For a century the Leigh Bazaar in Salem has occupied a unique place among merchants associations in South India with its historic role and reputation.
Named after E.W Leigh the British Collector of Salem, the bazaar with its beginings in the 19th. Century was called as Shevaipet Merchants Association. Merchants in and around Salem, then where doing business around the ancient Sri Kaliamman Koil, Shevapet, Salem.
The association was shapping up as a nerve centre of trade in agricultural commodities and became a modern vestige of Salem's trade history. Historical records are many to link the region's trade connections with Rome several centuries back. Located stragegically on the intersection of three National Highways, Salem evolved into a trade capital of the region. It was in 1910 rat population increased and a severe plague epidemic struck Salem. Many died as the disease spread through the rats. The then government decided to shift the warehouses which stored mainly a wide range of agricultural commodities and production activites to a distant place by keeping away from the rats.
Shevapet Merchant Association requested the government to allocate a suitable place where they can do their business. The then District Collector of Salem E.W. Leigh agreed to the demand of the merchants. The government approved and sold the land to the merchants. Thus the sold area was called as Leigh Bazaar. This is how Leigh Bazaar was formed as a huge commercial complex for agricultural produces with its first president Mr Sait Jamnadass. Since then mercantile activities increased, business produces where brought from various district of Tamil Nadu and from many other states.
The government subsequently sold the land of 20.75 acres to the Merchant Association in 1946. The Shevaipet Merchants Association was rechristined as Leigh Bazaar Merchants Association and incorporated as a company in 1961 under Indian Companies Act. The bazaar reached to greater heights doing business all over South India. Besides wharehousing and wholesaling, the commercial complex also housed facilities for value addition of agricultural commodities like, rice and oil.
Salem Shevapet goods and passanger Railway Station is located near the bazaar proved a boon to the merchants. The merchants found it very comfortable for transporting goods across the state and the country. The complex also boasts of highly developed road infrastructure within and outside, vehicle parking bays, rest rooms for labourers, a dispensary and water facilities.
Great leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, C.Rajagopalachari, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Valabhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Kamarajar, Kalaingar Karunanidhi, G.K Moopanar have visited Leigh Bazar and have appriciated it as a unique venture. As a company Leigh Bazar Ltd grew by leaps and bounds and expanded its range of business services bringing together farmers and traders.
A large building was constructed by the association for the welfare of merchants of merchants, so they can take rest and have food. The bazaar has now vastly developed with 70% of wholesale activites and 30% small scale industries. Exactly 719 shops are inside the bazaar now. Merchants from Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra and Kerala do business within the Leigh Bazaar. Farmers from in and around Salem and various parts of the state and country sell their commodities through the bazar.
The bazaar carries trade in grocery items like vegetables, cereals, spices and agricultural products said Shankar a local Merchant. Most of the shop owners do it as a family business, which is carried over for several generations.
February 6, 2019 was marked as the 100th year celebration drawing merchants all over South India for the historic centenary the event.
Delivering presidential speech, P. Thirmurugan said,” the association’s main objective was to foster fraternity among the merchants and it's service should be carried over to the next several centuries”. He also said that the associatioin has contributed a lot for the welfare of the society by distributing prizes to the students who topped at the 10th and 12th board exams. We also help the students for who are affected by finiancial struggles by providing money for fees, he said. Recollecting the history of the Leigh Bazaar, its current secretary, M.Chandrasekar said the company has helped the farmers immensely by transacting their production to the retailers all over India.
Unveiling the roadmap for the future development the historic centenary event, he informed that the Liegh Bazar merchants has planned to construct a school and hospital with high class medical facilities for the poor and public. “Leigh Bazaar will continue to serve the society and contribute to serve the society and fulfill the needs of poor and public”, they assured.
Reported, written by R.Rufus Daniel. Photograph by R.Rufus Daniel.
(Centre for Community Media)