DakshinaChitra - A glimpse of traditional homes from South India

The 21st century has seen a paradigm shift in the architecture of Indian homes. Till a few decades back, majority of the Indian population lived in houses which are build according to the traditional norms.  Homes were made using the local materials accessible around the area to suite the climate and traditions of their owners. But in the recent years, in the quest for finding efficient ways of utilizing the land and making the homes smart and contemporary, we have missed a subtle point; that our homes once used to define our cultural diversity. I am afraid whether the young and the future generation would ever be able to appreciate that each Indian state and religious community had distinct and culturally rich dwelling place. While these traditional houses diminish at an alarming rate, how do we show our children in what kind of places their ancestors used to live?

DakshinaChitra –a heritage museum located 35km south of Chennai is a rare attempt to recreate and preserve the traditional ancestral houses from all over south India. It can be described as a living museum, where 18 houses -each has a striking cultural affinity to the place of their original existence- is displayed in actual size over 10 acres of land. The houses of DakshinaChitra are not just demonstration buildings, but are actual houses brought from various parts of South India and rebuilt at the site.  With the magic of visionaries like Laurie Baker and master architects like Benny Kuriakose the once a barren land, has transformed into a beautiful landscape of trees, stone walkways, Amphitheater and an adobe to 18 adorable homes. 
DakshinaChitra - Museum for south Indian traditional homes - Chennai
DakshinaChitra has a beautiful premise with abundant trees...


DakshinaChitra - Museum for south Indian traditional homes - Chennai
and eco-friendly buildings...


DakshinaChitra - Museum for south Indian traditional homes - Chennai
and Stone paved walkways...
We visited DakshinaChitra in May 2014. It is located at Muttucad in the picturesque East Coast Road. One can easily club DakshinaChitra visit with Mahabalipuram. We also did the same. It was terribly hot in May but as we entered DakshinaChitra we forgot about the heat, thirst and tiredness. 

 DakshinaChitra is divided into four sections representing the four south Indian states. We started our heritage tour with Tamil Nadu. 

DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional homes section - Chennai
Entering the Tamil Nadu region of DakshinaChitra

Tamil Nadu Houses

Tamil Nadu has varied topography including the sandy beaches on one side, the Nilgiri Mountains on other side and a semi-arid plane in between. Wood was scarce in the planes and hence the common houses are constructed using a minimum amount of wood. One of the characteristic of Tamil homes is that they are clustered. 

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional houses
Tamil Nadu street in DakshinaChitra

The olden days the primary building material was mud. The poor used raw mud with rice husk as the binding material and the richer used sundried or baked mud bricks for better durability. One common characteristic of all Tamil homes, be it rich or poor, is the use of lime plaster on the walls. The lime used to help to keep the insects away and also reflected the sunlight to reduce the heat within the house.   
Another feature of the Tamil houses is the interior courtyard. Also distinctive is the raised verandah or seating area in the front of the house. In Tamil it is called Thinnai where the socializing happened. 

The Chettinadu house  

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Chettinadu house
Front Facade of the Chettinadu House
The prime attraction of the Tamil Nadu section is the Nattukottai Chettiar’s house of late 19th century. Chettiars are a wealthy business community. The Chettinad house at DakshinaChitra has a columned verandah at the front. The stout pillars of Teak must have been imported from Burma, where Chettiars had business presence. The front façade of the House shows two towers on either side of the columned verandah.  These towers contain small rooms which are used to conduct business discussions. Another striking feature of the Chettinad House is the intricately carved front door.

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Chettinadu house
The two rows of pillars  of Chettinadu house

There is a second row of Teak pillars as we enter the house and there is a raised verandah called the Thinnai. We could also see that the photos of the old patrons of the house are also retained in the original form.


 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Chettinadu house
raised verandah of Chettinadu house

  Inside the Chettinadu house, we enter into a spacious inner courtyard, which has thin stone pillars on all sides. Around this inner courtyard a series of rooms are built which is used for the purpose of sleeping, storing grains and praying.

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Chettinadu house
Interior courtyard of Chettinadu house

There is also another courtyard at the rear side of the house were cooking was done and also served as a place for the women to socialize. Some parts of this house have been transformed into a museum. 

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Chettinadu house
Interiors of Chettinadu house - Household articles in display

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Chettinadu house
Religious artifacts in display - Chettinadu house

Agriculturist's House and Potter's House

DakshinaChitra has an Agriculturist’s house from Mayavarnam district of TamilNadu. This house is pretty simple compared to the Chettinadu house, obviously as belonging to an economically modest community. The potter’s house is also similar to the Agriculturist house, which has space for living and working. One interesting fact about the Potter’s house is that, it has two kitchens as two brothers were living in the same house with their families. 

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Agriculturist house
Agriculturist house Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra

 DakshinaChitra - Tamilnadu traditional Agriculturist house
Interior courtyard and Pillars of the Agriculturist house

The Silk Weaver’s house

The Silk weaver’s house at DakshinaChitra was bought from the Kancheepuram- a place well known for its silk. One can find bright colors like blue, green, pink and yellow in the Silk Weaver’s house.
 DakshinaChitra - Kancheepuram traditional weaver's house
Silk Weavers house Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra
 There is a spacious interior courtyard where the works related to reeling, twisting and preparing the weft tread were done. There is also a bed room which now houses an exhibition on the techniques of Kancheepuram weaving. This house has a functional pit loom used for weaving Kancheepuram saris.
Dakshinachitra - Kancheepuram Weaver's house
Weaving Kancheepuram sarees - Silk weavers house in DakshinaChitra


Brahmin Agraharam


Dakshinachitra- Traditional Tamil Agraharam(Brahmin house)
Brahmin Agraharam  Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra
Next we entered into a street resembling the Brahmin Agraharam from Ambur village of Thirunelveli district. Agraharam is a set of clustered houses- mostly around 30 or 40 - situated on both sides of a street and it may have a temple at one end of the street. 

 The Agraharam recreated at DakshinaChitra was a “Vishnu Agraharam” with a shrine of Loard Vishnu at one end of the street. The houses in Agraharam are two storied but without an inner courtyard. Light and ventilation was obtained through the small windows just below the second roof (Also known as clerestory). The rooms in the upper floor was used for sleeping, drying grains and storage. 

Dakshinachitra- Traditional Tamil Agraharam(Brahmin house)
Backyard of the Brahmin Agraharam at DakshinaChitra


Mud Houses and the Basket Weavers house

DakshinaChitra has a good collection of houses representing the entire spectrum of communities from Tamil Nadu. The mud houses belong to the ordinary working class people of Tamil Nadu and obtained from Chengalpet district. Sun dried mud blocks are used for the construction of the houses and the roof is thatched with Palmyra leaves. Even in these houses we can see the common structures like Thinnai and columns on the front of the house. 

Dakshinachitra_Traditional_Thatched_Home
Mud house of the working class from DakshinaChitra

Dakshinachitra_Traditional_Thatched_Home
Mud House a close up

Ayyanar Shrine

Next to these Tamil Nadu houses we found a small temple. It is an Ayyanar Shrine. Ayyanar is the village deity of many Tamil villages, who was believed to be the protector of the village.
Dakshinachitra - Tamilnadu Ayyanar Shrine
Ayyanar Shrine at Dakshinachitra

The distinctive characteristic of the Ayyanar shrine is the huge terracotta Horses which are believed to be used by Ayyanar to ride around the village in the night.
Terracotta Horses of Ayyanar Shrine - Dakshinachitra
Terracotta Horses of Ayyanar

One interesting things is that, the Ayyanar Shrine at DakshinaChitra was constructed abiding the proper rules for making a temple. The Ayyanar priests are usually from the Potter’s family. The shrine at DakshinaChitra was constructed by Muthuswamy Kolalar the priest of Ayyanar shrine at Melkalpoondi in South Arcot district. 

Dakshinachitra - Tamilnadu Ayyanar Shrine

Kerala Houses

We found a striking contrast in the geography when we moved from the Tamil Nadu to the Kerala region. Tamil Nadu houses are mostly clustered, whereas the houses in Kerala are pretty isolated from the neighboring houses and each house has some land around it, usually called “Thodi” or “Parambu” in Malayalam. I suddenly felt like I am in Kerala.


DakshinaChitra - Traditional Kerala Houses
Doesn't it look like a typical Kerala village? - DakshinaChitra's Kerala section

Vegetables and Fruit bearing trees are grown around the houses, thanks to the abundance of water sources. There is again a difference between the materials used for construction in North Kerala (Old Malabar) and Central-South Kerala (Travancore). In North due to the abundance of the laterite rocks, it is the major building material. In the Southern houses one can see that wood is used as the prime construction element.
Due to the abundance of land, water and wood or other building material, Wealthy Kerala houses are generally accompanied with agricultural houses, granary, cowshed, guest houses and an elaborate gateway (Padippura). 

Some Hindu houses even have a small shrine for ancestor worship and an area for snake worship (Kaavu). Even some places have workshops for practicing martial arts like Kalarippayattu. Water was in abundance so each house is accompanied by a well, preferably directly accessible from the Kitchen.

Dakshinachitra Traditional Kerala Syrian Christian House
Water is abundant in Kerala so each house has it's own well - From Syrian Christian house in DakshinaChitra

One similarity between the Tamil and Kerala houses are the presence of one or two internal courtyards (Nadumuttom). These courtyards and the gables and windows allowed the cool breeze to pass through the house.


In DakshinaChitra, There are three houses from Kerala.

Christian House from Puthuppalli, Kottayam

Dakshinachitra Traditional Kerala Syrian Christian House
Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra

This house is almost 150 years old, made around 1850 and reconstructed at Dakshina Chitra. The Syrian Christian owners of this house were timber and spice traders. The primary material used for the construction is wood – a distinctive feature of the Travancore houses. The layout of this house is different from others by the fact that the house directly enters into a granary. This place also used for prayers and marked with a cross above the door. It is unlike the Tamil houses, where there is a separate area for the prayers. 
This house also includes and living room, a separate dining room and kitchen. An interesting thing we found at the Syrian Christian House is a narrow boat resembling a Gondola hanging from the roof at one side of the house. 

Dakshinachitra Traditional Kerala Syrian Christian House
The small boat at the Syrian Christian House - Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra

The extended compound of the Puthuppalli house also has a granary and a cowshed. The British influence is notable on the granary construction where there is arched verandah. The cowshed is made of timber. 

Dakshinachitra Traditional Kerala Syrian Christian House
The cowshed at Syrian Christian House -
Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra

Hindu House from Trivandrum 


This is an ancient house of a middle class agricultural Nair family from Trivandrum. It is similar to the Puthuppalli house as the major building material is wood. However, the layout of this house varies from that of the Travancore Puthuppalli house. This house represents the southern part of Kerala.
Dakshinachitra - traditional Hindu Nair house from South Kerala
Trivandrum House at DakshinaChitra

We could see a huge wooden structure on the verandah, and it was used for the storing the grains for the domestic use. 

Dakshinachitra - traditional Hindu Nair house from South Kerala
Backside of the house - a huge wooden container for storage also can be seen

Dakshinachitra - traditional Hindu Nair house from South Kerala
Trivandrum house is made primarily of wood!

Dakshinachitra - traditional Hindu Nair house from South Kerala
Trivandrum house - It is difficult to spot any material other than wood!

Calicut House - Northern Kerala

This house is the representative of the laterite houses from the Northen Kerala. It has two stories. It belonged to a Hindu Menon family who used to stay in the house with the extended family. 
Dakshinachitra - Traditional North Kerala Hindu house
This house has a big central courtyard, which is known as the Nadumuttom. Large, fluted wooden pillars are present around this central courtyard. This courtyard allows ventilation and good lighting. 

Dakshinachitra - "Nadumuttom" - The traditional interior courtyard of Kerala house
"Nadumuttom" - The traditional interior courtyard

 The Calicut house has many small bedrooms around the central courtyard as many couples were living within the same ancestral home. The central courtyard has an open roof, which let light and sometimes rain water in. It is the nostalgic memory of any Malayali to play in such a courtyard in rain.

Dakshinachitra - "Nadumuttom" - The traditional interior courtyard of Kerala house
Slices of light falling on the Nadumuttom - the interior courtyard


There are beautiful mural paintings present in this house.

Dakshinachitra - Mural paintings in traditional Kerala House

Dakshinachitra - Mural paintings in traditional Kerala House



A lot of household items are also on display in this house. Interesting one is the boat like structure used in the Ayurveda treatment. It is called “Enna Thoni” literally translating into the Oil Boat. The person under treatment lies inside a boat filled with oil.



Dakshinachitra - Model of oil boat - Ayurvedic treatment
"Enna Thoni - The oil boat for Ayurveda treatment"

Dakshinachitra -Household articles in traditional Hindu house from Kerala
Household articles in the Calicut house DakshinaChitra - In the center is a ritual sword belong to the Bhagavati temple.

Dakshinachitra -Household articles in traditional Hindu house from Kerala
Household articles in the Calicut house DakshinaChitra 

Below is the photo of some of the different kinds of lamps used in a traditional Kerala Hindu home. There is also a photo of "Guruvayoorappan" a favorite deity of Keralites.

Dakshinachitra Pooja Room Traditional Kerala Home
Different types of traditional lamps used in the Kerala Hindu home
Some more house hold items are here:

Dakshinachitra_Urns_Traditional_Kerala_Home
The locker and the storage urns
Dakshinachitra_Urns_Traditional_Kerala_Home




Karnataka

Next we went to the Karnataka section. The Karnataka houses are chosen based on the 5 geographic regions mainly. The costal line of west, the hilly area of Shimoga and Chikmangalore which is abundant in wood, the bamboo and tea plantations in Koorg, the fertile agricultural lands of the south, the stony dry northern region and the semi-arid planes of the east and center.  In the northern Karnataka area, the most abundant building material was stone. In the southern-west Karnataka more timber is used to build the home rightly pointing to the Kerala influence.

DakshinaChitra has two elaborate Karnataka houses representing two different geographical regions.

The stone house cluster of the Ilkal weavers



This house is an example of the Northern Karanataka architecture and made primarily of Stone. This cluster of houses actually stood in the Ilkal village of the Bagalkot district. There is a huge front façade made of stone and a little of wood. It acts as an entrance to the Ilkal house cluster. 
Dakshinachitra- Entrance of the Ilkal weaver's house
Entrance of the Ilkal weaver's house



The roof of the house is also covered with flat stone slabs packed with mud. In order to let the light and air pass through the roof, small terracotta pots open on both sides used to be inserted in the roof. Wood is very scares and the only wood found in this region is Neem. 
Dakshinachitra- Entrance of the Ilkal weaver's house
Interior of Ilkal Weaver's House


Villagers perform pooja of the Neem tree in their courtyard. In DakshinaChitra there is a Neem tree int the courtyard and a shrine for worshipping the ancestors is also replicated. An interesting artifact of the Ilkal house is tapestry of the “Ardha-Nareeswara” woven with colorful fabric. “Ardha-Nareeswara” is the fusion of Indian Gods Shiva and his spouse Parvaty showing a beautiful concept of oneness.




Chikkamagaluru house was built in 1914. This is a traditional and rich two floor Muslim house built using the abundant wood available in the Hills of Chikkamagaluru.
Dakshinachitra Traditional Chikkamagaluru House Karnataka
Traditional Chikamangaluru house in Dakshinachitra

 This house combines inspiration from the colonial period and from the grand Muslim mansions of its time. It has stout wooden column and arches in the front with an equally rich and adorned front door. 
The ornamental lime plaster work(stucco) around the main door and windows of both the floors are also worth mentioning. 

Dakshinachitra Traditional Chikkamagaluru House Karnataka
Abundant use of the wood and lime plaster ornamentation around the windows.
 The interiors are also rich with the collection of beautiful porcelain, his elaborate furniture and lamps. 

Dakshinachitra Traditional Chikkamagaluru House Karnataka
Rich Exteriors, richer interiors - Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra


Telangana and Andra Pradesh 

The region formerly part of Andhra Pradesh has three distinct geographical regions - Telengana, Rayalseema and costal Andhra. Rayalseema is a part of the Deccan plateau and is very dry. Cudappah- a town in the Rayalseema is very famous for its black slate stone used for flooring, shelving and roofing. Telangana includes Hyderabad and Secundarabad, which where under the rule of Nizam for a long duration. Hence this region has large and elegant Muslim homes. These homes have intricately carved screens in stone, delicate fluted arches with column support and beautiful stucco work and Urdu calligraphy. The Andhra section in DakshinaChitra is still under development and has two houses representing different parts of Andhra. 

Ikat Weaver’s house

Dakshinachitra-Traditional-Ikat-Weaver's-House-AndraPradesh
Ikat Weaver's House - Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra
This Andhra weaver’s house was brought from the Nalgonda village in the Warangal District. The building style in this area is known as Bhawanti. The house has a central courtyard. The main wood used in the house is Palmyra (A type of Palm tree). The roof is made of rounded tiles. The front portion of the house is equipped for the process of Ikat weaving. Ikat weaving is a technique of dying the yarn to form patterns before it is put to the loom. 

 
Dakshinachitra-Traditional-Ikat-Weaving-sample
A cloth woven in Ikat weaving technique

Costal Andhra House

This house cluster was built by residents of the Haripuram village in Visakhapatnam District. In Andhra, this house is known as Chuttillu which means a round house (illu stands for house). This array of circular-clustered houses helps to minimize the effects of cyclone in the coastal areas. The walls of the house are built in mud using the cob wall technique i.e. earth is mixed with water thoroughly to form the right consistency. Then, balls of mud are placed closely in a row and the wall is built up from there.

Mud house clusters of coastal Andhra - DakshinaChitra
Mud house clusters of coastal Andhra -  Photo Credit- DakshinaChitra

8 comments:

  1. very nice concept.would like to visit once

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  2. What a beautiful collection of homes, and what an amazing experience to be able to look into how a variety of houses from South India. It's really neat to see how people from different areas built their houses, and why they are different. Thank you!

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  3. What a fabulous collection of homes - there is such variety around Southern India. Thanks for the descriptions too, its interesting to read how the different homes were crafted and why.

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  4. Pretty spectacular - very cool you were able to do a house tour in this region. Can't wait to visit India someday.

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  5. Wow~ Now that's quite a collection of homes in India. It's fun to see the differences in each house.

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  6. Beautiful post that brought back some fond memories. I'm from South India and have taken my kids here and they loved looking at the different houses.

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  7. This is very nature to visit. Thanks for sharing with us. Good to know
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