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The Living Tradition of Beltola Bi-Weekly Market

Text & photos by Kristi Bora


Karbi vendor selling organic vegetables at Beltola market


Introduction


Dating back to the period of Ahom reign, the historically significant inter-cultural indigenous market of Beltola takes place every Thursday and Sunday. Beltola is a prime residential area in the southern part of Guwahati city of Assam. It is an adjoining area of the Dispur Capital Complex, the capital of Assam covering an area of about 2.53 sq. km. The bi-weekly market take place at the heart of Beltola area.


Source: Google earth


History


Historically, the kingdom of Beltola was a small Koch kingdom which extended from the borders of the kingdom of Rani in the west, and to the borders of the kingdom of Mayong and Dimorua in the east during the reign of Ahom kingdom. The kingdom of Beltola was separated from the Ahom-ruled Guwahati city by forts formerly and presently known as Rajgarh and Hatigarh. After the fall of the Ahom kingdom, Beltola lost its status as an independent kingdom and was converted into a Mouza.


After India’s Independence in 1947, the Government of India abolished all the special privileges bestowed to former royal families of India, where the Beltola Mouza was demoted from Raj Mouza to that of general category Mouza. The then Rani of Beltola, Rani Lakshmipriya Devi, in spite of loss of power and privileges continued her social welfare programs for the common people. She also raised her voice for the indigenous tribal people of Beltola Mouza, when the local tribal population faced the threat for their existence due to the settlement of large number of people from different parts of Assam in Beltola.


The Beltola Rani worked to protect the rights of indigenous tribal people in the Beltola Haat, when some outside business community tried to expel them. It was partly because of her effort that the historical “Beltola Haat” still retains the indigenous character of being a meeting point for the people of hills and plains.


Beltola Haat


The Beltola bi-weekly market makes an aesthetic example of living traditions in the contemporary world with its cultural values still in practice. It exudes an aesthetic and a delicate personality which makes a buyer or visitor feel the joy in communicating with strangers there. The trading system in the market involves pleasing conversations between the sellers and buyers with greetings and smiles than just a blunt transaction of goods and money. Here, vendors belonging to different indigenous communities from places in and around Guwahati city come to sell their produces. The friendly environment of the place allows one to sit and talk to the vendors asking them about their day, their lifestyle in the village, their produces, and even about how to cook certain indigenous items one is not familiar with. They would in turn ask about you and your life which is sometimes just enough to make your day because you feel the genuity in their tone.


A glimpse of Beltola haat


The bi-weekly market is famous for its variety of fresh and local products which leads to it being flooded by the city people during the two days of a week. The principal products in the market comprises of a variety of vegetables, fruits, rice, local delicacies, poultry and spices.


The place is an amalgamation of diverse cultures and traditions taking place every week. Indigenous tribal people have been taking part in the trading system since the period of Ahom reign which gives the market its ethnographic value. Traditionally, the vendor population included Khasis and Jayantias from the hills of Meghalaya, Karbis and Bodos from Sonapur, Assam and Manipuris from Hojai, Assam. There are also vendors from other parts of Assam who have joined the historical haat at a much later stage.


Jaintia vendors selling organic products


The vegetable and fruit products are home grown by the sellers, or they buy it from large-scale farmers in their locality to sell at the market. They also rear poultry such as chicken, duck, and pigeon for their meat and eggs. Indigenous delicacies including a variety of dried fish, the larvae and pupa of silkworm, bamboo shoot, khaar (alkali), seuli flower petals (night-flowering jasmine), thekera and snail among other items are also sold in the market. Some produces that are grown only in the north-eastern region of India are also available here which include vegetables such as the small potatoes (guti aloo), kaji nemu, Karbi-Anglong ginger, bhoot jolokia, rice such as Manipuri black rice, bora rice and joha rice.


Various products that make Beltola haat different from others


The market is one of a kind in the country with produces unique to it. It provides variety and thus options to the consumers which keeps bringing them back every week. 


Scope for Tourist Engagement


The Beltola bi-weekly market has a great scope for tourism. The market is kind of an open museum displaying indigenous tribal communities engaged in trade, open to visitors every Thursday and Sunday of the week. The visitors are welcome to enjoy and learn about these communities and their livelihood by being a part of the trading system. In this contemporary world where people are more interested in travelling and exploring, the Beltola haat is a great space of learning.


The Northeastern region of India has retained its natural beauty for a long time now, and people around the world are coming here to explore the untouched regions and experience its cultural diversity in real time. It has become a hub for starving travelers and enthusiastic tourists.


The Beltola haat as a heritage market has the potential to captivate tourists with its historical values, cultural diversity, hospitality of the vendors and organic produces. It can be turned into a full-fledged ‘eco-market’ by conserving its traditional values and practicing environmental sustainability.


Conclusion


Presently, the Beltola haat still takes place every Thursday and Sunday in the Beltola market area. The vendors participating in the bi-weekly market comes from different regions and brings products that are locally available in their respective regions to sell at the trading point. Majority of them belongs from rural areas and some travels every day for trading purpose while others stay in rented houses. The market comprises of both male and female vendors belonging to Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious communities working in harmony. Nowadays, more than fifty percent of the vendors sells products at the market on a daily basis while thirty percent are weekly vendors, and a very few are even seasonal vendors. They consist of agricultural labourers, daily wage workers, students, and small-business owners.


The vendors form the tribal communities are mostly women whereas the non-tribal vendors mostly consist of men.


By advertising this heritage market place and the benefits of the locally grown organic produces sold here, we can show its aesthetic side to attract tourists. If required, a local guide should be provided to help the foreign visitor communicate with the vendors.


Reference


1.     Aye, K.V., & Sarma, B. (2022). Street vending and urban public space: A study of street vendors in Beltola Market, Guwahati. International Journal of Health Sciences, 6(S8), 150-172. https://doi.org/10.53730/ijhs.v6nS8.9667

2.     https://alchetron.com/History-of-Beltola (updated on Nov 15, 2023)


About the Author :


Kristi Bora, is a post-graduate in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology from Cotton University, Guwahati. Presently Kristi is doing independent research work in the Karbi-Anglong region of Assam.

You can reach her at borakristi11@gmail.com

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