Time Travel to the Bazaar of Hyderabad with a Poem by the 'Nightingale of India'

Time Travel to the Bazaar of Hyderabad with a Poem by the 'Nightingale of India'

Thursday, 4 July, 2024

Travel back in time to the Old City of Hyderabad. The bazaar thrums with the sound of gossip and bartering. The scent of tea and freshly ground spices floats in the air. Jewelry — silver bangles, golden necklaces, glowing pearls — reflects the light.

Hyderabad might be known now as Cyberabad, thanks to its sleek skyscrapers and international IT bonafides. But for more than 200 years, from the 18th to 20th centuries, it was called the ‘City of Pearls’ — the place to acquire handmade pearl baubles. It was also the only trading center for Golconda diamonds, mined in the ancient diamond fields of Eastern India and renowned as the finest in the world.

This poem by Sarojini Naidu — poet, political activist, peer of Gandhi, and the Nightingale of India — is a vivid time machine back to the bustling market of old Hyderabad.


In the Bazaars of Hyderabad — Sarojini Naidu (1912)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

About Sarojini Naidu

black and white photo of gandhi sitting on the left and sarojini naidu is leaning over to him from the right while wearing a sari

Sarojini Naidu was born on February 13, 1879, in Hyderabad, India. In 1904, drawn to the movement for India’s independence from British rule, she joined the Indian National Congress (and was the first woman to be appointed its president). She was arrested multiple times by the British authorities and served more than 21 months in jail. She eventually prevailed: In 1947, she became the first woman Governor of the United Provinces in 1947.

Naidu’s lyrical poetry earned her the title the ‘Nightingale of India.’ She wrote children’s poems and more serious works that explored the themes of grief, romance, and patriotism. ‘In the Bazaars of Hyderabad’ remains one of her most famous poems.

Top image courtesy of Atharva Tulsi/Unsplash.

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