Saturday, March 26, 2011

Holi Bazaar

I had NOT been chasing the Holi Bazaar, but it did seem like it was walking just a few steps in front of me wherever I went. As I went from one city to another over the last three weeks, I was not to forget at any time that the festival of Holi was nearing. In Ahmedabad, walking around the Raipur Darwaja area and asking about which streets were sellers of what goods, I had been told I was just a bit early to see the Holi colours. The Holi vendors would occupy the same street where Kite sellers sat during the Uttarayan or Sankranti festival, sometimes they were the same vendors with different goods for a different season.

In Manek Chowk, the colours of Holi are not yet out everywhere, but the Pichkari's (plastic sprays for wet colours) are abundantly available.

“You need to come back three days later to see the Holi colours” I was told. I sighed. I was leaving Ahmedabad the next day. The following two days in Udaipur were spent in absorbing the City palace, the Lake palace, the Monsoon palace. Where was the time to find the Holi Bazaar there, as much as I wanted to? It was finally when I got to Delhi a few days later that Holi was just around the corner and the Sadar Bazaar had the Holi colours all over the place!!

At the entrance to the Municipal Market building at Manek Chowk. 

It was just the day before Holi and the morning started with getting to Chandni Chowk from Connaught Place. We took an autorickshaw although it was the Metro that had been advised as the travel option to take from CP. A friendly rickshaw driver had made us an enticing offer comparable in cost to the Metro. I was glad we went with him. He said “To shop for Holi, it is Sadar Bazaar you must go to, its not too far from Chandni Chowk”. He dropped us at the Bangla Sahib, the Gurudwara.

Chandni Chowk in Delhi

At Chandni Chowk, the market was just about beginning to open. It was only 8.30 in the morning and around 10am is when most shops would open. The samosa and puri stalls were already doing brisk business. A short walk later we decided to take a Cycle rickshaw and get to Sadar Bazaar right away. It was 20 rupees by the cycle rickshaw and something we hadn’t done for years!!

We got down much before we got to the Holi part of the bazaar. It was a corner that was flooded with flower sellers. There were marigolds everywhere. We were so glad we had come early. The flower markets are almost invariably two hour phenomena that wind up as the rest of the market blossoms into the day and fills the streets with its vitality. It was a corner you could spend enough time in, there was so much going on, pushcarts being wheeled away, baskets being filled and heaps of flowers being bundled into packets.

And, slowly, we went a little further into the street. Now, we saw them!! The colours were laid out as one carpet here, and another one there. The powders of red, yellow, green and purple colours in little packets that a vendor spread in front of him and at some places, large stretches of colour spread out to dry in the sun, ready for the continual and rapid purchase only 24 hours before the festival began!!

Little paper parcels were being made in deft hands that had done this from one season to another. Sometimes, it was a group of little boys shopping and sometimes, it was the elders. Everyone was here to shop for colours!

The morning of Holi – we DID NOT move from our rooms. We had been told NOT to. We had no idea how rough it could get on the streets of Delhi on the day of Holi. There would be coloured water and oil paint and water balloons being showered on friends, on family, on strangers and harmless passers-by. It was the day to stay indoors if you were wise. So, that’s what we did. But, of course, we wanted to know how it was to be playing Holi as a Delhite.

Here’s an account we heard of what happens if you are a student at JNU – Jawaharlal Nehru University, in Delhi : “You wake up and oil yourself thoroughly all over the body. You then wait. You oil yourself again, a second layer. The idea is to have so much oil over your body that it acts as a barrier to the colours - can withstand the rough holi that you will soon be a part of. You then get to the mess to eat a heavy breakfast. You eat your heavy Holi breakfast which ends with filling a bottle from the cauldron of Bhang. If you are a late riser, and get to the mess much after many others have left, you get the most potent Bhang in your bottle with the dregs at the bottom of the cauldron coming into your share of the Holi drink.

You then step out into the college corridors and into the streets of the city, equipped physically and mentally to take the onslaught of the colours of Holi that can come at you from any direction, from any number of people that may gather around you to drown you in the colours and in the joys of the festival. As the day moves on, the intoxication of the Bhang tends to turn the joyfulness into wild celebration. At 2 o’clock, you got back to the JNU mess to eat yet another heavy meal because you were ravenous with all the street exchanges and theatrical excitement of the day”.

And, why is this festival celebrated? The significance of this festival is described as “Holi is an annual spring festival - Basant Utsav celebrated in the month of Phalgun. A festival of colours, Holi is observed as a celebration for the mythological Prahlad’s escape from the pyre that his demon father, Hiranyakashipu wanted him to burn in and for the destruction of his demon sister Holika. It therefore signifies the victory of good over evil. People around the country celebrate with gulaal (dry colours) with their friends and family”

It is in North India that you see the vibrant colours of the Holi Bazaar and it is here that Holi is played in great enthusiasm – some places more than others!

Read about :
Festival of Lights
an Afternoon in Festive Dussehra

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Art in Urban Spaces

The Bazaars in India are spaces for everyday but they are also places where vendors express themselves through their creative displays, to attract people and to sell goods. This is a form of art perceived not as a "representation" of the real world but as a "way of seeing".

A walk through a traditional Street bazaar can be compared to a walk through a modern Urban environment. Although two people could see the same things at the same time, they might not always do so. In a Bazaar, what might be within the range of vision one moment, might not be, in the next.

If you don't see the hands that make the flower garland at this moment, in the next moment, you see only red and blue plastic buckets. When two of us walk along a street, you experience in one moment the labyrinth of garlands to your right, and I, the brass pots in front of me. The next moment, you see no twirling garland in the making and I see no sunshine on the brass. It was only for the moment and that moment is now gone.

In the Indian City, the urban experience draws from more than just architecture. The streets are also places of exchange. Each vendor finds his own way of displaying the goods and makes a shelter within the public space with materials locally and easily available, with a sensibility very much his own.

There is a pictorial language in the forms that the goods bear individually and collectively and the spaces that are generated between goods and the vendor, between vendor and a building façade and between the vendor, façade and the customer.

There is a temporariness in this creation that depends on the time of the day, the season of the year and the access to public space. Here, the art is functional; it attracts and the wares are sold. It is not the art that sells.

The photographs included here are from a collection that was exhibited at the Urban Visualities Exhibition and Symposium at Dakshinachitra in Chennai from 27Jan – 27Feb 2011

Read about :
Art and daily commodity
an Art Installation

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Life in Colour

A GUEST POST by LAURA MANNERING  Most tourists love a market. It’s not just because we’re obsessed with finding the ultimate souvenir of our travels. It is a way of mixing with people, getting buffeted by the trade hustle and joining in the to and fro, the buy and sell. My favourite markets are those where you can really become one of the crowd, an unremarkable addition to the flow of people going about their daily routine. Everybody wants to feel part of the place they are in – not the odd one out, the outsider who doesn’t understand how anything works. A market can be a place to blend in, to wander, watch and discover.

Baskets full of white threaded jasmine buds, of golden marigolds and neatly-wrapped bunches of roses. Bright kum kum powder smoothed into cones, stacks of soapy-looking jaggery cubes, neatly-arranged whirls of green betel leaves, and the air so full of spice that everybody was sneezing. My memories of markets in India are full of energy, warmth, movement and colour. Sure, it was clear I wasn’t a local, but for an hour or two I could pretend.

Flower baskets at Dadar wholesale flower market, Mumbai

Boy with betel leaves at Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

Dadar wholesale flower market, Mumbai

Mango seller at Crawford Market, Mumbai

Kum kum powder at Devaraja Market,

Fruit baskets
at K.R. Market, Bangalore

Piles of nuts and dried fruit at the Spice market, Delhi

Laura Mannering is a London-based journalist, traveller and market-lover. She recently spent three months in India.

Laura, thanks for writing this post and for sharing your photographs!