In the outskirts of Banswara district, in an area called Arthuna, lie a group of ancient temples known as Hanumangarhi [i]. These temples are beautiful, peaceful shrines that attract followers of faith and admirers of architectural beauty from all around India. The temples lie in a relatively remote area, so one usually can expect to admire the shrines in solace. Unless however, they decide to visit on a Saturday.
Every Saturday, masses of vendors set up shop along the path to the temples to sell various good to people from nearby villages. According to vendors and customers at the Arthuna HAAT, since its revival 5-10 years ago, the market has been a mainstay in the area and has become increasingly popular as more tourists have begun to visit Hanumangarhi. Throughout the day that the market takes place, swarms of people—young to old—from local villages walk through the aisles and aisles of pop-up shops, conversing with familiar faces and bartering with vendors in an attempt to purchase a new pair of jeans at a good rate or simply to eat a samosa or kachodi as they roam. Many people come to the market with no intention to buy anything at all, only to socialize and soak in the vibrant atmosphere, similar to a fair or a community theater performance.
HAAT bazaars have been vital to the lives of rural communities for quite some time. Perhaps the importance of HAAT is best expressed by the following excerpt from the International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research [ii]:
“They [HAATs] play a pivotal role as a scene to gather news and information, to exchange views and knowledge, to engage in various social, cultural, religious, and even political activities. They are venues for both commerce as well as festivity and exude a feeling of unity and strength. These occasional gatherings lead to traffic in social, cultural, and economic exchanges.”
Though there are various functions of a HAAT Bazaar, the primary purpose remains to provide a marketplace for local communities. Nowadays permanent shops and markets are opening in many rural places, but historically the HAAT was a temporary market which allowed people to purchase goods they could not easily access.
To this day, the vendors at the HAAT market are largely people who are from outside the communities in which the market is taking place. For example at the Arthuna HAAT, vendors come weekly from Ratlam, Ahmdeabad, Udaipur, Banswara, and other near and far places. These vendors sell a wide variety of goods including: fruit, vegetables, clothing, shoes, toiletries, toys, kitchenware, and much more.
HAAT markets occur in different areas at different times of the week. Thus, the vendors hop from one market to the next from Monday to Sunday. For example the Arthuna market occurs every Saturday, where as the market in nearby Ambapura occurs on Wednesday, and at Kalingra on Thursday. One clothing vendor at the Arthuna market noted that he and his partners go to these three HAATs every week, and rest or collect merchantable goods during off days.
The economic benefits or consequences for both vendors and customers at the HAAT are interesting to note. Generally, vendors sell their products for less at the HAAT, hoping that the increased traffic will lead to greater profits. This serves as a major benefit to customers, who in turn shop in bulk at the HAAT to stock up on goods, so they will not have to purchase them at a higher rate at the permanent markets.
Unfortunately, since the prices at the HAAT are lower than market rates vendors can sometimes find it difficult to turn a profit. One such example is Shankar, a vegetable vendor from Madhya Pradesh. Shankar buys vegetables in Banswara and sells them at four different HAAT markets in the district throughout the week. Generally he sells his product for 10 rupees less per kilogram relative to the market rate; after the costs of buying vegetables, travel, payment to the panchayat for setting up shop at the HAATs, and other expenses, Shankar earns between an 8,000-10,000 rupee income a month. Other vendors expressed similar practices of cutting the rates for their products, and most expressed a difficulty earning a profit while competing against market rates. However, all of the vendors did emphasize the benefit of the heavy traffic that HAAT markets draw and indicated that most of the time it does allow them to break even and sustain their business.
As briefly mentioned earlier, HAAT markets provide a benefit to customers because they provide lower rates for products. It also provides access to fruits, vegetables, clothing, and other products which may not be regularly available at the permanent markets in the region they live in. The lower rates can also be difficult on the local store owners and markets in areas close to where HAAT markets take place. For example, if families buy fruits and vegetables in bulk for a week at the HAAT, then that takes away traffic from local vendors. Additionally, due to the decreased traffic, many local vendors have to hike up their rates beyond the market rate just to sustain their business. This causes a unique tension between local vendors and HAAT market vendors who come to sell their products from outside areas.
There is no doubt that HAAT markets have long been vital to the culture and economy of rural populations. They still serve an important function in the lives of these communities; however, it is essential to understand the tension and manage the consequences caused by permanent rural markets becoming more diverse and being able to provide similar goods as the HAAT.
[i] Archaelogical Survey of India. Accessed at: http://asijaipurcircle.nic.in/Arthuna.html
[ii] Sarkar, Aditi, Banik, Pabitra, Dattagupta, Rana. “Resurrection and being of a Haat: case study of rural markets of eastern plateau region” International Jounral of Scientific Engineering & Research. Vol 5. Issue 12. December 2014.