Translated by Sachin Bansode
Aadivaasis live in the forests, close to nature. They worship it. And probably understand it better than anyone else.
I had always read and heard stories of the weekly markets, or Haat Bazaars, that are an integral part of life in remote tribal areas. And I had always told myself that I would certainly visit one whenever I got an opportunity to visit those areas
When I went to Chhattisgarh in April 2018, I asked the people of the district I needed to visit if they had a weekly market there and what day it was on. So I could plan to be there on that day. As luck would have it, while I was on my way to Narayanpur in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, I discovered that the market was held on the same day.
After finishing work in the many villages of the area, I reached the market at around three in the afternoon. Everything I had read and heard about these markets was true. People wearing colourful clothes and lots of colourful shops were set up in a large open space, seemingly scattered by a rainbow itself had scattered them there. These weekly markets are no less than a festival, milling with smiling faces and colourful shops. They bustle with activity and local produce.
The products sold in the Haat Bazaar ranged from forest produce like Mahua to grains, dried fish displayed in plates made out of dried leaves, and earthen pots. There are no malls here nor is there any online shopping. The people wait for the appointed day all week to buy and sell goods.
It was interesting to note that it was a market mostly driven by women. Women sat at most of the shops and most of the buyers were also women. The market was full of women, wearing silver jewellery and colourful sarees. Most of the work here is managed by these women, whether it is to run a house, manage the farming or visit the market. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that it is these women who run the show and ensure that there is food on the table.
I walked around the market, fascinated. When I asked a woman who was selling earthen pots, what it was called, she first laughed, then leisurely started telling me about each pot. Each utensil had a different purpose and their names were a bit too much for me to remember! I had to make notes – Mardi, Ghaghri, Kanji, Parai / Forayee, Hadiya, Kanoji. Pottery is very popular among the tribes in Bastar. There are separate settlements of potters here I was told, called Kumbhar pada or the potter’s colony.
I saw a woman sitting at a distance under a yellow tarpaulin with dried fish and some coriander plants. She told me how she fished in the pond every morning in Kondagaon and dried her catch. I learnt that the dried fish, called Sukasi here, is cured by first roasting it on burning straw and it is then dried. This fish keeps for several days.
The market is an important part of life here, and people come here from great distances, some on bicycles with their husbands and children and some in groups. These women also carry food and drink with them for the day. I saw a group of them sitting together. An old lady with beautiful silver jewellery was drinking something in a cup made out of leaves. I asked her what she was drinking. She laughed in reply. Another woman sitting with her told me it was toddy, which can be drunk fresh or fermented.
I noticed something on one side of the Haat, and I couldn’t take my eyes away. It was a stall full of the most beautiful baskets made out of bamboo. Though plastic and steel utensils have reached this region there are not used as much. I saw different baskets made for different purposes. Such as a large one called a Jhaunwa for keeping vegetables & mahua, and the smallest basket called a Buti. The largest basket I saw was for storing grains. It was made of bamboo and coated with mud. Neem leaves are placed at the bottom and grain stored in these baskets keeps fresh for many days.
The vegetables sold in the market are also local. There were lots of green vegetables with exotic names. Karmotta Bhaaji, Chati Bhaaji, Kaanda Bhaaji, Chunchunia Bhaaji, Khatta Bhaji, Jirra Bhaji, Bohar Bhaji and many more.
A very special thing about the market was that the people were trading local produce like mahua and grains. They brought mahua and other grains that they collected and grew and bought things they needed from the money they made by selling them.
Adivaasis live in the forests, and are close to nature. They worship it. They probably understand it better than anyone else. I prayed for the forests, and the rivers. And that the bond between them and tribes who preserve them, would continue. And ours with the tribes.
For more information on Chhattisgarh you can visit: http://www.chhattisgarhtourism.co.in
For information on the tribes of India you can visit: https://tribal.gov.in/