A glimpse of India's ''Vernacular Architecture''

Traditional Chettiar home,Chettinad,Tamil Nadu, S. India. thrillingtravel.in

Traditional Chettinad house, Tamil Nadu. pinrest.com

Above image::Thinnai in the Tamil language (porch) overlooking a Muttram in local parlance (courtyard) of a traditional Chettinad house in Tamilnadu India. Chettiar community is traditionally involved in business and invariably, most of them are rich. The Chettinad region is well known for its 19th-century mansions, whose wide courtyards and spacious rooms are embellished with marble and teak. .Many of them are built   using a type of limestone known as kara..  The homes have tiled flooring, using   what are called Athangudi tiles of impressive  and stunning colors . These tiles are locally made. by using traditional methods. The wood is mostly teak wood imported from Burma (Myanmar)............................  

Unlike normal architecture that  emphasizes imaginative designs of  buildings with  decorated doors, entrances, windows, roofs,  features of domes,  gables and turrets, etc.,stairways, facade, balcony  etc., with  right embellishments, the vernacular architecture is a reflection of local materials and knowledge with simple design, normally  without the  guidance or supervision of professional architects. Quite common in the  pre-industrial societies,  a preponderance of buildings  and settlements  fall under the category of Vernacular architecture. It covers a wide spectrum of  buildings of different styles and traditions, and methods of construction, using locally available materials. The distinctive aspects of  such  buildings are simplicity and down to earth practical - be they for  residential purposes or  for other uses. The Vernacular architecture encompasses cultural building traditions that have been passed down through several generations. As the styles and techniques evolve, each vernacular structure is modest, cost-effective, and sustainable, serving the basic needs. 

As far as Indian vernacular architecture is concerned  such informal, but functional  structures  with basic necessities are more often found in rural  or semi urban  areas built with local materials  to meet the needs of the people there. Though their knowledge of basic architecture is minimal,  their construction methods and design  bring out  the  rich diversity of India's  old tradition and practical  application in relation to climatic changes and terrain. The variations and distinctive designs follow the  local social customs, norms  and craftsmanship. It is estimated that globally about  90% of all building is vernacular, meaning that it is for daily use for ordinary, local people and built by local craftsmen.

Across  India there are numerous traditional  styles native to a region. In the northern Indian states the style is more or less common. In the NE and in the SW parts, the traditional  style is different  in tune with the geography. Comparing  to Hindu temple architecture and Indo-Saracenic architecture, in the past much more use of wood than stone  was quite prevalent  But in the modern era  brick and concrete  structures dominate the landscape, but aesthetically they are not appealing unlike wooden structures. In the past  couple of decades Indian architectural structures  are built with  Western styles  and they dominate the urban spaces.

The building materials vary depending on the terrain. In the hilly areas, houses have sloping roof in places where monsoon rains are heavy. Example: Kerala and NE India and in the Himalayan region that receives snow at higher elevation. Wooden  houses  are common with extended sloping roof. Further, houses on hills normally  have two stories, with the livestock living on the ground floor. Often a verandah runs along the side of the house.  They are built on a raised platform to avoid water run-off in the rainy season. On the flat lands, adobes are  built with  mud or sun-baked bricks,  and then plastered inside and out, sometimes with mud mixed with hay or even cow dung and whitewashed with lime.

Where bamboo is available it is widely used  across India as it is flexible and resilient.  In the plains, bamboo poles are used to support thatched roof or country- mud -tiled roof as in the rural and semi rural areas. Some semi -pakka houses have mud-tiled roof over a series of thick bamboo poles. In the case of bamboo poles used for roof construction, periodic checking and upkeep is a must as they lose durability over a period of time.  Despite the variations and diversity across the land, Indian Vernacular architecture can be classified into three categories with some overlapping. 

The simple classification of Vernacular architecture is s follows:


A kachcha is a  simple  structure  and needs to be replaced periodically.  Such structures are  not strong  and found in the rural areas.The buildings include  natural materials such as mud plaster, bamboo, thatch and wood over the mud wall. Materials may vary from place to place. In the hilly places, locally available stones are used for wall construction.


A pakka type is a structure  with good durability made from materials resistant to wear, such as forms of stone or brick, clay tiles, metal or other strong  materials, sometimes using mortar to bind.The building does not need to be constantly maintained or replaced. These structures are expensive.  In the past invariably wooden rafters were used for terraced ceiling  supported by either wooden pillars or polished stone. This type  ceiling is called Madras terrace, quite common in South India. The binding material is lime and sand mixed with what is locally called Kadukai and Jaggery ( country sugar made from sugar cane) to improve the binding. Thin clay tiles are used for this purpose. 


A blend of  the kachcha and pukka styles, The semi-pukka style mostly seen in the rural landscape and the structure includes better and durable  construction materials; it means the structure will last  longer.  The interesting part is such a structure is  organic and the design changes  as the needs and  income resources of the people change. Most of  such traditional  structures come under  semi-pkka category of Vernacular architecture.

The following  are the images of many of the traditional houses'buildings  built across India in the past:

Toda tribal hut,  Ooty, Nilgiri hills, Tamil Nadu  en.wikipedia.org

Toda tribal hut, Ooty, Nilgiri hills, Tamil Nadu Alamy.com

Above images: Toda tribal hut, often compared to ancient Gavaksha roof and arch

Wooden Wada house courtyard, Maharashtra..en.wikipedia.org

PolHouse, wooden carving, Gujarat .en.wikipedia.org

Above image: Wooden carving outside Pol house, brick and wood joinery walls with lime plaster, Gujarat.

Rows of sandstone haveli,Rajasthan..en.wikipedia.org

Kitchen in a simple South India home. en.wikipedia.org

Agraharam houses near Kumbakonam, TN, Alamy com.

Traditional Brahmin homes (Agraharam),Thanjavur,dist,TN indiamart.com

Kerala-Kalpathy agraharam houses, Alamy.com

Traditional Chettinad homes, Tamil Nadu, Tripadvisor.com

gujarat rural homes offbeat-destinations.com/

Traditional home, Assam, NE India. slideshare.net

Assam rural home, NE India Alamy.com

Karnataka, Godava home. kodavame.wordpress.com

Traditional home for a large family, Kerala. caleidoscope.in

Above image Kerala state; Nalukettu or the traditional homestead where generations of family lived together as single large family. 

rural Bengal hut, Flicker.com

Heritage old Goan house, Goa,W.India. traveladventuresgoa.com

old house in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, N. India. pinrest.com

Traditional home in the Himalayan region, India..bigstockphoto.com

Old Mylapore house,chennai.citizenmatters.in

Abova image: Ornate wood work and a sleek balustrade adorn the fa├žade of house on South Mada Street, Mylapore, part of Chennai city. Many of this type of houses have disappeared.. Pic: Seetha Gopalakrishnan