A walk through Ravivari, a bustling bazaar and flea market located on the east bank of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. ‘Ravivari’, the informal market is held under Ellis Bridge on Sundays and continues to take place even as the market is being redeveloped to provide better facilities for the vendors and visitors.
Text: Niharika Joshi
Pic credits: Dhwanilnath Gharekhan
“The universe is not a collection of objects, but is an inseparable web of vibrating energy patterns in which no one component has reality independently from the entirety. Included in the entirety is the observer.”
The residue of a city and its many processes, its living heritage and repaired items, often find themselves washed up on the shore of its flea markets. These remnants of lives led in the city, of used furniture and unused toys, well-worn books and fresh crockery are put on display in these markets.
One such bustling bazaar thrives on the east bank of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad. This is the ‘Ravivari’. The name Ravivari means ‘that which happens on a Sunday’, since this ‘Gujri bazaar’ or second-hand market is open to trade on Sundays alone.
This market is said to have been the initiative of Sultan Ahmed Shah, started over 600 years ago and operated on Fridays between Teen Darwaza and Bhadra Taar. Through the ups and downs in the city’s history, the market saw a temporary closure during the 1941 riots. Upon reopening soon, it found place near the Siddhi Sayed mosque, then the old civil court, later shifting to the Sabarmati riverfront in 1954, where it has been thriving since.
A walk through this space, which sees over 3,000 visitors, can be an intense experience. Sights and sounds of traders haggling, the occasional tourist photographing this complex Indian atmosphere, a large variety of wandering domestic animals ; and the river as a backdrop to it all.
The Sunday market is placed under Ellis bridge, and in the early hours of the day, one finds traders, labourers and various craftspeople unloading their wares from carts, lorries and sometimes domestic animals.
At first one may feel disoriented, and sometimes intimidated by the fierce selling techniques of local and regional traders. Some women traders are extremely persuasive, and equally possessive of their hand-crafted products. But with the large variety of goods on sale, one is quickly drawn into the process of liking, disliking, selecting, bargaining and buying.
There is the most unlikely collection of wares on sale. From agricultural implements, household utensils, cycle rickshaws, electronic goods, spare parts, to more exciting things like antique items, books, raw food and lanterns. Rummaging through rare and used books is a personal favourite.
The art of up-cycling
The unique aspect of this market is that it has something to offer for all sections of society. For the common masses, the items sold here are domestic essentials, and often luxuries. For travelers and tourists, the journey through the space could be more powerful and attractive than the items per se.
While elitists may argue about quality and authenticity of products sold and the overall crowded experience, such markets have long been the source of interesting articles for artists and designers. With the ‘jugaad’ mindset picking up both in art and design, many designers nowadays source their raw material from the Ravivari in Ahmedabad, and the Shukravari in Vadodara. It’s a delight to see ordinary products transform into beautiful objects.
“Although it is difficult to find quality products at Ravivari that can be used as they are, it definitely is a great place to score some quirky products like vintage typewriters, tins or a funky pair of binoculars,” says a student of architecture. “For our projects, we generally spend a few Sundays every year looking for objects that can be repurposed as a part of installations for the spaces we design. The joy of finding a previously loved product that can be repurposed into art definitely makes you forget all the time and patience required to look for it. We recently created an entrance installation out of old clock springs that we found to be quite fascinating for one of our projects at Surat. Earlier, we had also used old bicycle wheels and gears for another installation in Ahmedabad.”
Pavana Hegde of the interdisciplinary Meraki Design Studio. Vadodara, says: “Shukrawari which is the Vadodara equivalent of the Ravivari is a long held tradition of flea market dating back to the Gaekwad rule. It’s here where you find an eclectic mix of objects ranging from old kettles and coins to vintage books, posters and furniture to hardware.”
From a designer/architect’s perspective the Shukrawari is a complete treasure trove. Things that you’ll find here are one of a kind and what they say about one man’s junk being another man’s treasure is absolutely true. The principles of the studio are based on the concept of up cycling, jugaad and reducing the energy footprint in design execution. “Hence, Shukrawari is the ideal destination which we religiously visit every Friday to pick up things that can be tweaked and aptly used in our designs,” she adds. “The spectrum of things that we find here actually fuels our creative thought process and offers a lot of choices for alternative designing.”
The studio also conducts workshops for school kids called the “Friday market mash up” to bring awareness amongst these children about the value of up cycling and getting creative in the process.
Recently, the structure and organisation of the market has undergone change. Over the years and the countless visits to the market, a dramatic shift is easily recognisable; not just in the form and structure of the place, but also in the mix of visitors.
Around 2010, with the Sabarmati riverfront project around the corner, and with growing debates on development and urban planning, the riverfront development body of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation was reconsidering the location of the informal market. The supposed disbanding or relocation of the bazaar would affect the lives of thousands of people , directly or indirectly associated with the weekly trading activity.
Thus, during that time, the development authority’s plans to beautify the stretch saw considerable resistance from the Ahmedabad Gujri Association (AGA), which defended itself by producing legal receipts and official letters of legitimacy of the bazaar. All this culminated in a public hearing in 2009.
With the sensitivity of the case regarding displacement of livelihoods , the verdict was that projects like the shifting of the Gujri bazaar, a heritage activity of the city, should be re-examined by the AMC with the participation of the traders.
Thus, now, the Sabarmati Riverfront board has managed to provide 16,500 sq m of space as parking for 3,000 two wheelers. Apart from this, basic facilities such as drinking water, wash rooms, information kiosks and seating areas are in the process of upgrade. Now the specificity of the market is to change from being a Sunday-only one, to a more multipurpose space, with organised vending facilities during special seasons and events. The lower promenade to the river will be accessible from the market, through stairs and ramps.
The question is how does one respond to this change? And does it change the perception, process and organic nature of the market? This is an answer only time will tell, with many ‘urban flea’ markets selling high-end, up-cycled and handmade products being organised in the city.
Antique furniture, crockery, cameras and vintage clothes , can be repurposed, re-polished and treated to create fresh pieces of art and useable items. In the larger scheme of things, this cycle of reusing the old to create new causes many ripples. This not only directly affects the livelihoods of all people involved, but also encourages sustainable consumption.
In this age of whirlwind consumption of material things, markets like these stand as little ecosystems with big cultural and economic impacts. The existence of the Ravivari and such local markets may seem to be a simple phenomenon arising out of need, but the implications of such set-ups are complex.
Are these spaces merely a source of necessities for the urban poor and interesting finds for a rising section of DIY designers? What is the future of this microcosm of objects, in the larger macrocosm of perpetual consumption?
Looking forward to exploring this cosmos on the next Ravivari.