Vernacular Architecture – Changing Paradigms A Case Study of Agraharams in Palakkad Ar.
Measi Academy of Architecture, Chennai Introduction Vernacular Architecture is the art of the truth of the inhabitants of a region. “It is the architecture without architects” (Arboleda). The traditional, ethnic and innate approach to the building up of spaces dons the title of vernacular – specific and critical to a region. India presents a plethora of culture, vernacular diversity and a stunning panorama of arts and crafts. The indelible mark of identity has been etched by the vernacular artifacts and spaces typical of the traditional communities of India. The indigenous architecture responds to the vagaries in climate, blends with the topography, vibrate the cultural trends, lifestyle, spiritual and religious parameters. These illustrative examples speak the language of skill and craftsmanship, appreciation of culture, respect to local materials and methods of the building science. Context “Vernacular Architecture” may be simply defined as “the architectural languages of the people”, but in the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World a more detailed definition, namely that it “comprises the dwellings and all other buildings of the people. Related to their environmental contexts and available resources, they are customarily built utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of living of the cultures that produce them” (Paul Oliver) Existing examples of vernacular accomplishments of the glorious past are history frozen in time. These stand as the pillars of faith and the answers to the question of identity. The vernacular of a region exhibits the potential of the community in organizing spaces, evolving a strong architectural base and enriching lives through their socio-cultural manifestations. Thus the central factor of every settlement is the culture and socio – economics. The overwhelming response to adopting the tenets of globalization, entering the stream of urbanization and absorbing westernized concepts have greatly endangered the ethnic vernacular of India. Modernism without a keen sense of adaptation to changes and conscious respect to innate regional architecture has been spelling unbridled transition leading to steady decline of settlements that have evolved the language of traditional architecture. The cause and course of the changes, the gradual transformation leading to a catastrophic metamorphosis needs to be understood and documented to take charge of the current situation and delve into measures of effective conservation – an initiative to the treasuring of vernacular identity. Study Area Palakkad is one of the fourteen revenue districts of Kerala and is the land of palmyrahs and Paddy fields. It is often called as the "gateway of Kerala as the district opens the State to the rest of the country through the Palakkad gap."Rice bowl of Kerala" is the synonym for Palakkad. Palakkad Town, the administrative headquarters of the Palakkad District, is a beautiful town located at the foothills of the mighty Western Ghats, in Kerala. It is just 21 km away from Kerala state's border with Tamil Nadu. Palakkad derived its name from the words: pala (tree) and kadu (forest), indicating that this place was once a thick forest covered with the sweet scented flowers of the pala trees. Historical Background Steeped in history, Palakkad has had settlements from the Paleolithic age; a fact substantiated by the discovery of megalithic relics from this region. The mass migration of Tamil Brahmins to Kerala 6 or
the compact Nurani to the smaller ones such as Lakshminarayanapuram. Satyamangalam and other areas established a number of Agraharams which gradually grew to about 96 with each agraharam established with a temple as the focal element. Thus an agraharam could be translated as a collection or a grouping of houses or a community or a settlement with the temple being the central crux with the houses around it literally forming the first and the most important segment. Needamangalam. Mangudi. Kandarmanickam. Palakkad is home to nearly 96 agraharams in the district and nearly 18 within the town with an evident fusion in language. It is interesting to note that some of these Palakkad Kings bore tribal names such as Itikombi Achan.K. restructuring of the territorial limits and the continuous drought over many years in the Kaveri Delta. Kombi Achan etc. Unnalachan. later the lands were leased 300
. The word could also be interpreted as a grant of land given by the kings (to Brahmanas) for sustenance. the Iyers were initially confined to the state of Tamil Nadu and later they migrated and settled down in various parts of Kerala. Occupation Primarily agrarian. and Tarakad unfolds a rich spectrum of a mixed vernacular that shares the potentials of 2 great cultures. P. fore runner and the Tamil part being akaram which relates to either a house or a settlement. Pankunni Achan. the largest at Kalpathy with the old and the new settlements. Palakkad Iyers or Pattars as in Kerala. Palakkad).7 centuries ago was triggered by several factors pertaining to the Muslim invasion. Kumarapuram. foremost. Farming on the lands given by the royal family was the tradition that was followed in the past. these Agraharams were the rice bowl of the state of Kerala. which could have been named after Raja Sekhara Varma of Palakkad as a token of gratitude.V. A garland of houses was the simplest synonym to an agraharam. Vaitheeswaran Koil. culture and architecture of the Tamil Nadu and Kerala. another quaint agraharam revels on the music and culture that emanated from these settlements (Kerala Brahmana Sabha. The acclaimed village of Kalpathy has also been recorded as a forerunner (K. The region of Palakkad was annexed by Hyder Ali in the 18th century after which it became the part of the East India Company’s empire during the colonial regime. Trichy. Agraharams of Palakkad The agraharams of the Palakkad villages. These pieces of land were granted generally on the banks of rivers where the Brahmins built row houses (two rows facing each other) with the upper end culminating in a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (Sriparasukhanandanadha. They integrated and adapted themselves to their newfound territory and consciously created an identity of their own – popularly categorized as Palakkad Brahmins. Agraharams Agaro harscha harischa. the meaning is temple on either side defines the colony of Brahmins residing place as the one where Temples are located on either side of the locality. Ramakrishnan) Agraharam has also been cited as a word of mixed origin with the Sanskrit part agra meaning first. (Ajit Krishnan) The Tamil Brahmins who migrated from Tanjore. Palakkad Kings had their own reasons to welcome and settle these Brahmins in their area with a hidden strategy of breaking the hegemony and the authority that the Namboodiri Brahmins held sway. Nelllitherai Gramam had more of Otta Madhoms and the Oattuperai gramam had more of tiled houses (Oatu = Tile) and hence the name. Krishna Iyer). The first village to be established was perhaps Sekharipuram. Origin Originating from South India. There was a relentless hostility between the Palakkad rulers and the Namboodiris relating to a royal marriage feud with the tribal community. Some of the noteworthy gramams were Chandrasekaharapuram or CSPuram which grew on the lands donated by the Namboodiris has just a single street of around 80 houses and agricultural lands. Chembai. from the earliest at Shekaripuram.
The well was located in the open space near the kitchen or at the rear end (Kerala Iyers Trust) Climatic and Social Connotations The pitched roofs with the broad eaves were typically employed in design to shed off the rainwater.out (kanam – a lease of 12 years) to the labour class on the basis of paattam (leasing method). ventilation and the draining of rain 301
. The Arat festival. on one side of which would be the grain store (pathayam) below which was the nilavara or the nilavarakundu. there was a long. The car street (therveedhi) facilitates the chariot festival (ratholsavam. The district also boasts of a glorious cultural tradition with . Primarily being an agricultural community where the Brahmins were land owners the spatial organisation of the house reflects the occupation and the religious relevance . From the verandah. Kathakali. semi-public and private areas. The Vela and the Pooram festival consist of parade of elephants. is the store and the pathayam (granary) or the grain store is a take – off from the Kerala style. The entire unit was kept symmetrical about an axis to aid the sharing and division of spaces across the main hall for the joint family members. Spatial Organisation The house of the Brahmins perfectly fits the laws of linear organisation with a clear demarcation of spaces as public. and the sounding of the traditional orchestra with the panchavaadhyam (5 musical instruments). The Kaavus (for the serpent worship) and Kovils were dedicated to specific gods. Carnatic music. streams (ozhukku) and the rivers (puzha) facilitated the purpose. These festivals mark the coming together of the people from all the nearby villages. Kshethrams and Ambalams were built to worship the presiding deities. The nilavara was designed to safeguard the precious assets in the wake of wealth brought in through trade activities. the culmination point being the temple as the early settlements were by the priests who were Vedic scholars who attached themselves to the religious activities. The temple tank forms an interactive community space with the Peepal tree (sthalavriksham) forming another focal element. Form and Pattern The form of these agraharams could be understood as a derivative of a grid pattern. utsavam=festival) with the main streets being wide enough for the religious activity. The upper storeys were the machi (on top). The arai.Koothu. This then led to a large hall (koodam) with an open area (nadumittam) which was a feature similar to the courtyard. Kalpathy Radholsavam and the Manappullikavu Vela are a part and parcel of the religious fervor typical to this area. The sunken portions were classified as the thalvaram and conversely the raised areas in the house were broadly categorized as the melvaram. literature and poetry have a very special mention in these Agraharams. narrow passage leading to the interiors. a sign of communal interaction. ratha=chariot. Some of the Iyers who migrated were not rich but were essentially businessmen and with the patronage of the rulers. The porch (thinnai) forms the semi public space – a transition from the public arena (theruvu – street) to the realms of the habitable space – the house. The affluent had the second stage (rendaamkettu) which included a semi covered area for the cattle and the rear yard (kollai) with the toilets. The concept of the central open space served the purpose of bringing in the light. The concept of bathrooms was unheard of as the village ponds (kulam). with the temple forming the main focus. Linear in organisation. The row of houses (tube houses) is either single or 2 storied with the traditional pitched roof striking a significant profile against the sky – the imageability context. Socio – Cultural Facets Hinduism being the predominant religion. and the grain store area was included to stock the food grains for an entire year in lieu of the heavy monsoons in Kerala. and good relationships with rich merchants their trade flourished and to aid their trading activities they evolved the establishment of community homes called as Samooha Madam.The house was organized around a courtyard with rooms around – typical offshoot from the illams and tharavads of Kerala. the place of storage of valuable assets. The rooms (aria) were attached to the hall which was then followed by the kitchen (adukalai) which finally culminated in another open space (mittam) which completed the typology of an onaamkettu (first stage) house.
Societal Changes Originally. the spaces that had once been designed exclusively as a grain store has been converted to a store room. Toilets are still not inside the main house. transformed face of these agraharams. Agriculture being leased out to the other communities has seen a healthy exchange and a communal harmony and coexistence of various communities in close proximity – a welcome change on the social front. The complete neglect of traditional techniques of construction and materials that once harmonized the entire settlement sees an ensemble pertaining to availability of local materials and modern techniques. sloping roofs being replaced by the flat roofs with a variety of precast concrete motifs forming the parapet. The Vedic schools (Vedhapaatashala) have lost its ethnic charm and the settlements are caught in the quagmire of change
. The sthalavriksham (sacred tree). and an expansion on the linear front. Though the agraharams retain much of their original character. facades and interior spaces have changed with time. technological. Kaavus (habitat of the serpent gods) have rapidly declined in terms of the territoriality. but today. eco. Spatial Changes Dwindling agriculture and the avenues being opened for salaried employment. but with technological interventions and urbanisation spreading its tentacles. rows of apartments. socio-cultural and economic (A. The transformation of each subdivided unit then saw the closure of the courtyard. This strong foothold in history is slowly being vanquished by the ravages of modern times. Changing Equations Rural Societies have enumerated a lot of forces and factors of change pertaining to natural. The tradition and culture fostered is now seeing a mixed eclectism. some of the Brahmin settlers have shifted elsewhere. The public wells – a key community interactive utility have been totally left have been rendered non-functional. The whole exercise of architecture was an energy efficient.water to the exteriors or to the well for adequate recharge. The dwajasthambam of the temple stills holds reign to the settlement with the heights of the houses rising only upto the line of control specified by this vertical element. but located in the rendaam kettu (second section) and while many are not being used. columns of the thinnai have been seeing shades of changes with grilles enclosing the thinnai for security reasons. these Agraharams housed only Brahmins. many of the younger generation having migrated after selling their homes to nonBrahmins. modern houses.R. reduced lighting and ventilation. Regionalism is the critical language of the agraharam. ornamental brackets. Identity Elements and spaces that rendered Imageability. Desai). Vernacular The pitched roofs. additional storeys echo the constant change. The village typology of these Agraharams could be categorized as the scholastic. character and style to these agraharams needs to be explored in the current scenario as they are no longer evident. the spatial organization of the newly grown offshoots. outgrowths. The complete change from the joint family to the nuclear family system has its effects in the partitioning of the property with the huge houses being divided by a common wall that ran across through the main hall. bottling etc. Adaptive manifestations are the new. additional toilets have been diligently attached to the external wall The backyards wear a deserted look with either the removal of the cow shed or relocation or has aided in the expansion of the house or activities related to house hold industries like pickle making.conscious and a scientific technique that these inhabitants had followed. The humble profile that these gramams (villages) etched against the sky has a few jarring contrasts. prominent and the first gramam under the patronage of the Palakkad rulers.
General Studies Lectures. The involvement of the community to safeguard its assets prevents violation and instills a keen sense of respect and ardor towards heritage issue. Feb 2003.Popular Prakashan.Net Samooham. Gabriel. The new facet to conservation needs to be a two pronged approach which could be interpreted as a style.25-2005. The new paradigm should promote a new vernacular for the changing times that stand out for sustainability and highlight architecture that blends. http//www. Government of Kerala. Palakkad Tourism Forum Index.K. comprehensive package that would embrace all the potential villages that spell vernacular needs to be implemented. http. the new paradigm is to allow changes without disturbing the glories of the past.23 – 2004. Krishnan Ajit..Nov. A two pronged approach to preserving posterity and allowing the modern proliferations with restraint should dictate the future growth of these areas. . “History of Kalpathy Heritage Village”. The need to promote the ethnic craftsmanship. “Preserving Kalpathy”.com/kalpathy Oliver Paul. Conscious efforts need to be incorporated to generate self maintaining economic stability. preserving the agraharams.V. “Quaint Charm”. Change being a constant. “Shelter and Society .CA.ethnoarchitecture.keralaiyers. Sanskrit The Mail Archive.”KBS Palakkad Organisation”.kbspalakkad.Prabjakaran). Powered by Drupal.com Desai A. Sanskrit Digest. 2005. a proactive.Vol. Prabjakaran G. Mathrubhumi.Nov 9-2004. Venu. Works Cited Arboleda.Feb 25-2005.mudgala. the approach. Engineering Towards Development and Change. Policies and guidelines have to be evolved with a clear understanding of the community and its inhabitants and should be drafted with the futuristic aim of retaining the vernacular and paving way for constructive changes that would enhance the total environment where the past. a tour of the arts and crafts sectors of these villages on the lines of promoting tourism (G. “Sanskrit – Request”.Vernacular Architecture in its Cultural Contexts”. Department of Information and Public Relations. The Government spearheads the conservation activities by introducing heritage walk. and Sashibhooshan Bindu. introduce a centre that displays the information related to these historical settlements. “Welcome to Kerala Iyers. P. Kerala Iyers Trust . May 2007. materials and technology in consonance with the environment. “Architecture without Architects” Berkeley. absorbs and adapts. “District Handbooks of Kerala – Palakkad”. present and the future would be cited in harmony and speak the vernacular language.com Sriparasukhanandanadha. construction.org Sashibhooshan M G. self sustaining powers and community involvement in a holistic manner which itself takes care of the sustenance factor. Oct30-2005. “The Brahmins of Kerala”. Ramakrishnan. Faculty of Technology.The New Paradigm While all conservation. preservation and heritage tourism plans are on a reactive stand. 1962..The Hindu (National Newspaper) Feb.com”. “Rural Sociology in India”. even trains the community to imbibe the energy efficient techniques and scientific values would further strengthen the conservation mechanism.Palakkad.Issue 18.23. University of Addis Ababa. But the future has to spell policies and regulations for the development of new buildings which aggressively seeks to re-connect their design.R. a technique. a tool or just as a philosophy. Iyer Krishna K. The Hindu (National Newspaper). Kerala Brahmana Sabha . http//www.
. http//www.www. promotes and imparts knowledge on the architecture and going a step further.
Kaavu (Serpent Shrine)
The Changing scenario…. AGRAHARAMS – AN OVERVIEW
ORGANISATION AND ARTICULATION OF SPACES (Houses in an Agraharam)
Mana – Residence
Kudumba Kshetram(Temple) SPATIAL ORGANISATION (Mana)
Door – Band
Serpent – variations
Motifs and Ornamentation
ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS (Specific to the MANA)