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a vast expanse of continuous yellow sands stretching till the horizon; seldom a view of huts or settlement , where few people in a group with their livestock and camels move slowly from one place to another in the scorching heat, sandstorms and completely barren desert. this is the initial hazy mental picture of Kutch.

Kutch district ( 22.5 0to 24.5 0N Lat, 68.0 0 to 72.0 0E (Long) is the westernmost part of Gujarat state and second largest district in India bordering Pakistan. It is a massive thickset peninsula between the great deserts of Sind and Thar and the Arbian Sea. Its area of 45,000sq. Km is mostly covered by salt marshlands of the Rann, Kutch is a unique landmass in India which has land and desert surrounded by sea water. During the monsoons the two Ranns get flooded and for many inhabitants, Kutch becomes like an island cut off from the surrounding regions by swamps and salt marshes.

people and place

The climate is unrelentingly hot and dry in the north and hot and humid in the south with a vast diurnal range of temperature (Max 48 degree C to Min 2 degree C) especially in winter. The scanty monsoon rains averaging a few centimeters annually (below 40 cm) fall mainly during the months of July and August. These are inadequate even for the region's low requirements. The winds mainly flow from south and south west directions for major part of the year. The landscape and ecosystems of Kutch vary from the Great Rann grasslands of Banni, the Dhand marshes, Kala dungar (Black Mountain) in Paccham, the plains of Lakhpat and Jakhau the mangrove swamps of Mundra and Koteshwar, the little Rann and the Gulf of Kutch with coral reefs and creeks.


Kutch like India is a land of multi-religious communities and groups of people living together in harmony. People belong to mainly Hindu, Islam and Jain religious. The social structure is based on caste system, as still prevalent in several parts of India. However these religions with other castes and sub-castes (Like Lohana, Rajputs, Patels) co-exist peacefully without communal tension).

Scarce rainfall constraints farming activity and besides trading people are engaged in salt production (upto 40% of national production), cattle breeding, cottage industry, handicrafts, textile printing and recently as construction labour.

The various pastoral communities stay in the desert region like Rabaris, Harijans, Ahirs, Maldharis and are believed to have migrated from north India and Pakistan about 1000 years ago. This part is known as Banni region (grasslands below northern great desert). They stay as communities in small settlements called Vandh scattered all over Kutch. Mainly cattle, camel and sheep herders with few doing agriculture, they lead a nomadic and semi-nomadic life. Lord Krishna is their main deity (as a shepherd) and some communities consider themselves his successors. As livestock farming is the main occupation ghee, curd and other milk products are in abundance while buttermilk with bajra roti and jaggery are important parts of a meal. These communities are extremely proficient in various handicrafts. Craftsmanship forms an integral part of the lifestyle expressing their distinct identity.

arts and crafts.

The various arts and crafts of Kutch are taught and transferred from generation to generation. Even today these incredible crafts are continuing inspite of modern machine made articles because their origin lies in the deep-rooted social customs (e.g. dowry), identity, personal expression and not just commerce.

The various crafts of the region are deeply integrated in the living pattern of the people of kutch and are the highest order of aesthetic expression Crafts from part of the habitat and traditional customs of the communities.

Why do they aspire to create this? Probably the answer lies in the fiercely hostile and stark surroundings itself. For it creates an innermost urge to make the surroundings lively by these elegant and colourful objects of daily use in their habitat like nature herself. It shows their skills and sense of aesthetics to make surrounding beautiful and vibrant. In spite of scarce resources they achieve continuity in traditions and identity as individual community. In all desert climate societies of the world, this urge to colourfuly embellish the habitat is observed . Kutch seems unique particularly in that Asia since the relatively small region has a wide spectrum of arts and crafts and the habitat has deep symbolic cultural connotations.

The artifacts have moved throughout the various parts of India and the world. The crafts of Kutch can be broadly categorized as building crafts (wood work, stonework, etc.), textile crafts (tie and dye, hand block printing, weaving etc.), metal crafts ( silver work, metal belts agricultural tools, etc. ) and clay crafts (pottery, clay decoration, clay toys, etc.). The main handicrafts of the district are embroidery, woodwork, patchwork, tie and dye, textile hand block printing, weaving, leather embroidery, silver work and pottery.

Each community has its own distinctive style of stitching and needle work such as Rabari, Jat, Mulwa, Mochi, Ahir, Harijan, etc and hence their names. It give their individual identity which is crucial given their nomadic and semi nomadic lifestyle. In the absence of natural flora and fauna they crate a second nature with variety of colours even in the stark surroundings.

In Kutch, woodwork ranges from complete buildings of timber to the use of wood for doors, windows, jali, staircase , household items and furniture. Traditional designs are carved on openings (doors and windows) displaying the style and skill of these craftsmen. The woodwork with combination of stonework is inseparable part of the streetscape of the villages and towns of Kutch and gives unique character to the streets.

Clay Decoration
The interiors of the circular mud houses (bhoongas) of Banni region are embellished by extraordinary ornate clay decoration. Rabari and Harijan women are traditionally experts in depicting their auspicious signs and symbols, geometrical designs, flowers, etc, in clay relief work. Exquisite designs are made by hand over the mud wall and on the clay storage jars called kothars or kothis. Over this clay designs small mirrors of various shapes and sizes are embedded. The entire surface (except the mirrors) is coated by white earth (chedi mitti) turning the whole work into a finished art. The mirrors twinkle in the dark interiors of the bhoongas. The small shining mirrors create a charming effect of reflecting light in the poorly illuminated interior creating a characteristic ambience

In Kutch region two distinct architectural typologies (type of buildings) have evolved due to different climatic, social and economical conditions within the region.

The central, western and southern coastal area with hot and humid climate has long row type houses with narrow streets network and dense population. These are traditional villages and the people are involved in trading, handicrafts and agriculture.

The other settlements in northern desert of Banni area with hot and dry climate and some parts in the southern coastal desert are resided by the nomadic and semi nomadic pastoral communities in a humane habitat of stunningly beautiful circular mud and thatch houses. It has evolved by the social conditions and the scarcity of building materials in the desert area.

Case Studies

Bidada Village
At a glance
The village is in Mandvi Taluka the southern coastal part of Kutch district. It is situated near the river and a highway runs perpendicular to it in east west direction. The river is almost dry except during monsoon. The village has about 500 to 550 houses and people are the various castes and communities. The zoning of public and private activities in the village gives references and shows resemblance to a typical old Indian town. The settlement is based near the water source. The major population is or Hindus, Jains and Muslims with a firm hold of caste system. For example the Harijans and Muslims are non-vegetarians and their houses are in the wind direction away from the village, so that the odours emanating from flesh and meat preparations are avoided by the rest of the village. People of the same community stay together forming major zones of the village.

The town layout

The Haria chowk is the formal entry point as well as the main and largest of the chowks in south eastern part of the village. A number of streets radiate from here in different directions. While walking towards the village interiors the streets become quite narrow and finely care entrances of row houses with the repetitive main entrance door with two small niches and two long windows on both sides are seen. Streets take angular turns at intervals and all houses have Mangalore tile sloping roots.

All houses of the village are row houses on both sides of the street. Many features like doors and window, colours, textures, carving on lintels distinguish a particular house and the group. Row housing pattern reduces the exposure of external wall surfaces to sun as the houses. Share a common wall. The movement of warm air around the house too is minimised and helps to keep the interiors cool and comfortable.

The streets of Bidada villages have a streetscape of a unique pattern. They are constantly turning in curves, never remaining straight in a particular direction thought small chowks of Y-shape where it branches out in 2/3 directions and again keeps turning. The entire village is a mesh of these curvilinear street which connect the chowks. It is like water stream lines flowing smoothly in various directions and as they go ahead the width goes on decreasing forming alleys. At a larger scale the entire village street network has a distinct advantage that the curvilinear streets behave like channels of winds throughout the village. Breeze can be discreetly felt on any street in the village justifying the curved street pattern. It is amazing that streets are predominantly oriented along the southwest direction, as the wind direction for most part of the year.

The curvilinear streets are formed by staggering each house by few feet. The narrow streets width varies from 8 to 18 serving pedestrian , carts and cattle movement. The houses have a frontage of 10 15 width with the height of street facade walls change as per the number to storeys. A typical feature is that if we enter a house on one side of the street the entry is in a room while on the opposite side of the street the entry is into a court of the house. This repeats alternately resulting a section making the curving streets dynamic and visually interesting . Together with alternating court and rooms, the shifting of door axes help to achieve privacy and multidirectional flow of breeze. The opposite main entrances never face in straight line avoiding direct sight in the house. The width of streets and the heights of houses have a proportion such that the curvilinear streets are mostly protected by shade during the day. This makes waling on the streets comfortable in the scorching heat There is a visual order in the overall architectural composition of built from evolved with response to the climatic and social aspects which seem to be thoughtfully planned and is not a random growth. The wind flow where streets acts as carriers or channels of winds and cooled by the shadows of the street walls, creating the micro climate of the village.

Public spaces.
The entire village is network of curvilinear streets connected by chowks of varying proportion and scale. The visual and physical lengths of streets go on decreasing in the village interiors. The main village square of chowk (4) is largest in size from which the main streets radiate, and it is the hub of community and economic activates of the village ie. It functions both as a maidan for congregations and as a Bazaar. After the village square, at the junction of major arterial streets (primary streets) main street intersection chowks (3) are formed. They are in Y or trident shape to serve as community spaces like temple, bhojanalaya or Gandhi chowk. The street width further goes on marginally decreasing (secondary streets) and a their intersection are the neighbourhood spaces (2)). Narrow streets and lanes continue (tertiary streets) to terminate in formation of space around 5-6 houses which are intimate shared door fronts or aangans(1)

Elements of streets
The pair of door and widow with the gadkhi and decorated lintel is a symmetrical arrangement to mark the entrance. It shows a varying order of ornamentation from the simple to the exclusive. The carvings depict birds, flowers and auspicious symbols and few communities like Jains paint their doors and windows. The scale of house, intricacy of carvings, size of the openings, colours, the entry steps indicate the status of the family. These elements give a distinct visual character to the streets and form the streetscape. All along the curvilinear narrow streets, streetscape is continuously changing light intensity with shades and shadows on walls and streets, the varying stone, mud colours and textures, the carvings and composition of doors and windows, the proportion ad heights of the houses the occurrence of wide spaces in the form of chowks in the narrow street network forms a pleasurable walking experience.


House type 1
This row type house is located near the Bhojanalaya chowk, north of the main village square. It belongs to a Jain family of five persons. The house is entered from the street by small steps (delly )with the platform (otla) at two levels. The guests or the visitors are entertained at the steps and as per the familiarity and are welcomed inside the living room called as Osari/Baithak. The court, lights and helps ventilation for all the rooms of the house and by its proportions it is in shade for most part of the day. The open-to-sky court brings nature inside the house and creates an inner microcosm of the family-a space for every family members. According to the social norms prevalent here, women dont come out frequently in public spaces of the house. So the court forms an ideal place for their working in the open area with privacy. All the household activities by the lady are done in the courtyard from drying of food articles to cleaning of utensils, bathing the kids as well as washing the clothes.

The stone masonry walls with mud mortar are 40 cm thick having high thermal resistance and small opening to avoid entry of warm air in the rooms, except the openings facing the street. On the faade, there are two gadkhis (niche for lamps) and two long windows on either side of the main entrance door. The stone lintels are moderately carved. The window jali (screen) made of M.S. grills serve the purpose of reducing heat absorption, ventilation and privacy. It minimizes outside warm air entering he room and filters the harsh sunlight reducing glare and heat. The jali acts as a screen and provides privacy to the women in the house to observe the street or watch public processions through the window.

House type 2
This house is a variation of the house type-I with a pair of rooms in the front and rear portion with the central courtyard. It belongs to the merchant family called mothas. The entrance steps lead to the living room (osari) of the house and adjoining this room is a special living room (baithak) or important gests. Further these rooms open in the courtyard followed by family room which lead to bedrooms and the first floor. The status of the family is vivid by its scale and size having two living rooms, three bedrooms and a large courtyard. The elaborate entrance door decorations line woodwork of furniture, stairs, painted ceiling and large storage jars also indicate the affluence of the family

House type 3
This house of a Rajput family is situated on the main access road to village near the highway and close to the river. In the front yard of the house, there is a small shed of dry leaves on a wooden framework, called delly or entrance verandhah (a semi-open space and a shelter from the sun), generally the old persons sit on their khatlis (bed) in the delly .

On entering the house, there are two kitchens (rasoi/rasoda) separated by a common covered space. This common living area binds the house together. It is a single house with two similar houses each for the father and his son. The planning regards the necessity of independence , privacy and flexibility of the members of joint family staying together. The two ladies of the house have their own separate kitchens. As the position of the kitchens(rasoda) is near the entry the house lady can observe the visitor, Through the small window strategically located at the eye level in sitting position without being seen by the visitors from the delly. The women generally do not approach the unknown visitor directly, (particularly in Rajput and Muslim communities) and often the elder person of the family greets the visitors. This order of spaces and their location responds to the social behavior and beliefs of the users. The cattle and dry wood for burning is placed in the yard.

House type 4
This house, of a Brahmin family, is located in the central part of the village. It follows planning as house type 3 and the common wall divides the house to give each brother a living room , bedroom and a kitchen. Here again the sequence of space is same from entrance verandah to living room and kitchen followed by bedrooms in the end. Here the house shares a compound wall with the adjoining house forming a private inner courtyard.

House type 5
This house is in the southern part of the village and belongs to a family of Harijan community. The sequence of spaces is similar to house type3. The family itself built the house. The specific importance of the house is its integration to the exterior community spaces. The neighborhood is two rows of houses with a central pathway. The houses extend from the room to the verandah and further to open space of the pathway. The pathway functions like a common courtyard for the entire neighborhood. A whole range of daily household activities takes place in these open spaces like the kids playing, the working women and the elders watching the kids. The scale of spaces is human and earthy. The neighborhood is almost entirely shaded by neem tree, below which a shrine (jakh) is located. The use of spaces shows a sense of sharing and the relation of the ground (earth) and open-to-sky space in the habitat is close knit.

House type 6
This house belongs to an extremely rich merchant family of Kutch at Nani Khakkar near Bidada village. the house is a small mansion in a row with the houses of some wealthy traders. The plan shows the same hierarchy of spaces as found in Bidada village but the spaces are of large scale and as individual units. They resemble the separate circular mud houses (bhoongas) of Rabari house around the courtyard in a polycentric arrangement. This form works well in the climatic conditions of the region and larger space requirements of this aristocratic family.

Analysis of spatial organization

The Bidada village planning and its house forms, the special organization and its system of private and public spaces illustrate the climate and social set up as the basis of evolution of the village form in the southern coastal area of Kutch. The houses have a sequence of spaces in relation to the social status and living pattern. The spatial hierarchy of the house, the community spaces and the streets show transition and a clear order from the most private to most public spaces. Cultural patterns and climate have influenced the planning and design at every stage from the street chowks to the smallest details in the house. Natural elements of sun , wind and water are responded in architecture for community, family and individual needs. A distinct genesis is observed in the planning of houses, the curvilinear streetscape, the varying scale of public spaces and the plan of houses . It gives a definite character to the entire village and the specific vocabulary to the built environment. The whole composition of the built form expresses a particular lifestyle of the close knit Kutchi people and their society.

The built form

The houses of Bidada and various parts of Kutch region are diverse, beautiful and interesting as built forms and spatial arrangement . The plan varies as per the family structure, particular community beliefs and are enriched by each communitys own elements of decoration. The construction techniques are simple using available local material like stone, mud, bricks and wood . Inspite of varaiation in house types, the overall architectural vocabulary and language is uniform and rigorous.

The houses illustrate the sequence of activities and interrelation of both public and private spaces and expain the character and lifestyle in the Bidada village.

Architecture of the Desert

The north and the northeastern desert area of Kutch is known as great Rann. The central east-west belt of Kutch is the Banni region (grassland). It gets monsoon once in 3 to 4 years. The terrain, monsoon water is not drained off, causing swap and salty marshes of sea water. The eastern and southeastern area of Kutch has a coastal desert called little Rann. The desert region is resided by various pastoral communities like Babaris , Ahirs, Harjains, Jats , Kunbis, Maldharis,etc. All the pastoral communities of desert lead a nomadic or semi-nomadic life secluded from villages and towns. Every community has distinct identity of castes and groups expressed through their lifestyle and colourful dresses . Particularly of the women. Each community is extremely close knit with strong traditions and customs carried by successive generations inspite of their contact with urban areas. There is scarcity of building materials like stone and wood but mud and grass are abundant. They live in mud houses facing the extreme harsh climate in varied geographical conditions of north & south Kutch.

Tunda Settlement
The approach to the Tunda settlement is through the sandy tracks and thorny trees. It is a settlement with conical roof skyline in the open barren landscape formed by the stunningly beautiful circular mud houses and thatched roots. It is architecture of the humane houses - a habitat built by the residents themselves. The circular houses are called bhoonga of Rabari community and Rabari (rah-bari) means 'one who stays out' indicating their nomadic lifestyle. The houses are circular in plan, constructed by sun dried mud blocks and thatched conical roof group of these houses forms a settlement known as Vandh. The house is composed of a circular hut (bhoonga) sitting on a low platform. A house can have two or more hut and each one is for different functions like cooking, sleeping, storage or fuel. If the house is only one circular cell then it has one chullah (stove) in corner and a small opening above it. The daily activities are mostly carried out on the otla or platform which serves as the open to sky living area. The platform defines the domain of the house, and is a semipublic space forming a link between the house and the neighbours. A small barrier dwarf wall is sometime built (with motifs or clay decoration work) on the platform edge marking the entrance On this open-air platform often elders sit on charpais (beds), kids play and women sit together for embroidery.

The platform is the link between various individual single units, which are never interconnected to each other due to possibility of developing cracks in the mud walls. It is, however, the process of multiplication of such single cell spaces, which generate growth of a house. As per the family's requirement increases and additional bhoonga is constructed and connected to the house by extending the platform to include the new space in the domain of the house. Actually as family grows the new couple builds its own new bhoonga near to the earlier one and joins it with the extension of platform. It is an impressive system of expansion and provides individual privacy. It has crucial advantage of flexibility to add the units as and when required, when the resources are available. This is observed in almost all communities where the families of 2-3 brothers and parents form a cluster on the platform. it is a cumulative process where the multiplication of these circular houses becomes a cluster and ultimately adds to form a settlement. This polycentric typology of houses is observed in the entire region. It helps to cross ventilate all houses with the central platform space serving as a courtyard for most of everyday activities. The clustering of huts and the arrangement of the open spaces reflect their lifestyle and social structure responding efficiently to the hostile coastal desert climate.

The houses have high plinth to avoid water penetration in monsoon. The diameter of circular house ranges from 3m 5m with 30cm to 45cm thick mud sun dried block masonry walls of 2.5m to 3m height. The walls are plastered both internally and externally with mud and dung mixture and finally coated with white earth called chedi mitti. The circular form and its diameter is maximum up to 6m due to the mud as construction material. Beyond this the walls start developing cracks and it is also the reason to avoid long or rectangular rooms. The conical thatched roof is supported by a central wooden column and constructed by a framework of thin branches tied with a rope in spiral fashion. The roof is matted with grass twigs and straw and then rendered waterproof by layering it with mud and dung mixture. It is covered once again with one mat layer of grass and straw. The thick walls, with almost no openings and the tight thatched roof, forms an appropriate protection and insulation against the extremes of heat, cold and rain.
In order to utilise the available scarce resources and nomadic lifestyle, various pastoral communities of Kutch store food grains and milk products in mud storage jars The storage jars are rectangular or cylindrical containers (kothar/ kothali) made by mud and dung mixture and decorated with mud relief studded with mirrors. The small shining mirrors on the concave surface create a charming effect of reflecting light in the poorly illuminated interior to create a characteristic ambience.

In order to utilise the available scarce resources and nomadic lifestyle, various pastoral communities of Kutch store food grains and milk products in mud storage jars The storage jars are rectangular or cylindrical containers (kothar/ kothali) made by mud and dung mixture and decorated with mud relief studded with mirrors. The small shining mirrors on the concave surface create a charming effect of reflecting light in the poorly illuminated interior to create a characteristic ambience.

The circular form of bhoonga is an outcome of extreme desert climatic conditions, to take care of scorching heat and the chilling cold in winter. The combination of building materials and the way of living results in a unique phys form of house and settlement. As regards the circular walls of house, theoretically only one point of circle receives the maximum sun; half the wall surface area is always under shade reducing heat absorption This is not possible rectangular shaped houses.

The thatched roof acts as an insulating surface and covers almost two third of the wall area by its overhang - so the heat reception by walls is very low. The conical thatched roof in three layers prevents rain water penetration. As the wind flows, the house being circular in shape, the warm air smoothly circulates around the complete house causing ventilation. Mud, the main wall material acts as an insulation and is able to take the thermal movements caused by the extreme variation of temperature in this region - so the house remains cool in summer and warm in winter. As the openings are very small neither warm air nor the chilling winds enter the dwelling; however ventilation is taken care the few small openings and the thatched roof.

The circular mud house is an integration of exact geometry and property of materials for the climatic conditions to evolve a perfect architectural form of the house. The materials used are locally available as habitants themselves build the house.

The circular mud houses are constructed in two ways depending on the water logging conditions of the place. The area which does not get water logged, the walls are constructed in sun dried mud blocks. These mud walls are unable to take the roof load, so it is supported on a horizontal wooden beam. The load of the roof thatch is transferred through a short prop to the horizontal wooden beam. This beam then transfer's load on two wooden posts raised inside or outside the circular mud wall. The houses in an area facing water logging are built with mud walls reinforced by wooden members to acquire strength. These reinforced walls are able to support the roof load.

Banni Settlements
The desert area of Banni grassland gets floded inspite of low rainfall due to low rainfall due to flat Land and impervious soil conditions. Here we will discuss three settlements situated on the edge of Banni in Paccham area. All the settlements have circular or square shaped mud houses with conical thatch or Mangalore tile roofs. They are also placed on platforms and form small cluster similar to Tunda. The Ludia has two clusters,one of the cattle breeders and other of weaving, wood and leather craftsman Dhordo and Hodko have only one cluster each. All the settlements have random arrangement in plan. Often the circular bhoongas are clustered together on a large platform to form courtyard space for community gathering. These arrangements of mud houses in clusters show the close knit social interaction and lifestyle of the communities.

In Ludia, the platforms are closely placed and the residual spaces between them act as pathways for movement. Thorny bushes envelop the settlement and act as fence or protective shield against the hot winds and dusts storms. The wall paintings make this settlement distinct and visually striking and this is not apparent in other statements.

In Dhora, the houses are usally laid in row and have only main circular mud houses (bhoonga) on a platform. Often a small mud rectangular hut is the made on platform near the circular one which is used for storage and cooking. In Hodko, there are many houses with both rectangular and circular houses in the plan on a platform and have Mangalore tile roots.


In each case the scale and proportion of elements of the habitat changes according to the rural or urban context of the place i.e village or town or city. The habitat is evolved organically transforming itself from successive generations and absorbing the changes across the time.