‘In The Bazaars of Hyderabad’ by Sarojini Naidu is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. It was published for the first time in 1912 in Naidu’s volume, The Bird of Time. The poem details social life in the city of Hyderabad, India, where Naidu was from. The lines are structured as conversations between vendors and their prospective buyers in a “bazaar” or marketplace.
These lines are often in the form of questions. There is at least one question in each stanza and the first line is a refrain of one particular question. While the objects and vendors change, the question does not. Each stanza begins with the speaker asking the “merchant” what they sell. It is this back and forth conversation that gives the poem a musical quality. The relatively straightforward questioning, as well as the vibrant images, make it seem as though the reader is active within the marketplace itself. One is able to imagine the lives of those who are buying and selling and project onto the poem possible reasons for their sales and purchases.
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Summary of In The Bazaars of Hyderabad
The poem begins with the speaker, a customer, asking a vendor what he is selling. This person gives him details regarding the turbans, rich mirrors, and daggers, as well as beautifully stitched tunics he has for sale. The text progresses quickly to the next stall where the same, or possibly a new, customer inquiries about the “lentils, rice” and spices being sold. Again, they receive an appealing description of the items. In the third stanza, the speaker becomes interested in what the “goldsmith” is making. This stanza is more in-depth as the goldsmith focuses on three different ways he treats gold. He is seeking to show off his products and his skill. He can hammer something thin enough for the leg of a pigeon, or forge something sturdy enough for a king.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker inquires about three different types of instruments and fruits. These products almost all originate from the Indian subcontinent and are added into the piece in order to further praise the Indian culture.
The final stanza describes in greater detail than any of the previous stanzas what the materials for sale are going to be used for. In this section, the speaker asks “flower-girls” what they are weaving. They respond by describing the creation of a crown for a bridegroom and a shroud for someone recently deceased.
Images and Tone/Mood
A reader should also take note of the moments in which the poet utilizes the senses in order to make a scene more believable. This is seen through the depiction of a variety of colors, such as “silver” and “azure.” One’s auditory sense is stimulated by the music playing in the background and the words of the vendors and customers. While the descriptions of stalls may vary, they have been crafted in order to make one see the value in their existence. This is emphasized through the moments in which food, such as lemons, lentils, and rice are mentioned.
From the first stanza, it is clear that the poet feels proud of the world she is describing. She was from this particular area of India and presumably knew the markets well. This comes through clearly in the excited way she glorifies each stall and its wares.
Although the speaker changes frequently in the text, the same kind of feelings come through. The customer or customers are always engaged with what they are seeing. They are consistently interested in the products and the vendors are always willing to describe them in detail.
An additional piece of context which might help a reader understand ‘In The Bazaars of Hyderabad’ is that it was written during the Indian independence movement. Through the text, Naidu is hoping to show the beauty and importance of Indian tradition. It’s also likely that the emphasis placed on the items themselves was done in order to stress their own value. There was no need for foreign products in the marketplace.
Analysis of In The Bazaars of Hyderabad
What do you sell O ye merchants ?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
In the first stanza of this piece the first speaker, a customer of the bazaar, poses a question. They ask, “What do you sell O ye merchants?” A variation of this same question is going to be repeated at the beginning of each stanza. Every time a question appears, as posed by a prospective customer, the owner of the market stall replies.
In this case, the answer comes after the customer compliments the vendor. They state that their “wares are displayed” “Richly,” or beautifully. However they are organized, it makes the customer want to buy them, or at least know more about them. The owner of these products responds to the question by stating that they are selling “Turbans,” “Tunics,” “Mirrors,” and “Daggers.” Every one of these products is described appealingly, as one would expect.
The turbans are surprisingly bright, being sold in “crimson and silver.” Then the tunics are said to be of a “purple brocade.” Brocade refers to a fabric made of multi-colored silk threads with metallic additions. The last two items are different, in that they aren’t pieces of clothing. This shows the variety of items in this single stall and the quality of material the vendor has access to. This person is able to sell mirrors with amber frames and daggers with “handles of jade.”
What do you weigh, O ye vendors?
Saffron and lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna, and spice.
What do you call , O ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.
Without any transition, the poet moves the narrative onto the next stall. There is no clear definition between a first customer and a second, so a reader can either assume the same customer is visiting multiple stalls or a different person is asking the questions. Although considering that the questions are in the same format, the former is more likely.
In this stanza, the customer’s question is altered to fit the product being sold. The stall carries grains and spices. They ask first what it is the vendors “weigh” and then what is it they “grind.” This is specifically in reference to the “Sandalwood” which is ground down and used to treat the skin. It is accompanied by “henna” and “spice” of an undefined variety.
In the last two lines, the speaker delivers another question, this time asking what it is the “pedlars” “call,” or announce to those passing by. They answer, “Chessmen and ivory dice.” Again, this one area of the market contains a variety of products being sold side by side.
What do you make,O ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
In the third stanza, the question is altered again. This time to fit the “gold” of jewelry. The customer asks the “goldsmiths” what it is they make. They give the answer that they make “Wristlet and anklet and ring.” The following lines are different than any which proceeded them. The speaker is attempting to sell his wares to this person and is bragging on the lightness and/or durability of the items. First, he speaks on the “Bells” he makes for the feet of pigeons. The gold used in the bells must be “Frail” and light, like the wings of a dragonfly.
In contrast to the bells, the goldsmith also makes “Girdles of gold for dancers.” This would be a piece of wrapped jewelry that went around a dancer’s waist. Last, he mentions something more durable the gold used in the scabbards of kings. The merchant’s products are suitable for a wide variety of situations—from pigeons to kings.
What do you cry,O ye fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate, and plum.
What do you play ,O musicians?
Cithar, sarangi and drum.
what do you chant, O magicians?
Spells for aeons to come.
The questions are just as frequent in the fourth stanza. Here, the speaker encounters “fruitmen,” “musicians” and “magicians.” All three of these occupations take the vendors a step away from the marketplace. Their lives are becoming more defined as the text progresses. First, a reader only knew the vendor was selling an object. Now one is aware of a deeper history to the people beyond the products that are for sale.
The “fruitmen” are asked what it is they “cry.” This is the same kind of statement as was seen in the second stanza in which the pedlars are asked what it is they “call.” From these two statements, set apart by one stanza, a reader is able to imagine the sounds of the marketplace ringing out around the bazaar. The calls of different vendors would overlap, creating a chorus of products and desires. As an answer to this question the men respond that they “yell” out to the passing shoppers that they sell “Citron, pomegranate, and plum.”
So far the poem has been appealing to one’s sense of sight and sound. Now with the addition of food items, one is drawn in by their desire for beautiful produce and vibrant meals. It is also important that Naidu chose these three fruits. India is the largest producer of pomegranates and it is common to find “Citron” in traditional Indian medicine. It is used as a tonic to cure vomiting, skin diseases, and many other ailments. Lastly, there are the plums. They are present for the opposite reason of the other two fruits. They are rarer in India and are presented as a somewhat out of the ordinary find.
In the next two lines, the speaker asks the musicians present in the scene what it is they “play.” The response he gets is not one that defines the song, but the instruments needed to accomplish it. The musicians respond that they are playing the “Cithar” or sitar, a string instrument that originated from India. There is also a “sarangi” which is recognizable as a short-necked string instrument, also from India. Lastly, there is a drum, a more common musical instrument but no less important to the music being played. These lines, as well as those which follow, appeal to a reader’s auditory senses again. There is music in the instruments but also in the voices of the merchants and the chanting of the magicians.
It is the magicians to whom the speaker turns next. Street magic is a common practice in India. It is used to trick and deceive, as well as for fun and entertainment. There is no description of the purpose in these lines but one should assume, since it is taking place in the market, that profit is the main motive. The magicians have been added to the text, alongside the musicians, in order to further a reader’s understanding of Indian culture. There is far more to see and hear in the ‘Bazaars of Hyderabad” than just vendors selling fruit and cloth.
What do you weave, O ye flower-girls
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed.
Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
In the final stanza of ‘In The Bazaars of Hyderabad’, the speaker has moved on to address the “flower-girls.” Yet again the question has changed to suit the person addressed. The customer asks the girls what it is they “weave” with their “tassels” or plaited threads, “of azure and red.” The poet has returned to the colors seen in the first stanza. The connection between the colors creates a feeling of unity between the first stanza and the last. It also helps to cast the entire market in vibrant and beautiful light. No matter where one turns they see something intriguing.
The response the speaker gets is the most personal so far. The girls are working on “Crowns” for a “bridegroom,” a man who is about to get married. As well as “Chaplets,” a type of rosary, to cover his bed. This is the first and only look the reader gets into what the items in the market will really be used for. It is expanded when the “flower-girls” describe how they are also making shrouds for the dead. These items, just as those for the living, are made with care. They are still related to the natural beauty of the world and with their addition create a connection between life and death. There is something for anyone, and any occasion, in the bazaars.