About Chanderi

The town of Chanderi is home to Hindus, Muslims and Adivasis; the culture of each being distinct from the other and yet very similar in certain respects. Their constant intermingling has fostered the creation of a composite culture solemnized by communal harmony.

Spread over an area of 18 square kilometres, the town of Chanderi is divided into two broad sections – Andar Shaher and Bahar Shaher, each consisting of a labyrinth of settlements interspersed with architectural masterpieces in the form of palaces, mosques, temples and havelis. Andar Shaher used to be enclosed within one of the seven fortification walls of Chanderi. It is the oldest inhabited area and the inner sanctum of the city as it houses most of the city’s temples including the illustrious Jageshwari temple and the Chaubisi Jain temple.

The Jains and Maheshwaris, the traders of the town, are seen ensconced in their shops, negotiating with prospective buyers. The sprawling havelis of Andar Shaher, some more than 600 years old, never fail to enthral with their heraldic deportment and beckoning jharokas. The three – tiered market place, an innovation of the Khilji Sultans, is fascinating both in design and concept. In the medieval times, the lower tier was meant for people of humble origin, the middle tier for nobles and merchants on horses and the upper tier for the royal retinue on elephants.

Maidan Gali, a prominent colony in Andar Shaher, is home to upper class Muslims like the Sheikhs, Mughals, Sayyids and Pathans. While most of them are landowners, some have also joined the ranks of white collar officers. The periphery of Maidan Gali, which consists of modest dwellings, is inhabited by sabz faroshis and dhobis. Sabz faroshis can be seen lining the streets with their vegetable carts, while the dhobis are engrossed in their daily chores of washing, drying and ironing clothes. Temple bells jingling, the call of azaan, children playing, elders talking, goats braying/bleating, in all a cacophony of sounds blending with the ordered and rhythmic reverberation of the loom, characterize the streets of Andar Shaher.

Inhabited by Kolis , Ansaris , Rajputs, Banias, Basors, Khatiks , Dhimars , Ahirs, Ghosis  and Adivasis, Bahar Shaher is truly representative of the heterogeneous character of Chanderi’s population. The settlements, most of them modest in appearance come alive with the sound of the loom, punctuated occasionally by the call of a goat. Weaving is a passion as well as the sole means of livelihood for the Kolis and Ansaris. It is a skill which is passed on from one generation to another, binding families in the same way that the cloth is bound.

The Kolis are also engaged in making biris, which again is a skill that is taught to the younger generation. The children of the household can be seen rolling biris religiously in their verandas and courtyards while their parents toil relentlessly at the loom. The Banias can be seen in their haven of the town, the market, busy supervising affairs in their grocery stores. Bamboo weavers, traditionally of the Basor caste, sit cosseted in their courtyards, weaving different kinds of baskets, boxes, fans and sieves. Goats and hens, belonging mostly to the Hindu butchers, Khatiks, roam around freely with their brood, asserting themselves and adding to the hustle – bustle of the narrow lanes. The Ahirs and Ghosis can be seen fussing over their cows and buffaloes and leading them to the luscious green fields of the countryside. The Dhimars flock the many lakes and ponds of the town, throwing in their nets and sauntering away later with their catch to the market.

Belonging mostly to the Gond tribe, the Adivasis live in the outskirts of the town, in thatched huts. A typical day in the life of an Adivasi begins early in the morning when he, along with his family, ventures into the forest to collect gum, wood, honey and herbs. These items are then brought to the market in the evening and sold. The Adivasi then purchases vegetables and cereals for his family, depending on the money he earns. This is his circle of life, from the jungle to the market and then home.

The Banjaras line the streets of Bahar Shaher from the months of June to October. Their makeshift settlements, made mostly of black plastic or tarpaulin sheets surmounted on bamboo poles, seem rudimentary and crude, and yet at the same time, exude a certain kind of charm. It is their way of life, to wander from one place to another with their entourage, settling down only to work and earn their living, mostly as blacksmiths, making utensils – pots, pans, knifes, farming equipment and other utilitarian items.

The languages spoken in Chanderi are varied; Muslim families speak a mixture of Hindi and Urdu, while Hindus prefer to converse in Bundeli. A little sprinkling of English is common, especially among the younger generation. Attire in Chanderi is conservative, corresponding to the protocol prevalent in the many small towns of India. Hindu women are mostly seen in saris; however younger girls also wear salwar suits. According to custom, a newly wed Hindu bride has to wrap a cotton shawl over her sari when she steps out of the house. Even though the traditional dress for Hindu men is dhoti – saluka, they have to a large extent adopted western attire including jeans, t-shirts, shirts and pants.

Muslim women mostly wear salwar – suits and burkhas or naqabs when they go out of the house. There are three types of naqabs – Turkish, Arabic and Hindustani. The Turkish naqab is the oldest; it is white in colour and is worn with a cap. The Arabic naqab is black and covers the salwar – suit entirely and the eyes are visible through a thin transparent jaali. The Hindustani naqab is the most commonly used, it is black in colour and only the eyes are visible in it, with the mouth and forehead covered. The traditional dress for Muslim women is the gharara – kameez, which is mostly worn on weddings. Muslim men have a varied wardrobe which includes sherwanis with churidar pyjamas, pathani suits, pants and shirts. Muslim men also wear caps of different kinds including Turkish, Aligarhi, Lucknowi and Arabic.

Adivasi women wear saris tied in a rudimentary fashion, allowing them freedom of movement since they have to tend to daily chores as well as help their husbands in gathering essentials from the forests. Adivasi men are mostly seen in workmen’s clothes which include dhotis, vests, t – shirts and shorts. Adivasis are extremely dexterous and agile, and these qualities are made manifest in their simple and comfortable attire.

Banjara women exhibit a riot of colour in their attire. Their delicately tied Lehenga – Cholis of variegated hues are a metaphor for their colourful and eventful lives. Banjara men dress relatively simply in Dhoti – Kurtas or sometimes even t – shirts, but are always seen in bright coloured turbans.

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