Mughals made a mall before it was cool

Mughals made a mall before it was cool

The western entrance of the Red Fort leads the visitor through the Lahore Gate to the Chhatta Chowk Bazaar. The Chhatta Chowk Bazaar or the Meena Bazaar is reportedly one of the oldest functional markets in the world currently. Glittering against its own gems and stones set in silver or the gleaming marble of art pieces, Meena Bazaar provides everything from carpets, home decor to souvenirs for the global and desi trotter alike.

Lahore Gate being the principal ceremonial entrance to the fort, this place was seen as an appropriate place to exhibit the Mughal Empire's growing wealth, talents
and capabilities.

After having seen covered bazaar in Peshawar in 17th century, Shah Jahan instructed Mukarmat Khan, supervisor of Red Fort’s construction, to build a similar covered market that would suit the hot climate of Delhi. So the Bazaar-i-Musaqqaf or “the market with a roof” was built. And Shah Jahan gave Delhi a mall.

Three hundred years ago a single covered market provided luxury trade in exquisite carpets, rugs, jajams and shatranjis; takia-namads and quilts; shahtoosh and pashmina shawls; costumes; velvet pardahs (curtains) and chiks; embroideries with zari and brocades; and a wide variety silks, woollens, velvets and taffetas which the Mughals used in their daily life. Precious stones, exotic jewellery and indigenous ornaments; gold and silver utensils, fine wood and ivory work; brass and copper wares; fine arms and armaments; coloured ganjifas and indoor games; zafran (saffron), kasturi (musk) and other spices; and innumerous other stuff too were available in abundance. Such was the grandeur and pomp of Chhatta Bazaar. 

The market, that once pulsated with the comings and goings of royal ladies, the king and several princes, now inhabits 50 odd shops selling select tourist attractions.
Even currently, it’s a living heritage in itself.

Om Prakash Agarwal, the secretary of Red Fort Bazaar Shopkeeper’s Association says “These shops are not new. About eight to ten of them are very old.”

The association was made in 1959 and a decade back they fought Archaeological Survey of India’s(ASI) decision to remove the stores and convert it into a museum to retain the history of the Fort. ASI’s case was then backed by the then Cultural Minister Jagmohan but the Red Fort Bazaar Shopkeeper’s Association finally won. Yet, several shopkeepers took their shops outside the compound in various parts of Delhi and did not return.

One of the oldest shops is ‘Indian Home Industries’, owned and run by A P Singha. “I’ve personally been handling the store since 60 years and my brother managed it before that,” he says.

On questions about the state and manner of Chhatta Chowk Bazaar when he started operating in it, he tells Metrolife, “During the British times I was a young boy. There was a lot of discipline during those times. This place used to be exceptionally clean. There were two to three men in the market who were there to clean it at all times. People who came here were extremely affluent. They were from the embassies of different countries. They used to come here upon the recommendation of the ambassadors.

It was the most important place in India as they could get a variety of stuff under a single roof.” That was another chapter in the Chhatta Chowk Bazaar’s history. The centre of the Chowk breaks into an open section for the sunlight which shines upon the craftsmanship gone into each marbled piece and every vibrant fabric up for sale. The shops, which are now located only in the lower section of the arcade, still welcome the hustle bustle which is distinct to every Indian market against the splendid sandstone
structure of the Red Fort.

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