marketplace are often made without inviting vendors and the public to make their recommendations.