You are on page 1of 42

Vernacular Architecture

Kerala Architecture
Kerala Architecture is one of the most exciting examples
of preservation of vernacular styles.
The evolution of domestic architecture of Kerala followed
closely the trend of development in temple architecture.
The primitive models of circular, square or rectangular
plain shapes with a ribbed roof evolved from functional
The climate of Kerala greatly influenced the traditional
The natural building materials available for construction
in Kerala i.e. stones, timber, clay and palm leaves have
anchored and guided the acceptance or rejection of
outside influences
Influence of climate
Kerala has a warm humid climate. The rainfall is very
heavy from south west and north east monsoons
To keep the rain and sun away form the walls the roofs of
the building come down very low.
They have verandah all round the building protecting the
external walls from sun and rain.
The width of the verandah varies from 2 ft to 12ft
In rooms were people spend most of their time during day
the window openings were brought in at ground level
otherwise the windows were small so that there was only
subdued light inside or had timber jalis to give diffused
light without glare.
They also have an internal courtyard for better flow of air.
Roofing system
The ridged roof pitched at angles between 30degree to
The roof with intricately carved gables protruding from the
roof with overhangs supported by wooden brackets.
The roof is prefabricated that is different members are fixed
on the ground and assembled at the top.
No nails are used.
The roof is kept in position by interlocking with the hole in
the rafters.
Walls made of timber or earth and roof of coconut leaves or
tiles are common in many parts of Kerala
Structurally the roof frame was supported on the pillars on
walls erected on a plinth raised from the ground for
protection against dampness and insects in the tropical
Roofing system
Flooring System
The most common type of flooring was that of beaten
earth polished with cow dung at regular intervals
Black colored traditional flooring used in the more
expensive buildings was done with the mixture of lime,
sand, coconut shell, white of egg, jaggery, coconut water
and other vegetable extracts. The smoothness was
achieved by polishing the floor with a particular variety of
Building Materials
The availability of granite -a strong and durable building
stone is restricted mainly to the highlands and marginally to
some hilly zones. Accordingly, the skill in quarrying, dressing
and sculpturing of stone is scarce in Kerala.
Laterite stone however, is abundantly found
Soft laterite available at shallow depth can be easily cut,
dressed and used as building blocks. It is a local stone that
gets stronger and durable with exposure to the atmosphere.
Block of this stone may be bonded in mortars of shell lime, -
the classic binding material used in traditional buildings.
Lime mortar can be improved in strength and performance by
admixtures of vegetable juices. Such enriched mortars were
utilised for plastering and low relief work.
Building Materials
Timber remains the prime structural material abundantly
available in Kerala, in many varieties - from bamboo to
teak and rosewood. The skilful choice of timber, artful
assembly and delicate carving of wood work for
columns, walls and roofs frames are the unique
characteristics of Kerala architecture, using accurate fit
of joints.
Clay was used in many forms - for walling, in filling the
timber floors and making bricks and tiles after firing in
kilns, tempered with admixtures.
Palm leaves are still used effectively for thatching the
roofs and for making partition walls and along with mud
Vastuvidya- Traditional
Traditional Kerala architecture is the Vastu
vidhya is derived from the Stapatya Veda
of Adharva Veda and deals with two types
of architecture
Residential Architecture(Manusyalaya) under
functional architecture
Temples coming under conceptual
Residential Architecture
A house in Kerala is generally called Veedu. The Veedu
gives shelter to joint-family kinfolk or tharavad. The
joint family system (tharavad--kinship system)
consequently promotes the tradition of living in a huge
shelter or mansion (veedu--object of house). The term is
Dravidian and is used in some parts of Tamil Nadu and
North Srilanka for all types of residential architecture, but
generally the people of Kerala will refer to their veedu as
Residential architecture
There are various terms of house for different tribes
according to social status and profession. The house of:
Pariah - CHERI
the agrestic slave Cheraman - CHALA.
blacksmith, the goldsmith,
the carpenter, the weaver - KUDI
temple servants reside VARIYAM / PISHARAM
The ordinary Nayars - VEEDU / BHAVANAM
Nayars authority - IDAM.
Three Types of Chala
All Chalas show typical spatial configurations of living and inner space. (left)
Chala in Chengganur, South Kerala; (middle) Chala in Waynad and (left) Chala in
There are five types of traditional domestic architecture or
Veedu in Kerala, namely:
(1) the wretched humble house, unknown by any
building treatise of Kerala, belongs to ordinary folks and
tribal people/ adivasis (cheri, chala, kudi, variyam or
pisharam or pumatham);
(2) the Ekasala, an I-shaped single rectangular hall
house, belongs to farmers or middle-class non-farmers;
(3) the Nalukettu, a courtyard house, belongs to
(4) the great mansion Ettuketu and Patinjarukettu
(double ettukettu) or much bigger structures, belong to
very rich landlords;
(5) commoner houses are simple ordinary houses
scattered abundantly in the cities and villages.
Literally, the local term of house--veedu--means home
and signifies no important structural arrangement.
Classical Indian architecture acknowledges a concentric
arrangement of buildings and a generic spatial structure
of the sala or hall.
The Ekasala is a single hall house,
dvisala a two-hall house, trisala a three-hall house, and
catusala a four-hall house/courtyard house.
The Nalukettu is the only local term for house that
implies structural importance since it is associated with
the catusala. There are no local terms for dvisala, trisala
and ekasala, they are simply called veedu.
(upper- left) The Ekasala of
North Kerala. Mostly they are
shingle hipped roof houses

(upper-right) The Ekasala of

South Kerala. Mostly they are
shingle bent roof houses

(bottom) The Kuttikettu or

Ekasala with courtyard
Three Typical Expression of Nalukettu
Central Kerala (above), North Kerala (left-bottom), South Kerala (right-bottom)
The Nambudiri Illam

They are concentrated primarily in Trichur,

Palghat districts in south Malabar,
As small clusters in Kottayam, Cannanore
and some parts of North Malabar
Description of the Nambudiri
The illams of the affluent Nambudiri families of
Trichur are self contained complex of buildings
in a wide secluded compound.
The complex consists of
one or two storied Nalukettu building
An entrance gate (Padipura)
One or more tanks for bathing
Optional buildings such as a Granary, a Kitchen
for feeding guests and a Shrine or a Temple
Description of the Nambudiri
There are four wings Northern, Southern, Eastern and
The built structures were on the southern and the
western wings
The granary on the south has solid walls of laterite or
The western block is generally raised, open hall with
columns which support the floor above. It is here that the
official ceremonies take place and the men also learn or
The corner room at the north west is used for storage or
for sleeping
Description of the Nambudiri
The kitchen with its adjacent well is always
without exception placed in the northeast corner.
Since the wind comes from the southwest in
Kerala it is the most logical position to ensure
the smoke escapes the building directly
The northern side next to the kitchen is used for
the performance of the most important ritual of
Shredda the human ritual of pouring Ghee on
the sacred fire.
Description of the Nambudiri
The puja room is located on the north or in the east next
to the kitchen.
The practical reasons for not building on the northern
and eastern sides are to allow the escape of smoke and
to minimize the chance of an external fire.
The corner rooms were segregated form the main
blocks. They are separated by corridors, stairwells and
doors going to the outside. These rooms are not
considered for rituals and are used as entrance rooms,
bedrooms, the delivery rooms (south east corner) or
occasionally for storage (north west corner)
Women Spaces:
Women were considered inferior to men
and they were not allowed to enter into the
main courtyard except for their marriage
and at death.
In houses with one courtyard back spaces
were added next to kitchen.
Accesses to main pooja room and to one
or two bedrooms were only through a back
Future expansions:

The additions in the last century show a

slow moving towards modern times.
Houses with more than one courtyard
were built and expanded without much
constraint as the ritual rules applied only
to the first courtyard.
Nair Tharavadu of Kerala:
The Nairs are the race of people living in the state of
Kerala and constitute 16% of the state population
The concept of the house is rural, located near paddy
fields in fenced compounds with palm, banana and other
fruit bearing trees with a well or tank for water supply.
The Nair house is also called a Veedoo
The tharavad houses were joint families with 30-40
members in a matriarchial system.
The head of the tharavad was the oldest male member.
Description of the Nair Tharavad:
Security and defence played a vital role in
determining the orientation, layout and future
The courtyard and the wings surrounding it from
the basic module
The house type is classified by the number of
such modules
Nallukettu four chambers
Ettukettu eight chambers
Padinarkettu sixteen chambers
Description of the Nair Tharavad:
The number of courtyards and the house
annexes are an indication of the social standing
and the wealth of the family.
The principles of siting, spatial arrangement of
rooms, choice of building materials,
measurements and construction details were
based on Vastu Vidhya and Tachhushastram
Nine house types are identified on the basis of
courtyards and enclosing wings
14 house classifications according to primary
building materials
Spatial Configuration

It is self contained and introvert complex of buildings

each enclosing an open to sky courtyard.
The central courtyard is the focal point of the house
The main rooms are located on the western wing
Rooms on the northern side are used for cooking
The rooms on the southern sides are used for the daily
household activities
Steep pyramidal roofs with a 45 degree pitch, deep
overhangs, shaded verandas and cross ventilation are a
response to intense sun, heavy rainfall and humidity.




Temples of kerela
Temples in Kerala used to be called in earlier times as
mukkalvattom. Later they came to be called ambalam or
kshetram or sometimes tali.
Temple architecture in Kerala is different from that of
other regions in India. Largely dictated by the geography
of the region that abounds in forests blessed with the
bounties of the monsoons, the structure of the temples in
Kerala is distinctive.
The Kerala temple has srikovil as its main core, which
usually stands in east-west axis and the plan may be
square, rectangular, circular, elliptical ground plan.
The central sanctum of a Keralite
temple is referred to as the Sree
It is surrounded by a cloistered
prakara, pierced at one or more
cardinal points with a gopuradwara.
The cloistered prakaram has a
namaskara mandapam located
directly in front of the sanctum. This
prakaram also houses subsidiary
A kitchen is located in the south
eastern corner of ths cloistered
The mukha mandapam is integrated
with the gopura entrance. The
flagstaff or dwaja stambham is
located outside of the mukha
mandapam .
The balipitham may be located in the
mukhamandapam or in the outer
courtyard. The outer prakaram or
courtyard houses other subshrines,
and optionally a temple tank.
The Kuttambalam or the theater hall of the
Keralite temple is located either as a part of the
inner prakara, on the south east corner facing
north, or as a separate hall outside the
innermost prakaram, either facing into the
temple or facing north. This has a stage, raised
from the rest of the floor, and a backstage area.
This is the site of the performance of Kathakali
or Chakkiyar koothu recitals. Thus the
kuttambalam plays a role in educating visitors on
the rich legends of the Indian cultural fabric.
The roofs are steep and pointed, and covered with
copper sheets. The Kerala roof resembles those found in
the Himalayan regions and those in East Asia.
The shape of the roof is in accordance with the plan of
the sanctum below. With a circular plan, one sees a
conical roof, while with a square plan the roof is
The roof is constructed with wood and is covered with
copper plates. Most of the temples seen in Kerala today,
have undergone several phases of renovation, given the
perishable nature of the construction materials.
The superstructure as a conspicuous example,
shows an accurate usage of indigenous raw
materials like timber and tiles to go with the
climate conditions.
Vast majority of temples have their bases built of
granite, the walls made either of wood, bricks
and stucco, or laterite; the sloping
superstructure made of wooden planks, tiles or
sheet metal on timber frames, are adopted to
suit the high rainfall of the region.
Temple and Domestic Architecture
Unlike the other architectural traditions in the
mainland the design of Kerala temples shows a
close similarity with the domestic architecture of
the region.
The surviving Nair houses have many structural
elements like raised foundations, wall and
ceiling carvings, steeply sloping roofs, etc., that
are reminiscent of temple architecture.
The building materials used in the sacred and
domestic architecture, viz., timber, laterite, brick
and stucco are also the same, and thus create
identical textural surfaces.