This work describes the feudal late mediaeval high-caste Kerala house. It lays particular emphasis upon the so-called 'four-house' mansion, called catubiala in Sanskrit and nalukettu in Malayalam, the vernacular of Kerala. This palatial kind of mansion is regarded as ritually 'complete' and, as such, appropriate - according to local Sanskrit treatises on architecture -, to the feudal clergy, royalty and aristocracy. The work describes the architecture of thirty historic houses of this type, highlighting their relation to Sanskritic architectural theory and to brahminical codes of daily life and ritual. It concludes with an attempt to present an overview of the notion of the architectural and ritual space of these houses as a microcosm.
Dr. Henri Schildt has been an Associate Professor in the University of Helsinki, at the Department of World Cultures since 2008. Since 2010, he has also been a visiting scholar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he has been pursuing his study of historical Kerala temple architecture.
The origin of this project - The Traditional Kerala Manor: Architecture of a South Indian Catuhsala House - was suggested by Professor Asko Parpola in the autumn of 1995. He had studied the religion and myths of Vedic Kerala Brahmins - Namputiri Brahmins - from the 1970s, and, during his frequent visits with Marjatta Parpola (his wife and an anthropologist), he had seen manors of the priestly and aristocratic castes as well as royal palaces. Noticing the need for documentation and research before the virtual disappearance of this architectural heritage, he suggested that I engage myself in a doctoral research project on the topic. Thus, the first travel to Kerala took place in late December 1995 and lasted three weeks. During this visit, the Kerala collaborators were contacted: Professor M. G. Sasibhooshan (Kerala University College) and Dr. C. V Ananda Bose (Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra). During this journey, I also had an opportunity to see two Namputiri houses in Panjal village, Nellikkattu Mana and Muttattukkattu Mana, and visit the palace of His Holiness Aluvanceri Raman Tampurakkal. Financial assistance for this project was awarded by the Academy of Finland (Board of Development Studies) for 1.4.l996 - 1.4.1999, and by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation from l.4.1999 - 1.4.2000.
Many of the old Kerala palatial manors - Brahmin, royal and aristocrati have recently been demolished due to the profound changes and reforms in this society. over the last hundred years. The old inheritance systems of patrilineal Brahmins, on the one hand, and matrilineal royals and aristocrats on the other, have ceased to exist and the nuclear family has become the prevailing family unit. Moreover, the new laws of inheritance require equal shares for each heir. Consequently, the families no longer have the means to maintain their ancestral houses, which thus fall into disrepair, and even if the houses were in good condition, they do not seem to meet the needs of the modern way of life. Modern Keralans do not find them fashionable and are often unwilling to even consider maintaining them. Unfortunately, Keralans have not yet like many other Indians - become conscious of the value of their own past. Neither do they have effective means to protect their heritage from ruthless property and antique dealers. The most difficult problem to solve, however, is how a palatial house could be partitioned between several heirs. And even if the partition were successful, the same problem would emerge again when the heirs of the next generation take over.
Thus, the problem - the palatial houses - has been inadequately solved by selling the houses as building material and their rich furnishings to antique dealers. The parts of the original compound area with the old family shrines and other ritual places have been left intact though, as they still have some meaning on annual festival days and rites of passage. In some cases, where the house itself has remained intact, the compounds have been entirely sold to an organisation or trust, to be transformed intomuseums, residential colleges or wedding halls, resulting, in the best cases, in only moderate changes to the traditional shape; in other cases, they have been changed into hotels, undergoing drastic modernisation. In a few exceptional cases, the extended family - proud of its past and the ancestral house - has founded a trust to maintain it. Obviously, this requires participation from each trustee but, above all, the willingness to maintain the common heritage of the extended family and a consensus concerning the ways of doing it. But even if some of the most remarkable houses were preserved intact as architectural monuments, their actual meaning and relation to the local history will be easily lost - as generations who knew the traditional way of living will pass away. Thus, it would be essential for each family to recognise the value of its ancestral house and its old records, preserve them and perhaps study them.
The collaboration with Kerala State- Nirmiti Kendra started in January 1997 when I first arrived in Kerala to stay until the end of March. After Mr. S. Radhakrishnan – the coordinator of the staff - had presented me to the organisation, I started the fieldwork. Nirmithi Kendra offered me assistants who would help me to measure the houses and interview the occupants in their native language - Malayalam. This fieldwork began with the help of Mr. George Joseph and Mr. Anil Kumar and continued with Mr. Madhavan Praveen, mostly in the region near Kottayam town, but also in Palakkad and Trichur districts. Mr. M. Girish worked independently, collecting some preliminary information on houses in Palakkad, Malappuram and Trichur districts. The second field trip started in the latter half of September 1997 and lasted until the latter half of February 1998. I arrived for the onam festival and was able to start the fieldwork in October 1997 with Mr. Vinod Kumar. I worked with him, documenting houses up to January 1998, visiting houses in the Palakkad, Trichur, Malappuram, Cannanore, Ernakulam, Alleppey, Pathenamthitta and Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) districts. In January - February 1998, I was assisted by Mr. Jeevan George. Together, we completed the work on houses that had already been partly studied and began our studies of a house in the Fort of Trivandrum. The third fieldwork period was carried out from late October 1998 until the first half of December 1998. I was assisted by Mr. Shreejith Nayar, Mr. Vinod Nayar and Dr. K. V Sankaran Nayar, mainly studying certain houses in the Palakkad, Trichur and Cannanore districts and completing the data of our earlier studies. For the last fieldwork period in January 2002, I was assisted by Mr. Rejith Kumar working in Trichur district (Panjal) and near Trivandrum (Nedumangad). I would like to thank all my assistants without whoshelp the project could not have been carried out.
I had the great pleasure of meeting experts on Kerala and Indian historical architecture. Professor M. G. Sasibhooshan, who had already made an extensive survey of Kerala temples and the most historically significant palatial houses, had a decisive role in selecting houses for the study. Some suggestions were given by Shree Kanippayyur Krishnan Nambudirippad, whom I met twice, first in January 1996 and later in November 1998. I also met Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan (Madras Crafts Foundation) in December 1997 in Madras. She had made a survey of Kerala houses in the 1980s and gave me some valuable advice regarding houses worth studying. Professor George Michell advised me at the start of my study during my visit to London in the summer of 1996, and I also had the opportunity to visit the Pondicherry French Institute under the hospitality of the late Professor Francoise L'Hernault in February 1998.
Subject and Method
The subject of study - the Kerala catuhstila mansion
The traditional Kerala manor: architecture of a South Indian catuhsiila house is an architectural and interdisciplinary study. Its object is to describe a certain palatial house type favoured by the Kerala ruling-class Hindus. This house type consists of four wings I around the central courtyard and is called catuhsala in the Sastric technical Sanskrit literature, and nalukettu in the Kerala vernacular Malayalam. The focus of the study is on the plan. The corpus of architectural data has been collected from the field and is analysed in the light of local Sastric technical treatises on architecture. Some aspects of the ethnographic and cultural background, focusing on the social and ritual aspects of the houses' occupants, have also been studied. Material has been collected from the field, and both classic and recent anthropological studies on Kerala castes and ethnic groups have been referred to.
Certain criteria were used to select the 32 manor houses (see chapter IV and Figs. 12-16) for the architectural study of the Kerala 'four-house' (nalukettu) mansion. Firstly, the houses represent. Hindu ruling class housing, which is often palatial in scale and possesses some historical importance. Secondly, the house should be located on its original compound. Thirdly,' it should be inhabited by its original family performing its original rites. If the house fulfils these three requirements, it will provide favourable conditions for architectural study. Houses which had been moved from their original locations and placed on other sites were not included in the study because such houses do not reflect their original relation to the locality. On the other hand, some uninhabited houses, which for some reason or other have lost their connection to the original lineage, have been selected, despite the fact that they offer scant information about their rituals. However, these uninhabited houses located on their original sites are historically important for the locality and are either old or well preserved pieces of traditional architecture. The houses represent the oldest surviving heritage of Kerala domestic architecture and do not postdate the 1850s. The age of the oldest houses in this study is not precisely known, but they may be as much as 500 years old.
The reason for selecting the so-called 'four-house' type for study is its special character. Even though it is not the most common historical house type in Kerala (which is the ekasala or malika), it is traditionally regarded as the most distinguished form for a residence among Kerala Hindus. Some of the most remarkable historical secular buildings, for example, the Mattanchery royal palace in Cochin (built in 1555), and some parts of the Padmanabhapurarn royal palace, and the Kutirarnalika in Trivandrum Fort, represent this type. The sumptuous Palace of Zamorin in Calicut, of which nothing has survived, was a large palatial naluhettu" according to a description from 1623 (see Bernier 1982: 36-46). The catuhsala has probably been brought to Kerala from regions further to the north of India, possibly from Malwa, Gujarat or from the Deccan. This plan type, resembling the Buddhist four-sided vihara, occurs in Kerala temple architecture as well (see Sarkar 1978; Srinivasan 1972: 196-208). Similar 'four-house' edifices used as Buddhist temples can be found in Sri Lanka. In North India, the most monumental 'four-house' mansions are the cores of Rajpat palaces which have square or rectangular central courtyards (Hindi cauk, from Skt. catusha; see e.g.,Tillotson 1987, Michell 1994 and Pramar 1989).
Measuring, photographing and drawing the houses
The houses are documented with different degrees of accuracy. Some of them have been studied in a particularly detailed manner, mainly because they are remarkably well preserved and the conditions for researching them have been favourable; some other houses, though not less representative, have been studied in a less extensive manner, because similar houses have already been studied. Since the houses are generally ordinary homes, access for study has been limited in some cases.
The primary purpose of measuring and drawing the houses during fieldwork has been descriptive - to give an overall impression of the plan and method of construction. The appearance, style and details are presented in the cross-sections and elevations drawn, and in the photographs. The functions located in the plan and the meanings of different spaces have been studied by interviewing the occupants. The interviews mainly consist of data on the overall use of the spaces and the locations of different rites and ceremonies.
The fieldwork data has been compared to the two best-known Sanskrit treatises on Kerala domestic architecture - the Vsstuvidya and the Manusyalayacandriha. The house types presented in these two texts (see below) are based on different patterns formed by the so-called wall-plate (uttara), which is the beam on the columns or on the wall sub porting the wooden roof structure. In some houses, the wan-plate was visible and accessible enough to be measured and then calculated (see PIs. 8, 70, 123, 141, 193, 215, 235, 254, 408 & Tables 25-34). The wall-plate is not only important for determining the house type and its meaning, but it may help in tracing the module used during the design process, which can thus be reconstructed. Even though in some cases the plan is only sketched, it may still offer a valuable piece of research data if the information on the function is accurate enough. In all cases (when informants have been available), The function of each have been marked in their correct positions in order to refer to the aspects which are not directly related to architecture but are essential for understanding the cultural background of the house and its different implications.
Collecting information on the use of different spaces
The social aspects of the plan entail the domains of females and males and the caste rules applied. The ritual aspects on the other hand, imply the locations of different rites on the plan. These rites may be related either to the calendar cycles or different rites of passage. In the former case, the focus is on the rituals which occur in the traditional Malayali calendar, kollam, and in the latter case, on the birth ceremonies, weddings and funerals, which are the most significant events in a Hindu house.
The most important aspect of rituals from the point of view of architecture is the location on the plan associated with ritual meaning. Moreover, in a Hindu House the most important symbolic implications are the concepts of purity, auspiciousness and wealth.
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