My visit to Allahabad in North India presented me with unique opportunities to learn and discover. As a student of Archaeology in the very first year of my degree program, I was unaware of the various aspects of community life and the vibrant hues which color them.
The weekly market along the banks of River Ganga continued the medieval model of market economy and ritual production of most of the merchandise put on sale. The colors and people attracted my untrained eye for the ‘designs’ of life initially, later opening doors for further peek.
Spices – coveted commodity since the historical times – filled the air with their distinctive aroma throughout the market. The vibrant colors were at the heart of the bustling activity of shopping, haggling for the prices and the like. On some conversation with the spice-vendors, it dawned upon me that the network of production, marketing and sale of spices is still as complex in the modern times as may have been in the past. Seeing and touching the cloves, fennel, star anise and other spices stacked in bags made me realize that Vasco da Gama’s trip to Goa wasn’t a whim of the ruler! The spices sold at this market in Allahabad attract foreign as well as Indian shoppers. The black pepper from Malabar is still the “black gold” at this market. Canisters of oil from groundnuts, sunflower and the like lines the spice stall; probably highlighting the marriage of spices and oils in Indian cuisine.
“Jajmani” system or occupational segregation of the community was evident with the special stalls selling various goods specially crafted by particular occupational groups. The stall with tools and instruments for agriculture was a delight to a person from the city, unaware of such tools and implements in the mechanized world. Coppersmiths specializing in certain type of scythe, handheld saw and shovels talked at length about the procurement of raw materials from the eastern part of India, forging the metal in small-scale smitheries and so on. The involvement of women in the production of iron and copper tools was remarkable.
And the cosmopolitan appeal of the market was further enhanced by the straw and bamboo workers sending their woven baskets and winnowing pans from Agartala in North-East India.
All these observations, communication with the vendors, shoppers and other participants in the scene rendered a nexus of market mechanism probably extant since the days of the Sultans in Delhi at least. The descriptions of Benares and surrounding area as a hub of mercantile activity came alive at this market. The Wednesday market was garbed in flamboyance, busy with people – shoppers, travelers and students like me – laced with the din, under the scorching heat of the Allahabadi sun.