It’s the evening before the festival of colours and there is brisk sales at the bangle shops on Perumal Mudali Street in Sowcarpet. As the lights are turned on one by one in the over 400 establishments on the street, the bazaar suddenly seems to brighten up with thousands of glass bangles reflecting the lights.
Better known as ‘Valayalkaara Theru’ and ‘Bangadi Bazaar’, this street gets to see massive crowd during the festivals of Deepavali, Pongal and Navarathri. “For every family festival people come here. Weddings are occasions when matching bangles are a must,” says Ashok Ranka, joint secretary of the Sowcarpet Traders Association, whose family has been in the bangle business for four generations. The market has been in existence for over 100 years and dominated by people from north India.
Sisters Alfiya Begum and Farzana Parveen, who came to purchase bangles to match with Alfiya’s purple wedding sari, say they preferred to come to the bangle market for festivals. “We live quite close by… in Mannadi. There is a lot of variety here, the quality is good and we don’t have to shell out too much,” said Ms. Farzana.
Did you know that there are bangles called DVD, TV, VCD, LCD, Hey baby and Number 20! Bangles are named after films, film stars and popular gadgets. The sizes start at 1/8 and go on till 2/12, which are huge by any standards. Three decades ago, there were just a few basic colours, but now the variety is amazing. There are glass bangles that don’t look like glass any more.
While choosing glass bangles one must look for various things like the sound that they make, the feel of the inner side against your fingers and the weight.
First quality glass bangles cost anywhere between Rs.15- 20 a dozen.
As the sisters chose bangles, another woman stopped by asking for broken bangles to be used in art work. But the helpers in the shop said there were none.
“The breakage is very minimal as bangles these days come properly packaged and boxes lined with hay from Ferozabad in Uttar Pradesh,” explained Ranjit Jain, secretary of the Association.
The character of the street has been slowly changing over the decades. Now there are shops selling fancy items, toys, beads, imitation jewellery and plastic ware. Only 40 per cent of the bangles sold are glass. “Some 25 – 30 years ago, this used to be the hub. From here bangles used to be despatched to the southern States. But now even smaller cities get their supplies directly.