January 29, 2011

Roaming festival hawkers

The Thiagaraja aradhana just got over.

This annual event is an occasion for musicians to pay tribute to one of the greatest composer of Carnatic music, Thiagaraja at the place of his samadhi in the small town of Thiruvaiyaru, close to Thanjavur.

Over five days and nights, 400 plus artistes perform for ten to fifteen minutes on a stage that faces Thiagaraja's shrine.

It is an anjali for musicians, vidwans and rasikas.

Over the years, a mela has grown around this event, much like a festival. This has given a different dimension to the aradhana. While the concerts carry on back to back, morning to late night, townsfolk and Thanjavureans and visitors to the aradhana can also soak in the mela.

Ram Bhat who runs the popular Matsya Restaurant in Egmore and his wife was at Thiruvaiyaru this week; while Ram's wife enjoyed the concerts Ram and I decided to explore the fringes of the fest.

Our first stop was the famed Andavar joint in the town centre known for its Asoka halwa. Passing by this landmark the previous evening, I had seen lots of people sitting at tables and assumed that besides halwa, Andavar would also serve great tiffin.

It did not as we got to know when Ram and I checked in. Two kinds of halwa, a variety of savouries fresh from the kitchen is what you get here. And as a recent concession, Andavar serves only curd rice, sambar and pickle at lunch time. And you can have halwa as dessert.

Ram had already done a recce of the bylanes of this town and was disappointed that not a single food hawker could offer something local. So since a fiery molaga bajji had fired his mouth and he wanted to find out the cause of the fieriness, we went back to the makeshift shop and realised that the hawker sprinkled chilli powder on the molaga bajjis!

We located a few hawkers selling paniyaram. They were good.

But Ram said he could not find local toys or crafts here.

All that was sold was either plastic or cheap, imported stuff. And they were sold by a community of people who travelling around the state, from festival to festival. From towns to cities to villages.

These nomad hawkers lead a life of their own and it is governed by a calendar of festivals. At temples and mosques and churches.

One week they are at a teppam or thai poosam celebration, the next they head to Thiruvaiyaru. It is a mentally-databased calendar that keeps their business going.

They are in Mylapore for the Panguni fest of Sri Kapali Temple, they are at the Annai Vailankanni feast in Besant Nagar and in Nagapattinam and of late, they have included the annual Mylapore Festival in their calendar.

Truly a fascinating life of a colorful community.

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