Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chhatta Chowk/ Meena Bazar, Red Fort,Delhi

Bazaars in 17th century India were normally in the open air. A covered bazaar although of a design common to West Asia, was an innovation in India. Shah Jahan had heard about the arcade in Isfahan, and it seems that the notion of a covered bazaar, stimulated to him by the one he saw in Peshawar in 1646. He instructed Mukarmat Khan who was supervising the construction of the Red Fort, to build a similar covered market there. Shah Jahan was greatly impressed as its design was suitable for the hot climate of Delhi.

Presently known as 'Chhatta Chowk Bazaar' or 'Meena Bazaar' , this bazaar earlier was known as 'Bazaar-i-Musaqqaf' (the market with 'saqaf' means roof) or 'Chhatta-bazaar' (a roofed market). Lahori-Gate entrance of the Red fort leads into the shadows of this ' Covered Market' or 'Vaulted Arcade'. Shah Jahan was perhaps impelled by political reasons to position Chhatta Bazaar at the principal ceremonial entrance to the fort, as an appropriate place to exhibit the Mughal Empire's growing wealth, talents and capabilities.

The linearity of this market has formulated a strong longitudinal link and emphasized the straight axis with the Naubat-Khana & Diwan-i-Am. Walking through the Lahori-Gate one immediately enters this covered two storied arcade, with octagonal court in the middle for sunlight & natural ventilation, known as 'Chhattar Manzil' which divided the market into two sections, eastern and western, which have vaulted roofs supported on series of broad arches given at regular interval. Their edges, supported by stone and the intermediary space ( i.e. a vault) bears stalactite (honey comb motifs) in stucco, which has been universally used in Islamic art, structurally as well as ornamentally. As it appears, the whole of the market, in the interior and on the exterior, was originally stuccoed, painted and gilded to give a gorgeous effect. Bazaar on each side contained 32 arched bays that served as shops, just as they do today. The lower cell consisted of two rooms, the front one was possibly used for the actual display and the one at the back for storage, manufacture or business transaction. The upper cells may perhaps have been used for the official transactions related to the commercial function.

300 yrs ago this bazaar catered to the luxury trade of the imperial household, specialized in exquisite carpets, rugs, jajams and shatranjis; takia-namads and quilts; shahtus and pashmina shawls; costumes; velvet pardahs and chiks; embroideries with zari and brocades; and a wide variety silks, woolens, velvets and taffetas which the Mughals used in their daily life; precious stones, exotic jewelry and indigenous ornaments; gold and silver utensils, fine wood and ivory work; brass and copper wares; fine arms and armaments; coloured ganjifas and indoor games; jafran (saffron), kasturi (musk) and other spices; and innumerous other stuff which could not be had even in the adjoining Chandani Chowk market, and it was privilege of the king that this rare and precious things were available only in the 'Fort market' for their exclusive choice.

The Chhatta Bazaar still bubbles with life, but with fewer jewelry shops and more light-hearted Indian handicrafts shops today. Few of them come under the biggest export houses in India. The prizes here are quite reasonable and affordable. The Chhatta Bazaar is in the process of its revival to get its original glory back after alterations done during the last two centuries.

(For more details and pictures, on Red Fort and Meena Bazar, you can check the link

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