Viceroy's house at Kabini

Viceroy’s house at Kabini

On a recent trip to Kabini (wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka, near Mysore), I stayed at a Jungle resort. Spread over many acres, the resort has a heritage structure, ‘The Viceroy’s house’ now converted to a business centre. It even had a quaint bar!

So after a morning watching birds (we spotted a leopard the previous day!) and falling in love with the ‘Blue Jay’ (Karnataka’s State Bird!), I wanted to capture a little bit of heritage that still remained in this structure.

In the picture above, you can see the sliding roofs. Made with a local terracotta tiles, the slope enables the water to flow down after the rains and prevents the water build up on the roof.

Verandah

Verandah

Due to the intensive solar radiation(summers are very hot), most of the home is closed with very few windows to keep the heat out. The verandah offers a shaded open place to welcome the breezy evenings. This area also shelters the rest of the house from direct sunlight, keeping the interiors cool. Being the entrance, the verandah is partially covered with railings.

Grandfather chair

Grandfather chair

Such chairs are very common in the ancestral homes of Kerala. Ergonomic, very comfortable, and has long sliding handles that can be used to rest tired legs. Imagine watching the monsoons from the verandah, sitting on this ‘spoil yourself’ couch, reading a book and sipping some filter coffee! :)

Columns

Columns

The ornamental columns support the railings. They are present all along the entrance. The rear end of the house has very simple columns to support the sloping roof.

Railings and Red oxide Flooring

Railings and Red oxide Flooring

Flooring is red oxide, lending an ‘old world’ charm to the house. Very functional, it takes in the daily grind easily, without chipping or fading.

Rear end of the house

Rear end of the house

The Northern and Southern Verandahs(entrance to the home) are enclosed or semi closed, whereas the western and eastern Verandahs are left open. The photo shows the rear end of the house.

Entrance Porch

Entrance Porch

The Porch leads to the entrance of the building. In most Kerala homes, there is a brass vessel called ‘Kindy’ filled with water placed just at this point. This ensures the feet are clean before entering the house. It rains quite a lot in this region leading to a lot of muck and puddles, so the feet cleaning ritual is an essential and  traditional form of sanitation.

Skylights

Skylights

The height of the room is almost double the normal size, owing to the presence of double ceilings. Openings are made in between the first and second levels to provide natural light, without heating the room too much.

Ventilating slots on the Mangalore door

Ventilating slots on the Mangalore door

The doors have an opening on the top that can be opened depending on the weather conditions. Even if all the windows are shut, these openings enable ventilation.

Rooms exterior

Rooms exterior

The projecting caves here are rooms. These rooms do not have the double ceiling structures. To shield the room from the harsh sun, one side of the ceiling has a slope. These projecting structures house the many families that are part of the joint family system prevalent here.

The lack of Air Conditioning in those times seems to have been more than compensated with such intelligent building techniques. When I look at the high rise buildings and crammed apartments, I worry for our vernacular architecture that is all but lost today.

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Stacks of Dhurries from Salawas

Stacks of Dhurries

I just cannot stop buying rugs. I absolutely believe that rugs can instantly transform a house to a home, make you feel cozy and add that bit of colour to typical, dull apartment floors. When I moved into my husband’s bachelor pad, these simple additions were the starting steps to making my home.

There are different kinds of rugs or carpets available all across India. Like everything else about this diverse country, each region has a floor covering suited to its needs. The heavy knotted carpets of Kashmir protect your bare feet from the biting chill on the floor. The thick and colourful Jamakkalams of Erode in Tamil Nadu plays both the role of a mattress to sleep on and as a seating place for guests.

Panja, the key tool

Panja, the key tool

So on my trip to Jodhpur, I couldn’t resist visiting a haven for rugs. Panja Dhurries from Salawas in Jodhpur are famous for their high quality, sturdy and really long lasting rugs. Rugs are locally called as dhurries. The dhurries are hand woven and the design is perfected with the use of the Panja, a comb like structure (as seen in the picture above)

Threads used for weaving

Threads used for weaving

Made mostly using cotton, wool and jute are also used in making the dhurries.

The loom

The loom

The looms are very crude in nature and are manually operated. The complicated designs are identical on both sides. This is done using the Panja.Usually the process of making a 5 ft by 3 ft dhurrie takes about 15 days and the monotonous process is pepped up with constant conversation from fellow dhurrie makers.

Weavers Nemaram and son

Weavers Nemaram and son

Usually the senior in the family supervises the work of the younger apprentices. So when I met Nemaram, a craftsman who belongs to the community of dhurrie weavers, he proudly introduced me to his son and explained in detail about his progress.

Home utensils used as measuring tools

Home utensils used as measuring tools

What interested me the most were the innovative tools used.  A bowl was used as a base to weave a circle, even their scales are very rudimentary and only a recent inclusion to the tool kit.

Wave like pattern 'Leheriya', the most common design

Leheriya, the most common design

The most common design is ‘Leheriya’, a wave-like pattern common even in Rajasthan’s tie and dye process. Geometrical patterns are in demand nowadays.

Traditional design

Traditional design

Nemaram showed me some traditional designs commonly used by his ancestors, but long forgotten ever since. During those times, the patterns were very elaborate and adorned the floors of the palaces. Animals and flowers were mostly used, along with geometrical patterns to create complex designs. The workmanship was highly regarded and was favoured by the kings.

Shade card

Shade card

Nemaram showed me this sample that he had made with all the colors that are available. This served as his shade card that he showed prospective customers.

Recycling waste yarn

Recycling waste yarn

I am sure Nemaram has no clue about terms like ‘carbon footprint’, ‘recycle’ and all other green ways of life that we all so vehemently discuss and debate. In Nemaram’s case, it is just a way of life. The leftover threads are woven as bases into chairs and beds(like the one above), old clothes are shredded and woven into rugs for their own use and the trimmed ends of the dhurrie are used to fill their pillow cases.

Making dough uisng mortar and pestle

Making dough uisng mortar and pestle

While Nemaram and I were chatting up, his wife silently ground the dal(lentils) into a paste using the traditional mortar and pestle. The paste was seasoned with a few spices, made into small balls and left to dry in the winter sun. Once dry, the vadis would last her an entire year. Her strong hands moved steadily over an hour to grind all the dal that she had soaked overnight. When I suggested that she could use a motor-run grinder, she was aghast and explained how that would never taste the same.

Local Rajasthani food, Sogra and dal

Local Rajasthani food

In typical Rajasthani hospitality, I was treated to an hearty meal of Sogra (their local bread), Gud (jaggery),  dal cooked in their traditional earthen stove and topped with loads of desi ghee( home-made clarified butter). Though the Sogra was a little hard and difficult to chew, the smoked flavour of the dal was awesome and unlike anything that I had ever tasted before.

Dhurries' logo

Dhurries’ logo

The usual story of a slowly fading craft, the dhurries here face stiff competition from the faster, machine made versions. Some socially driven organisations and institutions help keep the looms running. Moreover, the family has also diversified into making table mats, coasters and bags to keep the money coming in. Growing interest in craft tourism has also helped Nemaram and he is trying to make a brand for himself and his community with the Panja logo (as in the picture)

So having been touched by a simple life, a great craft and loads of purchases, I made up my mind to do my bit to ensure keep this craft alive. Nemaram can worry a little less about his son’s future.

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In February, I went on a road trip to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The shrubby deserts, interspersed with the yellow of the mustard fields is a beautiful sight for the city dweller. The gorgeous sunsets, the magnificient palaces and the rich food speak of a very distinct culture. The forts and palaces are bigger versions of ‘Havelis‘, the palace-type houses in Rajasthan. Made with sandstone abundantly available in this rocky terrain, their grandeur stands out against the the backdrop of blue skies. Jaisalmer is called the golden city with almost all buildings (both old and new) built with yellow sandstone.

Though ravaged by the many wars fought both internally and with outsiders, this state holds itself in all its splendor. Climatic conditions, traditional beliefs and external influences speak in all aspects of life here, including their architecture. Read on or rather watch on as I went trigger happy trying to capture this region’s history and life through its palaces and forts.

Rajasthani architecture is very different from the North Indian architecture and represents an almost ‘West Indian’ tradition. The features bear a huge resemblance to Gujarati architecture owing to proximity and similar climate .With both regions experiencing extreme weather conditions, with little or no rainfall, there was definitely a need to make homes that keeps you cool during the hot summer months and warm during the biting chill of winters. Though we cannot deny the Mughal influence with many Rajput princesses between married to Moguls and thus bringing some of their culture back home, there is a uniqueness to the way it is portrayed here.

Entrance for elephants at Mehrangarh fort

Entrance for elephants

The entrances to the forts and palaces are huge. My first guess was that it was associated with grandeur, the larger than life attitude displayed by kings. Later my guide told me that the entrance was meant to accommodate elephants during the many processions, both during royal ceremonies like marriage (polygamy was the norm for the kings) and equally frequent wars!

Jharokhas at Mehrangarh fort

Jharokhas

Jharokha’ is a very important feature in Rajasthani architecture. Considering purdah (not permitted for public viewing) was important for women in the royal household, this feature allowed them to witness outside events without being noticed by outsiders. They are typically balconies covered with a ‘Jaali’. In havelis, usually there is an entire section called ‘Zenana’ where women lived separately from the men.

Another functional feature of the Jharokha are the sloping eaves called ‘Chajjas’ that project out above the balconies. They protect the building from the heat (can be as high as 50 degrees Celsius in summer) and the slope of the eave helps in draining out the monsoon rain.

The exteriors of a Jharoka are intricately carved with sculptures of flowers and peacocks. The ostentatious carvings on the exteriors represent the culture’s need for ‘display of wealth’. In some smaller havelis, the ornate exteriors camouflage the cramped interiors. Historically, each community or region in Rajasthan has tried to outshine the other with displays of bravery, beauty and wealth.

jaali design

Jaali design

Covering the Jharokhas are the ‘Jaalis’. These are lattice screens intricately carved in either wood or stone and are prominent in most structures, even on balcony railings. Since an open window was not an option owing to security reasons, these screens formed the perfect alternative to windows. Most carvings on the Jaalis depict flowers and leaves.

Jaali shadow at Mehrangarh fort

Jaali shadow

Note the interesting shadows thrown by the ‘Jaalis’, further accentuating the beauty of the rooms.

Stained glass at Mehrangarh fort

Stained glass

The Maharajahs (kings) were patrons of art. There were frequent dance performances for entertainment. Dance halls were built are part of the fort/palace for this purpose and a lot of attention to detail was paid in making these rooms. Stained Glass was imported from Belgium for the windows. Imagine a beautiful dancer swaying away to the tunes of the palace musician. The windows can only add a dash of colour to this vibrancy.

Aalas for placing diyas (candles)

Aalas

.‘Aalas’ are small niches made in the wall for the placement of diyas (candles). Most of the dance performances were held after sunset. In order to light up the dance hall, diyas were lit inside these niches. The light from the diyas was reflected on the mirrored ceiling in the room. The room was often referred to as the ‘Moti Mahal’, the Pearl Room for the magical illumination that it created.

Courtyard at Mehrangarh fort

Courtyard

Courtyards called as ‘Aangan’ are common in the havelis, the one near the main entrance usually has a fountain in the middle. The number of courtyards in a haveli determine wealth of the owner. In most havelis, there are atleast 2 courtyards-one each for men and women. Women typically use the inner courtyard adjacent to the ‘Zenana’, their living quarters.

Chhatri at Mehrangarh fort

Chhatri

The ‘Chhatris’ are called so as they resemble umbrellas and are used to demarcate funeral sites. In some cases, they also act as a memorial for royalty. This feature was later copied in all future buildings. In recent structures, they are merely decorative and are not associated with memorials.

Balcony railings with ornate carvings

Balcony railings with ornate carvings

Every region is inspired by factors in their environment. Owing to the arid desert landscape, the region is devoid of flora. Most of the vegetation is shrubby, even the trees are bare. Hence the craftsmen here use a lot of flowers and leaves in their design. What they lack in nature, they compensate in their art. The block printers, dhurrie makers, Pichhwai painters, almost every craft here portrays this aspect.

Column detail, Lotus

Column detail, Lotus

Even structural requirements like columns are carved intricately. They are circular and even the most basic designs have a Lotus design at both ends. Traditionally Lotuses are associated with worship in Rajasthan. In fact, even the famed Pichhwais of Nathdwara in Rajasthan would be incomplete without the Lotus. A square structure similar to the Greek columns completes the design on the top.

Peacock detail

Peacock detail

Peacocks are a common sight in this part of India. The peacock showcasing its plume signals the onset of monsoon in this dry land. For a region with little or no rainfall, this is a welcome sign. Thus peacocks take prominent place in these sculptures. The state was constantly at war either for succession or community clashes or invasions. The numbers of forts in Rajasthan stand testimony to that. All forts are fortified with high walls, secret underground passages and cannons at strategic locations.

Stoneware

Stoneware

Since people no longer live in palaces, the craftsmen here have adapted to the needs of today. The golden yellow stone is sculpted into everyday items like glasses, tea light holders and soap cases. While some homes still accommodate the Jharokhas as part of the design, most others incorporate a few features like ornate Jaalis and columns to add a touch of royal living in their homes. Each of these pieces are hand crafted masterpieces, made by craftsmen who have been making them for generations. Luckily for them, there is still a demand for this craft.

The most fascinating feature of Rajasthan is that inspite of all the wars and turmoil, the art, craft and culture in this region has lived on. Rajasthan has stood the test of time.

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