Colonial Bungalows in India: - a ''Symbol of Wealth and Status'' are disappearing

A large, spacious garden with a watchman at the gate and a beautiful bungalow in the middle symbolizes wealth and status, often seen as a slice of heaven. The concept of bungalows in India emerged during very early British colonial rule more out of necessity than other reasons to tackle intense heat and monsoon rains. The term ‘bungalow’ has its origin from  the Bengali word ‘bangla,’ referring to the local humble  well-ventilated thatched single story mud hut - especially found in the rural landscapes.  The East India company started their primary major trading activities in this fertile region  in the 18th century and the Bungalows made their appearance during that period. 

Old Colonial Bungalow,

Old colonial bungalow, India,

Historical Context:  Kolkata, then Calcutta, was the British capital in India, influencing the adoption of the term from Bengal. The original Bangla was a modest, rectangular hoe with a plinth, sloping roofs, and wooden pillars.  As  more  Europeans settled in India to explore job opportunites with the English company, distinct housing was needed to manage horrible heat and humid weather conditions leading to the creation of colonial bungalows, which kept  Europeans isolated from locals and to showcase their social status and inherent racial superiority .

Rajbari, Murshidabad,

Above image: The 320-year-old Roy Palace in Cossimbazar near Murshidabad (also known as Choto Rajbari) often called Zamindar house, West Bengal

Gundert Bungalow, Thalassery, Kerala

Above image: 
The 200-year-old Gundert Bungalow set in the midst of a palm grove in the town of Thalasseri in the Kannur district of Kerala,. Owned by German Malayalam expert It is a heritage site,  a fine example of  Colonial European Bungalow with deep extended tiled sloping roof to protect against heat and very heavy monsoon rains of Kerala, SW India................ 

Development and Layout:  Initially modest, colonial bungalows evolved into luxurious residences over a period of time  symbolizing social standing  and comfortable life style assuring privacy. Typical layouts commonly included  high raised compound walls all around the plot with a  watchman or security guard at the main entry gate for security reasons, paved driveway leading to a centrally located bungalow and of course, a fine landscaped gardens with lots of trees highlighting serene cool environment often in English style.

With a view to managing  the changing  climatic and weather patterns, the bungalow featured a deep plain or slanting verandah supported by Doric or Tuscan columns or just ordinary pillars  often extending around the perimeter. Inside, a central drawing-room connected to a dining room via an open archway. The dining room opened into a backyard used for gardening. The kitchen was in a separate block often with  modest  servants’ quarters in a  corner of  the site, meant for  natives, .

Regional Variations:  The design and style of colonial bungalows varied across India  again in tune with the regional weather conditions and requirements. The bungalows reflect the various architectural styles in fashion in the early 20th century- from rustic mock-type olde English' cottages to cool Art Deco.  Delhi: Featured an imperial, neoclassical style. 

Old colonial bungalow, Delhi

Mumbai Colonial bungalow with fine porch

Richly embellished Mumbai bungalow.

Above image: A suburban Mumbai residence with detailed carving and wood trimmings. Perry Rd with Leo Rd.......

Mumbai was known for suburban art deco bungalows with fine latticework and art-deco decorations. Calcutta was famous for spacious bungalows with sloping roofs essential for heavy rainfall and also  Rajbari (large Zamindar (land lord) houses. Chennai (Madras) was the earliest British settlement  and over a period appeared spacious garden houses, featuring larger gardens and sometimes a courtyard due to the humid climate; the structure was in the center of the huge plot with a security shelter. Most of the structures were masonry works made of burnt clay bricks and ground lime-sand mortar and lime plastering inside and outside  to keep the interior cool. 

Monkey top colonial bungalow Bengaluru, KA

.Monkey top Bungalow, Bengaluru, KA

Bangalore and Mysore were  known for extensively carved barge boards and fretwork canopies, termed ‘Monkey tops,’ often evolving into double-story structures to avoid intrusion of monkeys. Such bungalows were common in many places such as Chennai, Connor (Nilgiris), TN etc. In some places they were Mangalore-tiled often with fine wooden embellishments. They appeared in the 1900s.

Architectural Features: Colonial bungalows were designed to stay cool in the hot Indian climate: The houses were characteristic of thick walls and high ceilings, deep porches, louvered shutters and latticework screens Ventilators for hot air extraction,  woven reed screens and khus (aromatic reed) curtain, muslin cloths for shielding roofs from inside and  acting as insect barriers. In the pre electricity periods,  some rich bungalows or houses had elongated  Punkah  - manually operated fans set in the ceiling  in the bed rooms  halls for for cooling

Evolution and Legacy Throughout the 20th century, colonial bungalows adapted to changing family structures and lifestyles. They became more compact, incorporating the kitchen into the main block. Despite losing some popularity, colonial bungalows remain a significant part of India’s architectural history, reflecting a blend of European and Indian styles and preserving the legacy of a bygone era.

In the modern era presently because of cost of maintenance  of accessories, high labor wages, etc., impacted the palatial bungalows which have disappeared slowly. Many have been remodeled retaining  the heritage features  and converted into posh hotels; in the hill stations across India  they become   resort houses.