Ahandmade earthen diya is a vibrant symbol of the now flourishing-now failing Indian crafts industry. The crown jewel of Diwali bazaars competes with techno-smart electric decorations, making the polarity between the two stark.

Malls and Web portals may have changed the grammar of retail both vertically and horizontally, but during the festival season, ethnic crafts markets flourish as much in cities as in small towns. Besides being a reassurance for the older among us, they convince the young that “handmade" is indeed a luxury. Besides, Delhi’s Diwali bazaars which attract so many different kinds of buyers are not just loaded reminders of the past.

“Sales at our annual Nature Bazaar have steadily increased over the years and people come specifically to buy a regional woven sari or a gift of mirrorwork cushions or a set of bell metal bowls," says Laila Tyabji, chairperson of Dastkar, a society for crafts and craftspeople. Over the years, Dasktar has institutionalized craft and nature bazaars in different cities. “I think the occasion does evoke some nostalgic desire to recreate the past and if people find something that evokes that past and yet is innovative and beautiful, they would prefer that to buying a crystal bowl or a chiffon," adds Tyabji. Dastkar’s melas have become so popular that the NGO’s dream is a Web version of the Nature Bazaar.

Founder and president of Dastkari Haat Samiti, Jaya Jaitley, who initiated Dilli Haat, the Capital’s famous crafts and textile permanent open market, says, “Diwali is the most productive and economically beneficial time for all crafts people in traditional as well as urban surroundings.... Being inexpensive, they now even lead to some small importers bringing in goods from Thailand or Indonesia."

The long inventory of items sold at such bazaars—from handmade lamps to textiles and woven fabrics, embroidered shawls, leather goods, bell metal to wicker baskets, jute products or papier mâché merchandize, silver, wrought iron, woolen carpets or terracotta idols to name a mere few—is virtually a design map of India.

Jaitley believes that Diwali bazaar products for festival rituals are sought after by customers irrespective of their economic class. Tradition is an equalizer. However, Tyabji feels that there is a prevailing mindset that assumes that the merchandise at such a bazaar should be cheaper than at a mall or store. “That bargaining is part of the experience leads crafts people to make less value-added, more gimmicky, knick-knack products. It results in the dumbing down of the products as well as the bazaar," she says. She says that while some bazaars bring in huge crowds and huge sales, there is no event that parallels the magnificent Diwali and Eid bazaars held in the Red Fort during the time of the Mughals or the stature given then to craftspeople.

To educate customers about the value of crafts as well as familiarize them about processes of making crafts, Delhi’s Crafts Museum, which for the last three-and-a-half years is “being put back on its feet", according to its chairperson Ruchira Ghose, inaugurated the Year of Indian Textiles this month. It will go on till October 2014. A textile fair in the village complex of the museum campus ran till 10 October with “Contemporary Expressions of Traditional Textiles" as its theme. More themed exhibitions will follow. The idea behind starting this series in October, says Ghose, is to attract new and varied customers who shop avidly during the Diwali season. “It gives us an opportunity to inform the public of what is going on in the crafts sector and create awareness," says Ghose.

Aditi Prakash, founder of Pure Ghee designs, a research, design and production studio that works with traditional crafts, wholeheartedly agrees. “Compared to all other bazaars through the year, pre-Diwali bazaars are the biggest grossers in terms of sales," says Prakash, who currently has a stall at the ongoing Nature Bazaar by Dastkar at Delhi’s Kisan Haat. “The other big advantage is the direct interaction with customers for feedback which raises interest in the products we make," she adds.

To keep up the sales of products that people mostly associate with Diwali bazaars and buy only seasonally, Delhi’s Crafts Museum not only started a Facebook page but also launched Café Lota this month. The cafeteria is developing a menu of regional specialities with emphasis on seasonal and indigenous Indian produce. Situated next to the museum shop, that was refurbished and restyled earlier this year, the café aims to bring in crowds who will be attracted to the galleries as well as the weavers and artisans who display their skills and sell their wares.

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The Diwali Bazaar guide

Blind School, Diwali Mela:

26 October-1 November, at the Blind Relief Association, Lodhi Road, near The Oberoi, New Delhi.

Dilli Haat Diwali Mela:

On till 3 November, at Sri Aurobindo Marg, opposite INA Market, New Delhi.

Handlooms and Textiles Festival:

On till 31 October, at Dilli Haat, Sri Aurobindo Marg, opposite INA Market, New Delhi.

Pitampura Dilli Haat Diwali Mela:

30 October-1 November, at Pitampura.

Dastkar Nature Bazaar:

On till 27 October, at Kisan Haat, Andheria Modh, New Delhi.

Bungalow 8, Hotel Imperial:

Mumbai’s well-known fashion and interior store Bungalow 8 has a two-day pop up at Delhi’s Imperial Hotel to attract Diwali shoppers. The hotel’s Heritage Suite and Grand Heritage Room has been turned into a boudoir of a grand dame with unusual fashion and décor objects. Hotel Imperial, 11am-8pm, 26-27 October, Janpath Road, New Delhi.

Jamia Bazaar:

26-27 October at India Islamic Cultural Centre, 87-88, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.

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