I went somewhere interesting on 17 November 2014. It was the annual groundnut festival on Bull Temple Road, Bengaluru.
It started as an annual folk festival and fair. Now, it is international! Every year, the media and various others write about it. It occurs on what is now a small stretch of Bull Temple Road, Bengaluru.
Missed it? No problem. There’s always next year. But remember what you read here and you will likely find the fair a lot more interesting.
First, about the term folk. It is associated with scale, an important geography term and concept. In geographical terms, “folk” is at the local scale. Its geographic scope is very limited. At the other extreme of this scale concept is global – refers to the whole world as a scale (e.g.: multi-national corporations).
This fair – called parishe in Kannada (pronounced PARI-shay; colloquially PAR-say) – is an annual affair. According to folklore (there’s that word again) this area was once known for groundnut cultivation (“peanut” is an 18th-19th century American word for it). Cattle used to graze on these plants and disturb the crop. One farmer beat a bull so badly that it died. He was stricken with remorse and repented. He had a dream asking him to build a temple for the bull to absolve himself. This, he did, and every year a festival is held to commemorate the story. Remember, stories such as these are not to be taken literally. They are romantic. This story pertains only to this area … folklore.
People claim that it has been held continuously for the past 400, 500, 600 years. There is no way to verify any of this, often the way with folklore.
The first obvious geography connections you can see are soil, climate, terrain (topography), hydrography, distance to market, and settlement patterns – all fairly obvious when you set foot in the festival area.
However, look a little more closely and you will find a lot more.
Groundnuts are not native to India. They are part of the flow of plants that happened with the movement of Columbus on his voyages, the colonial legacies of the Spaniards, the Portuguese, and the trade links with the Vijayanagara Empire in about the 16th century. The late Dr B G L Swamy, in his book Namma Hotteyalli Dakshina America (South America in our tummies) tells us that this plant came to India from South America. It is believed that it was probably first domesticated in Paraguay. (Incidentally, it is not a “nut” but a legume.)
As I walked around the parishe, I met a wide variety of individuals. I could guess where they may be from. Many from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – they were easily identifiable since I live here. There were others I could not readily identify. So, I asked them. Several of the flute and toy vendors were from Bihar. Cotton candy (an 18th century European invention) vendors were from Rajasthan. So were those selling “white black boards” (roll-up type; language issue, the word “blackboard” has become deeply ingrained in our usage … even white boards are called blackboards by many!). A rangavalli (rangoli) designs vendor was also from Rajasthan. There were families of Rajasthanis who were selling various other things. Often, little children were left guarding the merchandise.
All of them part of intranational (domestic), interstate, inter-regional economic migration – that’s some geography!
And the merchandise! So many countries represented.
Space is limited. So, the vendors have to vie for a small area as close as possible to the centre of the parishe. The further away you go from this centre (core), the less business you are likely to get. This is a miniature version of the core-periphery concept of geography.
How do you get a strategic location? You come early and mark your space with a sheet of plastic or tarpaulin and plonk some of your merchandise down. And you have a person sitting there. So, the children sitting at the “stalls” were important to hold the place. Temporary territoriality.
In negotiating the three to four days of occupation of that space, many intricate interactions occur. Very often, people from the same place congregate in contiguous spaces. They form links of geographical identity – a common place of origin, shared language, caste, religion, etc.
Even though there is competition among the vendors, you will see a lot of cooperation, too. If a lone vendor has to step away for any reason, the neighbor will keep an eye on their stall. The Rajasthani vendor from whom I bought a “white black board” didn’t have change for a 100-Rupee note. As I watched with curiosity, he walked over to a woman from Tamil Nadu who had a stall where you could throw rings around objects and win prizes. The simple word “amma” prefaced his request in Hindi for two 50-Rupee notes and she gave him the change immediately.
It is a groundnut fair. But groundnuts are never just the only things sold. There are many other things quite unrelated to groundnuts. This is an important aspect of such congregations. The parishe is an example of a periodic market.
In most rural areas of India (and in many other countries) you will find markets that operate once a week, once a fortnight, etc. The parishe is an annual market. Traditional rural periodic markets were (and are) important in many ways.
Commodities were sold and exchanged; most importantly seeds and livestock. Livestock breeding happened. There were events for potential marriage partners to find each other – think of them as a rural dating service! These were important in keeping genetic diversity – a very important issue.
There were story-telling, songs, theatre, etc. Worship (sacred activity) was integral to these. People wore colorful clothes and so on. All in all, a vibrant and colorful affair. Even in urban Bengaluru, you can find periodic markets. Find one near you and visit it.
In the parishe, I saw a lot of countries represented in different forms. Observe how international it is, in this slide show.
A short video about BMS College of Engineering’s eco-bag initiative at the Parishe:
(A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, Thursday, 20 November 2014)