Say Burra Bazar (also spelt as Bara Bazar) meaning Big Market to any Kolkata resident and the face lights up. Known as the Mecca of shopping for the very rich and the hoi polloi, the traditional buyer and the adventurous treasure hunter, the young and the old, this familiar and popular destination for various reasons is always bustling with multitudes of enthusiastic buyers. Eager souls in search of the familiar and needed to quaint and unfamiliar curios, the petty items to the costly stuff, the ordinary wares to the fancy new age gizmos, everyone seeks to explore and get the most of a good bargain – one of the chief attractive features of this 18th century market that has moved with the times.
The spread of Burra Bazar
Where does Burra Baazar begin and where does it end?
On the North side you have Posta, currently a Marwari-dominated wholesale market that sells a variety of goods like edible oil, salt, cereals, spices, food grains, sugar, vanaspathi goods etc. and Jorabagan, an assembly constituency and its police station.
In the East you have Jorasanko (Two + bridges), called so because of the two bamboo bridges that spanned a small stream at this point once; a locality that is known for being the seat of the distinguished Tagore family, distinguished luminaries, reputed institutions, and also a centre for traditional arts and culture. Adjacent is the locality of Kolutola.
In the South you have the B.B.D. Bagh area near the Hooghly River in the western part of central Kolkata which is a square built around the old Lal Dighi tank. B.B.D. (Benoy, Badal, Dinesh)Bagh is named after three revolutionaries of the Independence Movement in the early part of the 20th century and is still the commercial and political center of all of East India and many of the business. Political institutions from the colonial era still exist. The Chief Minister’s office and the Raj Bhavan are covered in this area.
The West part has the famous Hooghly river.
The South West corner has Lalbagh a locality and Bow Bazar, an area known for being the forefront of Kolkata’s changing society.
Burra Bazar is understood to be within the large perimeter formed by these areas on all sides.
A more accurate description of boundaries puts it down as Posta in the North to Canning Street in the South, Strand Road in the West to Chitpur Road in the East is the magical world of Burra Bazar – the lifeline of Kolkata.
What is available at Burra Bazar?
Ask this question to a person familiar with Bara Bazar and the opposite person might give you a queer look at first, bordering on ridicule. ‘Everything’ is probably the first response what most would immediately come up with.
Starting as a marketing hub or a place to process yarn and cloth from neighbouring areas like Dhaka, Murshidabad, Cossim Bazar, during the British times it slowly developed into a wholesale market of textiles. Encouraged, it has developed and further expanded to be what it is today – a commercial nucleus of Kolkata and one of the largest wholesale markets in India.
Cutting right across Burra Bazar is Harrison Road, now known as Mahatma Gandhi Road that runs from Howrah Bridge to Sealdah Railway station. The Mahatma Gandhi road is almost uniformly throughout 75 feet in width. It is the throbbing heart or the lifeline of Kolkata.
The famous Burra Bazar structure
Burra Bazar is divided into specialized sub-markets, each dealing with a commodity and its associated products. You have local names like Dhotipatti, Fancypatti, Tulapatti, Chinipatti etc. Each Sub-market is further divided into divisions and sub-divisions that are known as katras, kothis or chowk. There are supposed to be an estimated 25 and odd katras in all. Combined in fine network, this maze supplies what the people of Kolkata and all its visitors all and sundry that they come for.
e.g. Raja Katra, an area that once belonged to the Maharaja of Bardhaman, is a Katra famous for selling most of the spices for day to day needs. Manohar Das Katra is supposed to deal majorly in hardware and textile goods. Vikram Chand Market and Khangrapatti mostly sell electronic goods and artificial ornaments.
During a major festival like Diwali, Kalakar street and surrounding areas would be covering all items dealing with the festival – idols, their costumes, Puja items, designer earthen lamps for the occasion, boondi ladoos, gift items, novelties and many others. Literally the whole of Kolkata would be flocking to this destination to make their purchases.
The teething problems that surface now and then
- When the quantum of activity rises to mammoth proportions in a trading environment, it is but natural that there would be accompanying problems well manageable but niggling enough to be given attention now and then. It is an estimated 50000 plus of merchants from across the country who have been having their business interests in Burra Bazar in some way or the other. Their volumes of business invite huge financial transactions that become noticeable and pose threats by way of anti-social elements making their presence felt. This in turn keeps the police of the area also busy in seeing that things run smoothly.
- Traffic jams, crowding along footpaths, congestion hampering foot movement of literally all pedestrians come for purchases, are daily problems.
- A considerable passage of time, having elapsed since construction, for many of the buildings, have at times caused unsafe conditions to collapses resulting in minor damages.
- Fire hazards were a regular phenomenon a few years back due to short circuits from poor maintenance of the wiring in old buildings, loose hanging wires, fire safety regulations being flouted and such other carelessness acts of negligence. Of late such incidents have reduced but still pose a hazard now and then.
“Life can never be smooth always” is a maxim that has lodged itself in the minds of those operating from Bara Bazar for eking out their living. So such teething problems do not deter them from their goal of doing well in what they have come for.
For those who visit to do their shopping at Burra Bazar it is a paradise to be visited time and again.
As long as the two continue to serve each other by way of sale and custom, Burra Bazar will always remain that wonderful magical place that casts a spell on everyone from the time the first visit is made – to come again and again and again.