COIMBATORE: The white marble temple with its Gopurams and yellowish-range flag on Rangai Gowder Street is a centre of activity on a Sunday morning. Rajasthanis in the city who predominantly belong to the Jain community have come in large numbers to meet a seer.
This temple is one of the many places of prayer and congregation for the 120-year-old Rajasthani community in Coimbatore. The first set of Rajasthanis to set foot in the city and later make it home were the TV Brothers who opened TV & Brothers agencies that dealt with a range of products manufactured by TATA. The second family to move in was the Ottaji Group, who again opened up agencies for various products and were involved in their distribution across the city.
With the dawn of the 20th century, more Rajasthanis had learnt about the spinning mills, in what was then known as a town in Madras state. "They would procure large scale cotton wool from Gujarat and sell it to the spinning mills here," says Madanlal P Bafna, former president of the Sree Rajasthan Swetamber Murti Pujak Sangh. "They would also buy back the cloth manufactured and sell it to different markets through wholesale trade," he says.
The first set of Rajasthanis set up shop across streets like Rangai Gowder Street, Oppanackara Street, Big Bazaar Street, Raja Street and Vysial Street. "They were primarily wholesalers," says Bafna. Today the community is 12,000 member strong, but the five streets around the Koniamman Temple continue to be the wholesale hub in the town housing shops more than 40 years old.
However, as the families grew larger and needed more space they chose to move to neighbouring places like R S Puram, Sai Baba Colony and Race Course. "We ensure we are close to our places of worship," says Jitendra Chowhan, the captain of the Suparshwnath Jain Seva Mandal, the community's form of a youth wing in the city, as he touches Bafna's feet to get his blessings.
Being a deeply spiritual community it is in places of worship and during festivals, such as Paryushan, that the entire community gets together.
Despite being 2,300 km South of their home state, Rajasthan, for more than 10 decades, Rajasthanis say they are not insecure about slowly losing their culture. "Unlike other communities, our beliefs and practices have been strongly installed in our children," says Bafna. "Most of us still live in a joint family, love marriages continue to be extremely rare and our children are taught to speak Rajasthani from childhood," he says.
Most of the community have been in the city for four generations but make it a point to visit Rajasthan at least once a year. "We either go during a long school holiday or for a marriage. We don't have much family but we all own houses which are locked up most of the time," says Rajshree Bordia, another member of the community.
The community which now forms a vital part of the city's economy has diversified into various forms of business such as jewellery, finance, real estate, sweets, textiles, garments and even electronics. "Today, we don't need to travel outside Coimbatore to buy anything for our weddings that are held here," says Sajan Ranka, another resident. "Right from clothes, to puja accessories, food, mehendi, traditional decorations to gifts we get it here," he says. "To us, stepping into the wholesale hub itself is like stepping into a micro-mini Rajasthan," he says.