Colourful bamboo baskets, laughter of women sipping away at mahua, sweets to devour — haat bazaars of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, are a different world. DTE visits one
A man sells small fish wrapped in Sal leaves at a weekly haat or rural market in Bastar’s Mardum village. Tribal communities of Bastar consider the Sal tree sacred. Sacred groves, places of faith for Adivasis, have Sal and Mahua trees. In Chhattisgarh, Sal forest covers almost 14 per cent of the geographical area. Sal seeds are an important minor forest produce. Leaf bowls made of Sal leaves are, therefore, extensively used for serving food. In Chhattisgarh, farm ponds constructed under MGNREGA proved to be a game changer for rural communities, especially during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. These ponds used for rearing fish reduced the market dependency on vegetables.
Dried mahua is one of the most coveted items at haats. Bastar is synonymous with mahua drink, which is served to guests. It resembles water but has a pungent smell. Light yellow, small mahua flowers are gathered by Adivasis from under trees in April and May. Women self-help groups played a pivotal role in the collection of mahua flowers during the lockdown. Even sanitisers made in Chhattisgarh used mahua flowers. Tribal families store these flowers at home to make alcohol after drying them in the sun, or sell the stuff in weekly markets.
Bamboo baskets of varied shapes and sizes made by local artisans are sold at haat bazaars. Prices range from Rs 150-200 for each item. It is common to spot such baskets inside the kitchen of many rural homes in Bastar. A great alternative to plastic containers, these baskets are used for storage.
Such curried fish and meat are best enjoyed during lunch time accompanied by local drinks. Each plate costs Rs 10-20. Egg curry is also sold in a similar fashion. While the sellers bring along their own food and drink, these delicacies tempt visitors roaming around all day.
All kinds of sweets and savouries are sold at this stall. These include hot jalebis, pakodas, gulgulas or round-shaped sweets and sweet boondi. Notice the colours ranging from yellow to deep golden brown.
Salfi or palm wine, a drink made from plam tree, draws a large number of visitors. The drink is often enjoyed with meat.
A view of a typical haat in Bastar. Here, women gossip and share an occasional laughter, and men take naps when customers are not around. Everything from gaudy dresses to colourful bangles can be found here. Dried red chillies are kept in small heaps along with fresh vegetables. Women selling mahua also urge customers to buy items like detergent and fresh gourds grown in kitchen gardens.
Women take a small break. They come from far off places to sell their produce. Haats usually start around 10-11 am and pick up post 12 pm. Many adivasi women drink salfi or mahua and eat whatever they like.
Rural markets can be seen outside Chhattisgarh too. In one of Tagore’s poems, the bard mentions a haat near the banks of the Padma river, which is held on a Friday. This weekly market in Keonjhar district is similar to the ones found in Bastar. Dried fish is an attraction, even though the strong smell can be a put off for many.
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