Jaipur needs no introduction. However, when a student of heritage management goes to the traditional markets of Jaipur and redefines it as a museum scape, she compels you to revisit this 18th-century marvel, now inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Bhawna Raikwar shares a perspective from one of the earliest planned cities founded by Jai Singh II, a fabled Rajput ruler of Amer, and designed by a Bengali architect Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya.
First impressions of a jaunt to Jaipur
I recently got a chance to visit Jaipur to conduct researchi. Yeah, lucky me, and it doubled up when I figured I would be staying in a hotel, next to the traditional markets. My eagerness to explore this city, popularly dubbed as the ‘Pink City’, was palpable. I began absorbing each and every minor detail from the moment I got off the train and hopped into a cab.
Crossing some tiny and busy lanes near the railway station to the relatively posh market lane of MI road, I witnessed graceful women in traditional attire, small souvenir vendors, big hoardings of Bollywood stars, the valiant Hawa Mahal, and the symmetric streets of an 18th-century urban legacy supporting an upcoming Metro project. I witnessed a city witnessing the transformation and yet retaining its regal soul. The combination of ancient royal heritage and ultra-modern lifestyles lends Jaipur a distinct charisma.
Jaipur, a living legacy
I was here to research the traditional markets with its arts, crafts, values, and the living legacy carried forward by its many artisans. I was impressed the city carries the heritage so finely, especially when many other cities have retired their old world charm to modernization. The primary objective of this work was to see whether Jaipur’s traditional markets qualify as a museum scape.
Places around the world have transformed into 21st-century urban centers while limiting their heritage to museums – a building with a collection of art objects and antiquities. This idea of museums is rather Euro-centric. In contrast, the modern definition of museums has evolved to be more people-oriented, values tangible and intangible heritage, respects people’s museography, carries social curatorship, and encourage the practice of living cultural traditions and patterns of society. In other words, we are living in an era of ‘New Museum Theory’. Indeed, Jaipur offers a fine example – be it in the way it organizes special occasions or conducts its everyday life.
Festivals are the storytellers of the past and Jaipur knows how to celebrate. While Holi and Diwali are celebrated with the same enthusiasm as in other parts of the country, you should visit the city during the festivities of Teej and Ghanghur to witness the grand pageant of richly ornamented elephants, camels, decorated chariots, cannon carts, palanquins with ceremonial music and dance performances.
Occasions aside, a large part of the city’s legacy continues as a routine lifestyle in its traditional markets, thanks to the many artisans and connoisseurs. A city of living crafts, buzzing streets, a panorama of tradition, and the capital city of Rajasthan, house of the magnificent forts, Jaipur continues to weave its mystery and magic. I was discovering this museum scape, one market at a time.
Traditional markets of Jaipur
The traditional markets of Jaipur, selling antiques and handicrafts, are located in sort of continuum in the proximity of the valiant Hawa Mahal, also known as “The Palace of Winds”. These thematic markets are a labyrinth of small and big streets, and each is popular for distinct crafts, arts, and even cuisines, patronized by various erstwhile rulers of the city. For instance, Amber and Jaipur have been the leading centers of textile printing and are popular in national and international markets for over 400 years.
There’s a good reason why Jaipur is known as the craft capital of India. The markets are choc-a-bloc with skilled craftsmen showcasing popular legacies such as bandhni, block-printing, stone carving and sculpture, zari, gota-patti, kinari and zardozi, silver jewelry, gems, kundan, meenakari jewelry, lac bangles, miniature paintings, blue pottery, ivory carving, leatherware, kathputli, traditional fans, bracelets, etc. Phew. No wonder, Jaipur has also bagged the title of World Crafts City.
What to buy and where to shop in Jaipur
You can not only buy all beautiful souvenirs but can also witness the craftsman create these beautiful masterpieces. Here’s a handy list for you to keep as a guide to the traditional markets of Jaipur when you visit the city next.
- Jewelry: Johari Bazaar is an entire market dedicated to jewelers. Look out for moti moongri (pearl hill) in eastern silhouette, chandi ki takshal (silver mint) and manak chowk (ruby square)
- Ornaments: Kishan Pol Bazaar is one of the largest centers of making ornaments. Browse for works like meenakari, kundan, and lac (maniharon ka rasta)
- Textiles: Walkthrough Badi Chaupar, Bapu Bazar and Johari bazar for block printing or the popular tie and dye bandhani designs on cotton, silk, or chiffon and a range of ghaghara, choli, or odhni with zari for the royal look
- Leather footwear: In Ramganj Bazar, shop for fascinating jootis – these are not crafted here but procured from west Rajasthan
- Quilts: In the Sireh Deori Bazaar opposite to Hawa Mahal, you’d find vendors selling the famous Jaipuri rajais, the finest quilts
- Carpets: Outlets around Shubhas Nagar and Zorawar Singh gate on Amber road offer these
- Marble carvings: Kishan Pol Bazaar also hosts marble quarried from Makrana, near Jaipur, that was significantly used by Mughals to build their monuments
- Ironsmith works: Ramganj Bazaar
- Coppersmith works: Surajpol Bazaar
- Wood carvings: Gangoi Bazaar
- Everything traditional: If it gets too much to remember what to buy from where, and if you have ample time, just get to Hawa Mahal for a walking tour of these markets
What to eat
These markets are not only a museum scape for the finest crafts but also are a repository of flavors From the mouth-watering street food to delightful traditional Rajasthani cuisines to northern Indian and continental food, you are likely to be spoilt for choice.
Do not miss the typical Rajasthani dishes such as dal bati churma, missi roti, gatte ki sabzi, ker sangri, makke ki ghat, bajre ki ghat, bajre ki roti, pyaz kachori, and laal maans here. For those with a sweet tooth, you must try Jaipur’s specialty Ghewar, a crisp and perforated delicacy made of wheat flour and milk, fried and dipped in thick sugary syrup. Others like feni, mawa kachori, gajak, meethi thuli, chauguni ke laddu, and moong thala are equally praiseworthy.
Jaipur, a city in harmony
Walking around Jaipur, you are likely to be fascinated with its architecture and aesthetics. During the reign of Sawai Ram Singh II, the city was painted pink to welcome Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. Pink and white is the main theme of the traditional markets in the surroundings of Hawa Mahal.
Streets carry the same look and feel, there are no encroachments, and the two-storey buildings with shops complement the historical structures like Hawa Mahal, Suraj Pol, and Chand Pol. There are some old and new mosques and temples adjacent to the markets signifying harmony amongst communities. Without a doubt, Jaipur is a fine blend of heritage, architecture, aesthetics, culture, and traditions.
A museum scape
It is time to discard the Euro-centric view of museums displaying objects and artifacts and embrace the idea of dissemination of knowledge and values through experiences. The traditional markets of Jaipur are a living example of a museum scape. These are not just presenting or selling the objects but also offering a portal to transport you back to a bygone era.
The narrow and busy lanes of the markets are home to numerous shops and workshops where you get to witness craftsman and their craft. A walk here does not limit you to only view the art, as museums do rather allow you to immerse in the heritage and bring forth an emotional attachment of shared ownership. The traditional markets of Jaipur offer a holistic view of the cultural continuum of the region, sort of civilizational identity, from its fashion and cuisine to its historic monuments and people.
It is time to acknowledge that tangible and intangible heritage together create a culture. So, the next time you plan a getaway to museums, think outside of the box. Consider visiting the traditional markets of Jaipur as a museum scape and experience the real thing. Re-live an era, while snacking on pyaz kachoris and indulge in shopping for traditional handicraft and jewelry.
iThis post is edited suitably from the author’s research paper submitted to Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management
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