I recently visited a more than 150 year old traditional home in Narayanavanam in Andhra Pradesh. The family has been traditionally involved in the silk saree business for many generations and follow the joint-family system with grandparents, sons, their wives and children all living and growing together. As a recent home owner myself and all the quality concerns I continue to face, the first thing that truly struck me was, wow this building and many parts of it are more than 150 years old, built by the great great grandfather! There is extensive use of wood for the ceiling topped by tiles that are as old, walls made of mud and burma teak pillars. This house has stood through years of climate change and seen generations of the family. It was truly beautiful in my eyes.Early Morning Sunlight Streaming In Through The Central Atrium
The current generation of the family however are eager for change, they find the old home difficult to maintain and want to tear down the old structure and build a more modernised structure. When they proudly told me of the changes they had already begun to make, I could only think of how beautiful the old structure is and how one could modernise for convenience without disturbing the original style. There are some key features across South Indian traditional homes be it in a small village in Andhra or a Chettinad mansion or a traditional Tharavad home in Kerala that I would simply love to live around and wish more modern homes had these.
1. The Thinnai or Verandah at the entrance of the house. This may also be referred to as Muggapu in the Chettinad homes. This typically consists of raised platforms to sit on, spanning the breadth of the house structure, with pillars either made of wood or stone or mud supported on the outer verandah wall. During functions both good and sad, these areas of the homes were used to seat guests. The thinnai or muggapu was also used to play games and relax with neighbors and friends who came calling. The most appealing part of this structure is that while it is connected to the main structure of the house, it still is mostly in the open.A traditional village home and it’s simple verandah (Photo credit :https://www.flickr.com/photos/50815727@N05/7227807368/) A more opulent traditional verandah with stone and wood pillars ( Photo credit : photoppurtunist.wordpress.com )
2. The central courtyard : These typically rectangular homes lead from the verandah through the main door into the living section of the home which has a central open courtyard. This is surrounded on all four sides as the living areas of the family, with kitchen, storage areas, bedrooms for each of the sons, bedroom for the head of the family and the passage around the courtyard used commonly by all as the living area. The courtyard is again surrounded by pillars in wood or stone.A typical and simple central courtyad, with passage and rooms on the sides (Photo Credit : wikipedia) A more elaborate central courtyard with stone pillars and open areas (Photo credit : http://www.pinterest.com/pin/165014773820027301/)
3. The traditional flooring: Houses those days enjoyed vibrant floors in the form of red oxide flooring with intricate drawings of Kolam (done with rice powder or paste), they are designs made by connecting dots and used to be one of the favorite activities among the women of the household. The floors may also have intricate patterns as provided by the Athangudi tiles in Chettinad homes. Bringing in geometric or floral patterns and a range of bright colours. In some Kerala homes the flooring was also done in wood while other village homes even extensively used stone in certain parts of the house.Beautiful Red Oxide Flooring in Traditional Setting ( Photo credit : http://kismitoffeebar.wordpress.com/tag/anantha-heritage/ ) Traditional Athanagudi tile flooring in Karthik Vaidyanathan’s Chettinad inspired home in Bangalore (Photo Credit : http://www.prismma.in)
4. The traditional roofs: The traditional roof structures were made extensively from wood and clay tiles with different levels of intricacy and shapes. While Kerala homes have more grandeur and woodwork showcased in the ceilings. Traditional homes elsewhere might just have simple wood beading and tile work, complete with sealing of tiles on the outside with Chunambu (slaked lime).Traditional Kerala roof with clay tiles for the exteriors, they in more opulent settings are made in intricately carved wood (Photo Credit : anandabeachhome.com) A traditional Chettinad home with wood and tile roofing, central courtyard and Athanagudi tiles. (Photo credit : http://www.prismma.in)
5. The exquisite woodwork: Traditional craftsmen and availability of wood made old traditional homes not just sturdy but also a work of art. The woodwork across the pillars, the jannals (windows), the doors and even the roofs, could be carved out intricately to tell stories of mythological characters or emphasize local beliefs, motifs and structures. Jalli work in the wooden roof structures allowing the play of light around the courtyard or the massive doors with their painstakingly done carvings are all reminiscent of the glory days of traditional Indian architecture.Traditional wooden hand carved door ( Photo credit : sam.aminus3.com) Intricate wood work in the roof of Puthe Maliga Palace in Trivandrum ( Photo credit : https://www.flickr.com/photos/timtom/3475636297/ )
I sincerely hope that these ancient village homes are preserved in their traditional settings. Even if urban dwellers had the inclination and the funds to build such homes in the city today, the lack of yesteryear workmanship and lack of availability of certain type of products makes it very tough to retain this kind of architecture in our current homes. It however is some consolation to know that certain crafts like the Athanagudi tile making is still alive and available for anyone that wants to have unique and beautiful flooring in their house, against which vitrified tiles are no match. And certain traditional carpenters still available in pockets of Kerala and other regions who create exquisite wooden furniture and doors to custom orders. So that we may use some of this in our homes to retain a little of the yesteryear glory, because a certain beauty and grace only comes with age.