Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Kolam and the Bazaar

I had been walking through the streets of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. I walked through street bazaars and almost every shop had in front of it a Kolam. It was now a week after Pongal. What was the relevance of the Kolam? I looked in the library for books where I’d find answers.

The first book said, “It is a common thing in Hindu quarters of towns and villages that young maidens with cheerful faces are engaged every morning early after sunrise, in forming designs called Kolam in Hindu Tamil phraseology, on the floor in front of each and every one of the houses along the street”. This was in a book first published in 1925 - ‘South Indian Customs’ by P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar.

Ayyar further explained: “Ancient Hindus used rice flour to form the designs and thus fed myriads of ants every day which would otherwise get into undesirable places in the house. Further ‘Start the business of a day with a sacrifice’ is the Hindu motto. What other better mode of sacrifice could be suggested than this”. So, was the Kolam in the Bazaar street as much in the Residential street because of this Hindu motto?

It seems that originally it was rice flour or pulverized corn that was used for making the Kolam. This was replaced by powdered limestone. In every house, the woman’s first task in the morning was to sweep the house entrance clean, sprinkle water to keep down the dust and decorate the place with Kolam.

I then began to look up what the books said about Pongal. Fred W.Clothey (1983) in ‘Rhythm and Intent’ explains that “Festivals are celebrated in every society at appropriate junctures of the year in such a way as to make these junctures meaningful. As with rituals, festivals express the polarities in cosmic and human life: there is fasting and feasting, there is ushering out of the old, the welcoming of the new”.

“A festival of ecological significance marks an astronomical or seasonal event. The Pongal is such a festival celebrating the harvest and also the sun’s entrance into its ‘northern’ journey after the winter solstice. On the other hand, a theological festival is primarily designed to celebrate some event in the life of a deity or sacred being”.

There was more. Abbe J.A.Dubois (1906) in ‘Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies’ had explained the reason behind the making of the kolam: “During the inauspicious month which precedes the Pongul, sannyasis or mendicants, go from door to door about four o’clock in the morning, waking all sleepers by beating their gongs, warning them to take precaution against the evil influences of this unlucky period.”

And, what I read next was really interesting. “With this purpose in view, the women of the house every morning prepare a small patch about a yard square outside the door, smearing it with cow-dung and tracing several white lines upon it with rice flour. They then place within this square several pellets of cow-dung each adorned with a pumpkin flower. These pellets are supposed to represent Vigneshwara, the god of obstacles, whom they seek to appease. Every evening, these little balls of cow-dung, together with their flowers, are carefully collected, to be kept till the last day of the month. When this day arrives, the women put these pellets into a new basket and solemnly carry them away beyond the precincts of their dwellings and throw them into a tank”.

I know this blogpost is really getting long, but there’s just a bit more. “On Pongal day, women put rice to boil in milk on a fire. As soon as it begins to simmer, they all cry out together, ‘Pongul, Pongul’. They then remove the vessel from the fire and place it before the idol of Vigneshwara, to whom they offer a portion of the rice; another portion is given to the cows, and the rest is eaten by the people of the house”.

"On this day Hindus exchange visits. On meeting each other, the first words they say are: ‘Has the rice boiled?’ to which the answer is ‘It has boiled’. It is for this reason that the feast is called Pongul, the word being derived from Pongedi in Telugu and Pongaradu in Tamil, both signifying to boil".

So, finally, I knew how it came about that Kolams were made during Pongal time. Even though sometimes we don’t know the complete story behind some of our traditions, they still continue, they are still a part of our lives, our streets. If the tradition hadn’t continued, we’d have never known!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Architecture of the Bazaar

The Bazaar in India is not always a market building. One could say that the Bazaar is not always architecture. However, there have been market buildings which became the starting point in many Indian cities for an entire urban precinct which served as a marketplace.

In India, many of the Market buildings were built by the British before independence. There is the in Bangalore, the Crawford market in Mumbai, the Devaraja market in Mysore, the Connemara market in Trivandrum or the Kurupam market in Visakhapatnam. These are buildings that hold value even today since they are both architectural heritage - telling a story of the indigenous skills of the artisans and also urban heritage - holding within them signs and memories of how the city has grown. There are two earlier posts that discuss this aspect of the Bazaar: The Marketplace as Urban heritage - the Devaraja market in Mysore and Urban Structure - City market and Russell market

Devaraja market in Mysore (from the inside)

If one were to look at examples outside of India, there are some historic market buildings that are even today thriving marketplaces. I've written earlier about the Grand Central Terminal market in New York city, that opened to the public in February 1913, almost exactly a hundred years before and is today a place for gourmet food. The Faneuil Hall market in Boston was built in 1742 and is today a place for tourists while it still serves the local population. Both of these market buildings were constructed in response to the increase in traders bringing their produce into town and the need for a formal place for the exchange of goods. Several of the historic markets in Europe have survived and as Meena Venkataraman points out in her post on Exploring Borough market, in order to survive change, markets have had to adapt, assimilate and to evolve.

In Architecture schools in India, Market architecture is not a subject or even a topic that is studied or discussed, just as vernacular domestic architecture is not studied. In the State of Andhra Pradesh alone, there are 23 districts each with its own vernacular architecture but we do not study it. It is often said that a bazaar grows organically, it cannot be designed and therefore cannot be a concern for architects. Can this be true?

There is also the term Built environment which is more expansive. Built environment includes all the structures people have built when considered as separate from the natural environment. The phrase acknowledges that the majority of urban environments already exist, that a small fraction of buildings constructed annually, even in the industrialized world, are designed by architects (Ref: Wikipedia).  So, can a Bazaar be termed as a Built-environment, if it is not a building? The Mulji Jetha market in Mumbai is an unusual bazaar, it can be termed either a 'building' or a 'built-environment'. If one looks at the plan of the bazaar, one finds that it occupies several streets within the dense south mumbai urban fabric and yet it is a roofed bazaar.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (2008), the Bazaar was originally a public market district of a Persian town. From Persia, the term spread to Arabia, Turkey and North Africa. In Turkish, it was the Pazar. In India, it came to be applied to a single shop, and currently implies a street lined with shops or a fair at which a variety of goods are sold. In an Arab city, a commercial quarter was termed as the Souq . Historically, Souqs were held outside of cities in the location where a caravan loaded with goods would stop and merchants would display their goods for sale. Later, due to the importance of the marketplace and the growth of cities, the locations of souqs shifted to urban centers (Ref: Wikipedia).

Krishna Raja (K.R.) market in Bangalore

A Bazaar is often an organically developed series of shops that eventually become an urban space that is termed as the Bazaar. The planning of this space does not take place formally in the offices of the City Planning departments in India. According to the National Association of Street Vendors in India (NASVI), vendors of fruits and vegetables have never been allocated space in the city in a pre-planned manner.

However, the morning market or the weekly markets have always existed in India, in South Asia and in the Middle Eastern countries. Today, there is a threat to the Periodic bazaar as land prices in the inner city escalate making both the traditional street bazaar and the historic market building of less economical value though their cultural and social value remain the same. In their paper Rendering Istanbul's Periodic Bazaars Invisible: Reflections on Urban Transformation and Contested Space, Ozlem Oz and Mine Eder explain that there have been repeated cases where the municipality has persuaded a resident to file a lawsuit against the people of the bazaar on grounds of noise and pollution to facilitate its relocation, so that land can be made available to a developer for constructing a mall or to be rented out as a car park.

In India, markets are initially neglected by the Municipalities who own these buildings and when they became dilapidated structures, it is suggested by the government that the vendors be relocated so that the building can be demolished in order to be replaced by a mall. There is an ongoing conflict between the Vendors and the Government in Bangalore which I discuss in The Riddle of Russell market.

We need to ask ourselves the question: Why were these markets built? At what time in the city's history did they come  in? What is changing now? Are these markets redundant for the new times we are living in?

Kurupam market in Visakhapatnam

According to INTACH vizag, the Kurupam market was built so that the revenue generated from the shops leased to merchants could be used to provide medical facilities to the poor of the city. The Russell market building was built in 1927 when the Municipal Commissioner T.B.Russell initiated its construction when he found that the existing informal market in the Cantonment area was insufficient for the growing needs of this neighbourhood. In Bombay, the Crawford market was built as a wholesale market for fruits and vegetables in 1869. It was designed by the British architect William Emerson. In 1996, the wholesale traders were relocated to Navi Mumbai when it was decided that this change would reduce the traffic congestion particularly with the goods entering the city by road through its north end and having to traverse the length of the linear city to reach Crawford market at its south end.

In both the Russell market and the Crawford market, the British seemed to have recognised the functional need of an Indian marketplace and planned large open spaces within the layout of the market building, where merchants could unload their goods, sort them out and display them for their customers, where the open space behind the ornate fa├žade allowed a flexibility of operations similar to a Street bazaar or a Market square. If we were to generate an architectural typology for the Indian bazaar, this aspect of the colonial market buildings in India would be one of the key lessons to learn from.

Besides, we would need to observe closely the hundreds and thousands of street bazaars in our towns and cities to know how a market works and how it looks, because we have no repetition in our bazaar layouts, each one has its own character and its own order. What designer would not find that challenging enough to study?