How can one describe a bazaar? A first attempt: Walking over the “Big Bazaar” in Calicut

In April 2019, when I accepted an invitation to give a lecture at Kannur, our partner university, I combined my stay with initial on-site research on our research project “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. I already had a first idea of what I wanted to investigate in selected West Indian coastal cities. As with any historical research question, I first wanted to check whether the necessary sources were available to answer my questions – especially since this is a completely new region that I am currently exploring. So I used my stay to visit museums, libraries and archives in Kerala and to get an overview of existing objects and texts. One of my excursions took me from Kannur to Calicut (or, as it is called in the national language: Kozhikode). Since I didn’t want to repeat the adventure of a three-hour bus ride (for about 90 cents), I bought a ticket in an air-conditioned train compartment for 12 April 2019 (for about 7 EUR and only a two-hour ride).

Train in Calicut, India (© Susanne Rau).

Arriving at the station in Calicut, I approached the city on foot and, turning left shortly before the SM-Street, famous for its sweets, reached the Railway Bridge. On the right I see a mosque, straight ahead, after the crossing the Bazaar Road starts, which is called MA-Road for the first half. This bazaar in Calicut is in fact a street, as the name says, and not a market with stalls or a kind of big department store that could carry the name bazaar in modern times. It is essentially a wholesale market, although one can still buy there as an individual consumer. To the right and to the left of the street are stores lined up, at first mostly metal goods, but a few meters further there are already dried fruits, dates, nuts, but also rice, sugar, chili, spices (a lot of turmeric and other local spices) in large quantities to choose from. Many products can be tested, i.e. viewed, touched, compared and tasted. Large bags are loaded onto trucks, which sometimes block the road, and brought to the countries or the storage rooms behind them, which can be reached via alleys and courtyards between the shops. It is loud with the horns of motorcycles, cars and trucks, but also with people on the phone and communicating across the street. People draw attention to themselves, negotiate prices or shout something to the loaders. At the other end of Bazaar Road there are warehouses again, then a standing snack where some young men eat something – and again a mosque.

This morning it’s so incredibly hot that the next thing I do is call a taxi, or rather one of those yellow-black autorickshaws. But the driver has no time, he has to go to the mosque to pray and therefore drives on. So I walk a few steps further and come to the Beach Road that runs parallel to the Arabian Sea. I walk as far as Gujarati Street, then finally an autorickshaw driver has mercy on me and drives me to the archive further north in the city, which is located in the Civil Station. In the Regional Archives Kozhikode I am allowed to look through some finding aids. But I also have to think about this Bazaar Road, which is also called “Valiyangadi” in Malayalam. Since when does it exist? What is it about this conspicuous structure that there are mosques at both ends?

In the evening, after the visit to the archive, I go back to this street and record a 15-minute video with my mobile phone by slowly walking the street from front to back again. This is a 1.5-minute short version of the video, cut by Fritz Unruh. You can go to the video by clicking on the image:

Calicut Bazaar (© Susanne Rau).

Then I must hurry to the train and continue my reading. I read in Narayanan’s History of the City of Calicut, where I also find some interesting reference to this street (Narayanan 2018, p. 25-27, 66, 96, 98, 246): It has been documented in the sources since 1442. At that time, of course, it was not yet paved. It was asphalted under British rule in the 1930s. For some time there must have been tracks on which wooden shutters were used to transport the goods. For centuries Muslims, Jains, Hindu Seths, Gujarati and Marwari moneylenders as well as Tamils and Andhra Chettis have met here. They are the actors of this place, where large quantities of goods and money are handled. This must have been a hub of South Asian trade, which Calicut has been since the late Middle Ages. Religion played and plays a role here not only by the present representatives of different religious groups, which came from the north, east, from the Arabian peninsula, from Persia and since the end of the 15th century also from Europe.

Religious practices were integrated into the daily routines of trade. This can be seen not only with my rickshaw driver, who had to pray instead of driving me to the archives, but also in the commercial practices and morals for which the religions have always formulated rules. And it is evident in the urban structure (mosque – bazaar or suk), which can be found in many Islamic cities. Whether this is an urban planning concept remains to be clarified for Calicut. At the one end, near the Railway Bridge, is the Sunni Masjid, at the other end (seaside) the Khaleefa Masjid. Myths have formed around the long-lasting prosperity of the urban centre of Calicut, which the inhabitants pass on orally. Narayanan tells of a legend about Mangatt Achan, the first secretary of Zamorin Raja. „After a long and difficult penance, the Achan had succeeded in having Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, appear before him and offer a boon. He made her promise to wait in the same place until he returned, then went home and committed suicide. The clever idea was that the Goddess, unable to break her oath, will stay permanently in Valiyangadi (Big Bazaar), where the devoted Secretary had left her, and that is why prosperous trade continues in that street in spite of all sorts of changes. Besides illustrating the intelligence and self-sacrificing loyalty of the First Secretary, this popular tradition tries to offer a mythical explanation for the steady progress of trade in Valiyangadi from medieval to modern times. It provides an insurance against slump, and a source of confidence.” (p. 26-27)

The bazaar of Calicut, its historical depths, the worldwide interdependence of people and goods, the religious practices and urban structures that characterize the everyday life of this street have captivated me. I would like to know more about it – more about the different interdependencies and mutual formations of trade, religion and urban development in this ‘global city’ avant la lettre; but also more about the connection between piety and trade in cities influenced by Islam. Because only this should be undisputed so far: that bazaars, like the fairs in Europe, are a distinguishing feature. They seem to have existed only in cities, whereas there were cities without bazaars and without fairs.

In the coming weeks I will continue to read, go to the bazaars of different world cities and then report again…

— Susanne Rau

Bibliography:

M.G.S. Narayanan, Calicut. The City of Truth Revisited, Kozhikode 2018 (first published: 2006)

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Bazars and markets in medieval India, in: Studies in People’s History, 2, 1 (2015): 61–70

Saskia Sassen, The global city. New York, London, Tokyo, Princeton, N.J. 2001 (2nd edn.)

New edited volume: Knowledge and the Indian Ocean by Sara Keller

Sara Keller, core group member of the DFG-funded Humanities Centre in Advanced Studies “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”, has recently edited a volume with the title Knowledge and the Indian Ocean. Intangible Networks of Western India and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

The volume examines Western India’s contributions to the spread of ideas, beliefs and other intangible ties across the Indian Ocean world. The region, particularly Gujarat and Bombay, is well-established in the Indian imaginary and in scholarship as a mercantile hub. These essays move beyond this identity to examine the region as a dynamic place of learning and a host of knowledge, tracing the flow of knowledge, aesthetic sensibilities, values, memories and genetic programs. Contributors traverse the fields of history, anthropology, agriculture, botany, medicine, sociology and more to offer path-breaking perspectives on Western India’s deep socio-cultural impact across the centuries. Western India emerges as a pivotal region in the maritime world as a transmitter of knowledge.

Map of Western India (Source: Wikipedia).

New Book: History, Space, and Place by Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau, project leader of the KFG, has recently published a book entitled History, Space, and Place (Routledge, 2019). This book offers the first comprehensive introduction to the theory and methodology of historical spatial analysis.

Spaces, too, have a history. And history always takes place in spaces. But what do historians mean when they use the word „spaces“? And how can spaces be historically investigated?

History, Space. and Place by Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau provides a survey of the history of Western concepts of space, opens up interdisciplinary approaches to the phenomenon of space in fields ranging from physics and geography to philosophy and sociology, and explains how historical spatial analysis can be methodologically and conceptually conceived and carried out in practice. The case studies presented in the book come from the fields of urban history, the history of trade, and global history including the history of cartography, but its analysis is equally relevant to other fields of inquiry.

Recently, Susanne Rau has also reviewed a book which might be of interest to readers of this blog. The review concerns the volume La bourgeoisie statutaire de Lyon et ses privilèges. Morale civique, évasion fiscale et cabarets urbains (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles) by Olivier Zeller and can be read here.

Lived Urbanity: Religion and the City in Erfurt

Our core group experienced urbanity and religion in the lanes of Erfurt. Members of the KFG prepared short presentations at spots connected to Religion and Urbanity along a route through Erfurt. 

The walk on the 4th of June aimed to explore our theme “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” through the history of Erfurt. Starting from the Max-Weber-Kolleg, six stations in the city gave us the opportunity to discover city spaces and some of Erfurt’s iconic monuments through the perspective of the entangled relationship between city formation and religiosity.

A brief introduction to the city history reminded us that Erfurt had its golden age as ‘Messestadt’ (fair town) in the late medieval period: Its flourishing economy was based on the cultivation of the precious woad plant (isatis tinctoria), the major European blue dye of the time. (If you want to know more, see the temporary exhibition on the colour blue (‘Blau und Blaues. Farbbetrachtungen der besonderen Art‘) at the Museum für Thüringer Volkskunde.)  Following the increasing enthusiasm for Marian devotion (the Virgin Mary wore a blue mantle), blue, unpopular until then, was in high demand from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards. Erfurt’s fortunes rested on religion and the evolution of religious practices.

Our first station gave us the opportunity to discover the Augustinian monastery (Augustinerkloster), a well preserved architectural complex and an example of the long and dynamic religious life of the city. Erfurt not only witnessed the creation of multiple churches, chapters and convents, but it also fostered a rich theological and intellectual life. This eventually helped the foundation of the university in 1392 (our second station), and influenced the paths of great theologians, philosophers and reformers, such as Meister Eckhart and Martin Luther.

 

Erfurt’s Cathedral (Dom) and the Severikirche.

 

The Dom with its peculiar monumental platform and north side portal is an important landmark of the city. The Cathedral, alongside the church St. Severi next to it, (stations five and six on our walk) continue to dominate the city. One of the memorable chapters of Erfurt’s history was written by the Jewish community that actively contributed to the wealth of the place.

Well embedded in the core of the city fabric, the Jewish buildings testify by their presence and location to the entanglement of urban and religious life. They also bear the marks of terrible clashes that repeatedly resulted in the complete disappearance of the Jewish community. The visit of the mikwe (station three) showed us how water and religious practices were taken care of in the tense urban context. Another spot of Jewish life in Erfurt is the impressive Old Synagogue. Station four, at the ‘Kunsthalle’, originally known as the ‘Haus zum Roten Ochsen’ (‘house of the red bull’), provided an opportunity to discover lively and colourful depictions of planetary gods on a Renaissance façade freed from medieval religious codes.

The walk was an inspiring experience, evidenced by the fact that we did not lose any participants, despite the terrible heat of this Thursday noon. Since the city has many other treasures – open as well as concealed – that could be discovered in a two hour walk, we are intending to continue our exploration with another tour of other stations.  If you are interested in joining our next walk, feel free to get in touch! 

— Sara Keller

Stadt und Religion: Internationale Tagung im Augustinerkloster, Erfurt

Wie wichtig ist Religion für das Entstehen und Bestehen von Städten? Wie tragen Rituale dazu bei, dass aus Dörflern nun Städter werden? Diesen Fragen stellt sich eine internationale Konferenz, die von der Forschungsgruppe „Religion und Urbanität“ organisiert wird, welche seit Herbst 2018 am Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt unter der Leitung von Susanne Rau und Jörg Rüpke von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft gefördert wird. Die Konferenz wurde in Kooperation mit der schottischen University of St. Andrews (Christopher Smith) organisiert. Die Organisatoren haben Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus ganz Europa und den USA vom 12. bis 14. Juni in das historische Augustinerkloster eingeladen um den Fragestellungen anhand von Fallbeispielen und typischen Konstellationen aus dem Mittelmeerraum von der Späten Bronzezeit bis in die Spätantike nachzugehen.

Mit Blick auf die Geschichte kann man ohne Zweifel behaupten, dass Religion ein bedeutender Faktor bei dramatischen Entwicklungen in Städten war, beispielsweise bei der Gründung von Städten über Einwanderungswellen, tiefen Umbrüchen bis hin zu sogar Völkermord. Religiöse Rituale dienten hierbei um Gemeinsamkeiten zu stiften wie auch Rückzugsräume für die Stadtbewohner zu schaffen und Abgeschiedenheit von einzelnen oder Gruppen zu ermöglichen. Umgekehrt hat das räumliche, soziale und politische Umfeld von Städten, ob klein oder groß, religiöse Ideen und Praktiken geprägt. Vorstellungen von „Göttern“ und verstorbenen „Ahnen“, vom Ort der Verehrung, von der Zugänglichkeit zu Göttern und deren Tempeln, sowie die Vorstellungen über ihre Wirkweisen, aber auch, wie man sein eigenes Leben vor den Göttern lebt, wurden dabei nachhaltig beeinflusst. Das Erfurter Forschungsprojekt „Religion und Urbanität“ widmet sich der Untersuchung dieser wechselseitigen Beeinflussungen in historischen und zeitgenössischen Kontexten und bezieht die Ergebnisse auf das Zusammenleben in Städten.

Die jetzige Tagung beschäftigt sich mit den Anfängen dieser Wechselbeziehung, als sich Städte bilden. Dafür ist der Mittelmeerraum im Übergang von der Bronze- zur Eisenzeit besonders spannend. Hier gab es starke Umgestaltungen der Umwelt, neue soziale und wirtschaftliche Beziehungen und Herrschaftsformen. Welche Bedeutung hatte Religion in solch einem kritischen Moment? Und wie wirkten sich Veränderungen auf nachfolgende Epochen aus? Bisher wurde die zunehmende Gründung von Städten nur einseitig mit dem Verweis auf Handelsplätze und Transportwege erklärt. Gerade die Verbindung von archäologischer und religionsgeschichtlicher Forschung, erklärt Dr. Asuman Lätzer-Lasar als Organisatorin, verspricht neue Aufschlüsse darüber, wie eng die Entwicklungen von Religionen und die Entstehungen von Städten tatsächlich miteinander verflochten waren. Der Tagungsort in Erfurt mit seiner eigenen reichen Geschichte ist dafür sehr passend gewählt.

 Kontakt: asuman.laetzer-lasar@uni-erfurt.de; Programm

Carmen González Gutiérrez in ARTE documentary

Carmen González Gutiérrez, a COFUND fellow associated with our project, recently contributed to a documentary by the French TV channel ARTE on Al-Andalus. The region was a medieval Muslim territory, which is now part of Spain. Carmen talked about the Great Mosque of Córdoba, now called Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, one of the most important sacred spaces in Spain. The mosque was a key feature of the medieval town and influenced the whole region for centuries. Indeed, as a space steeped in history and a major tourist attraction, it still shapes the city today. 

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba (Source: Wikipedia).