To MARKET, to market!

Though Pulavanibham had religious beginnings it now hosts traders from all communities. From selling traditional wares, it has expanded to include a colourful kitsch of modern knick-knacks. Photos: Thulasi Kakkat and Vipin Chandran  

Every year on the last Thursday of the Malayalam month of Dhanu — which happens to be today — the sandy grounds of the Azhakiyakavu temple in Palluruthy come alive with a “hundreds-of-years old” market called Pulavanibham. Since it’s the time of the year when the sun is readying itself for a northward journey and the skies are clear—not to mention the nip in the air—merchants come from far and wide with their latest merchandise. Some come out of faith in tradition, others driven by hard trade. For visitors, it is a once-in-a-year opportunity to revel in day-and-night, old-fashioned shopping.

Despite its current modern and secular version, this hoary bazaar continues to remain steeped in faith and tradition. Its origin is a curious tale of a raging epidemic, of appeasement of an angry goddess in an exclusive temple, a plea to worship, a benevolent king and then the birth of Pulavanibham.

Trade fair

Sixty-six-year-old T.V. Suresh, a former teacher and secretary of the temple, talks animatedly about this colourful “trade fair” that began as an offshoot of worship and one that set off a frisson of activities in the otherwise quiet suburb of West Kochi. “Simply put Pulavanibham is: the pulaya community, who were mainly farm hands and crafters, and vanibham meaning commerce. The story goes that a few miles away from its present site was a village of the pulayas. Centuries ago the village faced a smallpox epidemic and dying villagers were directed to appease the angry goddess of Azhakiyakavu. But entry into the temple was restricted. A plea was made to the king and the Cochin Maharaja granted the pulayas permission to enter from the North side of the temple, on the last Thursday of Dhanu. The official Temple Entry Proclamation Act was enacted only in 1936 but this happened hundreds of years ago.”

And hundreds of years later the tradition continues. Initially called ‘pulaya nercha’, the custom was of placing offerings, called thalams, in front of the goddess. Traditional dances such as Kollukali, Parishamuttakali and Mudiyettam, which is marked by swinging of the head and hair from side-to-side, were performed.

With the offerings, the pulayas brought hand crafted wares that they sold outside the temple at the present site. A small market sprang up selling common and essential home items such as the aattukallu (hand mill made of stone used for pounding and crushing), ural (mortar for de-husking paddy), chirava (scraper), muram (winnow to sift grain), kutta (circular basket), and vatti (small basket) made from thin layers of bamboo. There were some special items too such as dried salted shark and the thazhapaya, a mat made from grass palm leaves.

Suresh remembers his grandfather waiting in eagerness for Pulavanibham to buy shark. “Though we are vegetarians, I think my grandfather used to eat fish. He used to wait for Pulavanibham to start so that he could buy salted fish. He would further dry it by tying the sliced fish on the coconut tree. I remember watching it with great interest,” he says. Another important ware that sold like hot cakes and continues to do so was earthenware pottery brought by the members of the Kushava community. “In the old days people waited for this market to buy their annual kitchen ware. People from Chellanam, Mattancherry, Aroor, Cherthala and adjacent places came here. So did traders. The Pulavanibham was something that one looked forward to,” remembers 77-year-old K.K. Velaydhan who used to come with his grandfather. He recounts that the royal family representative would give a piece of cloth in return for the thalam. “There used to be a ledger where this was recorded. All that is no more now,” he says. Velaydhan plays the morsing in kutcheris held at the temple. Feisty at 80, T.K. Alli continues to sell baskets of fish as she did years ago. Today, though, she gets double the amount she earned before but “that’s a small amount now”, she says.

Councillor of the ward and chairman of Standing Committee for Education and Sports, R. Thyagarajan’s office stands at one side of the temple ground. He sees the heritage market as one in need of better public amenities. “There is a need for more rest rooms and better security for the surging crowds.”

Suresh points out the night shopping aspect of this old market. “It is a day and night market, mainly night. Trading picks up by late evening and is brisk during the night. Even at two in the morning there are buyers and business goes on. Most traders spend the night in their make-shift stalls. The market now runs for two weeks.”

Trendy range

Over the years the nature of the bazaar has changed. It has lost its religiosity and gained more in business.

Now there are sellers from all communities and the variety in wares has expanded to include a colourful kitsch of plastic, funky, traditional and modern knick-knacks. C.I. Ashraf began here by selling balloons 43 years ago. He is an itinerant toy seller. Being a known face here he works closely with the organisers and handles the stalls that come up. “There are roughly about 150 stalls and over 400 petty sellers who spread their wares on the ground. The stalls started coming up some 25 years ago. The turnover must be in lakhs.”

Suresh takes a long look. “The fact that the market has sustained itself for over hundreds of years is its biggest attraction. It set itself up almost organically, as if by faith, and it brings good business. It has not changed into a mela. There is no music; it is a mix of tradition and trade.”

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 12:08:43 AM |

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