Written by Aleena Mariam Sajan | Edited by Sophiya Islam
The famous Howrah Bridge illuminates the Hooghly River as it connects the bustling ghats of Howrah and Kolkata. For a traveler who is not a resident of Kolkata and embarks upon the journey across this iconic bridge on their first day in the city, it immediately reveals itself as the heart of the city. While there is no doubt about the significance of the bridge, its true essence lies in the winding narrow streets flanked by monumental buildings.
Burra Bazaar, also known as the Bara (big) market in Kolkata, is one such area in the city that teems with a plethora of activities day in and day out. Flanked by the grand havellis of old merchants and traders, the streets of Burra Bazaar are still vibrant.
The Bazaar, as we know it today, had its origins in a yarn factory set up in 1690 by the East India Company to facilitate textile trading. The Hooghly River provided a perfect gateway for the sturdy ships of the British Raj to transport textiles and other goods. Soon, the Bazaar became a major hub for textiles and yarn, attracting migrants from various parts of the country and the world, both as traders and laborers. Over time, the market expanded, making it India's largest wholesale market.
Bazaar Street © Travel Photographer
Once an epicentre for political, social, and commercial activities, it now remains cramped and deteriorating, much like the many magnificent buildings that once graced these grounds.
The trades brought in people from all around the globe to this place. Many Marathis, Odias, Gujaratis, Sindhis, all disembarked in this city for the numerous trading and job opportunities it offered. This intensified the diversity of the place, with all the different cultures amalgamating into the local culture while leaving their traces on art, architecture, food, and much more. The Bazaar holds the essence of the entire city. With its diverse culture, vibrancy, determination, and endurance, this area can be seen as a concise version of the great city of Kolkata.
Residences in the Bazaar streets © Ayan Bose
The streets of Burra Bazaar are always brimming with a plethora of activities Walking around such streets, every turn broings out a different activity. From textile shops to leather makers, from making mud gods and goddesses for the Puja to making and designing jewellery, it is overwhelmingly rich in the types of professions and goods it sold. On such a jaunt, walking past the street filled with jewellery and gemstone sellers inside each old grey and hefty havelli, each room which once was a private room belonging to rich Hindi-speaking traders, is now converted into workshops for goldsmiths. All slouched in not-so-well-lit rooms, goldsmiths made maybe some of the finest and most delicate pieces of jewellery one would ever see. The posture of the three to six people sitting cramped in a room would totally make one uneasy to look at, but the beautiful pieces they produce steal away the discomfort one feels.
Kumaratuli street © Soumalya Das
People make the maximum use of space as this Bazaar is known for its exponential growth and lack of space. So they hold on to any and every space they can utilise. This may be the reason why there was a man selling tea on a wooden board hung from the wall onto the road, and a man underneath the board making fresh hot bhajias to go along with it. This pattern is seen across the Bazaar.
Havelis © Kolkatar Chobiwala
Essence of the City
The determination and diligence of the people at Burra Bazaar are commendable. They started as migrants decades ago, and now they hold the very essence of the city. It's vibrant with diversity and an amalgamation of different cultures that makes each street unique.
From a distance, the Bazaar looks cramped and uneasy to be in, but up close, one can see the delicate jewellery they make, just like the street. From up close, one can see the delicate and intricate beauty it holds, stemming from years of political, social, and commercial events. Some vibrant centres in cities remain frozen in time with their art, architecture, and numerous stories to explore.