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Thiruvananthapuram’s 18th Century Chalai Market getting smart makeover to woo tourists


Kerala’s oldest and largest Chalai market located in the Capital Thiruvananthapuram is all set to wear a new look. Its heritage streets will be covered with floating umbrellas in different colours, a concept which is prevalent and popular in Nepal, Turkey, Spain, Hungary and France.

The concept and project of umbrella city has been initiated by Smart City Thiruvananthapuram Ltd as it has been felt for a very long time by traders, shopkeepers and authorities that this market which dates back to centuries needs a facelift.

The refashioning of the streets with umbrellas will help bring in more customers and tourists, feel the officials.

Chalai Market3
The Smart City Thiruvananthapuram Ltd is planning to cover the streets of Chalai Market with floating umbrellas in different colours to attract more footfalls (Pic. Courtesy ANI)

The project is possible in Chalai market because it does not have high-rise buildings. To implement this project, SCTL is planning to restrict entry of vehicles on the main arterial road while overhead wires and cables will be moved underground. Further, to ease traffic, three multilevel car parking facilities are being planned.

To complete this project quickly SCTL will start work on two of the 11 roads from next week. This initiative has been welcomed by all the stakeholders in the market.

Dating back to centuries

The market is said to have come into being at the end of 18th Century. It was established by Raja Kesavadas, Dewan of Travancore during the rule of Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (1758-1798). The objective was to make it a central place from where the supplies would be despatched to Travancore. The two rivers close by — Killi and Karamana – were used to move the goods.

Chalai Market4
The vegetables and fruits that are available in the market are not just from India but countries like New Zealand (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@KeralaTourism)

Some argue that this market place goes back to the 16th Century. Talking to thenewsminute.com, historian Malayinkeezh Gopalakrishnan had said that “In approximately 1579, a theft happened at the Padmanabha Swamy temple. The Mathilakam Rekha (temple chronicles) states that the vessels stolen from the temple were sold off at Chalai market. This implies that the market existed even in the 16th Century.”

Market that offers fresh fish to fruits to flowers to food

The shops at this historic market offer an array of products. Fruits and vegetables from India and abroad are widely available, including raw dates from Arabian countries and apples from New Zealand. At another corner one can see women selling flowers like jasmine and lotus and also garlands.

To dress people there are shops selling handloom and contemporary fabrics and garments while there are traditional artisans like goldsmiths who make and sell beautiful ornaments to deck oneself up.

Chalai Market2
The market offers delicious food like biryani and chicken to the visitors (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@bala_madhavan)

Apart from these goods, the market has shops that sell a wide range of home furnishing and hardware; shoes; groceries; footwear; stationary; home appliances; vessels; utensils and items used for traditional poojas at home or in temples.

Lip-smacking delicacies like flavourful mutton biryani made with aromatic spices, and served with pappadam and eggs is one of the favourite food items offered in this market. Apart from this there are mouth-watering chicken dishes available among several other options. The aroma of coffee pervades the area which is alluring.

Convergence of faiths

Going beyond goods, the market also symbolises the peaceful coexistence of different faiths. The famous Padmanabha Swamy Temple dating back to the 8th Century with its presiding deity Lord Vishnu in the Anantha Shayanam or eternal yogic posture overlooks the market.

Lord Vishnu Padma Swamy Temple
The famous Padmanabha Swamy temple which dates back to 8th Century overlooks the market (Pic Courtesy Twitter/@SG_HJS)

There are several Amman temples dotting the market that are said to have come up with the arrival of Tamil people.

The Muslims who came from Thiruvithancode built a mosque called Karuppattikada Juma Masjid which is also popularly called Chala Juma Masjid. It was built in the first quarter of the 20th Century and is considered to be one of the oldest mosques in the district.