Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Kerala Architecture::Nalukettu

Nālukettu is the traditional homestead of Tharavadu where many generations of a matrilineal family lived. These types of buildings are typically found in the Indian state of Kerala. The traditional architecture is typically a rectangular structure where four blocks are joined together with a central courtyard open to the sky. The four halls on the sides are named Vadakkini (northern block), Padinjattini (western block), Kizhakkini (eastern block) and Thekkini (southern block). The architecture was especially catered to large families of the traditional tharavadu, to live under one roof and enjoy the commonly owned facilities of the marumakkathayam homestead.

Elements of Nalukettu


It is a structure containing a door forming part of Compound wall for the house with a tiled roof on top. It is the formal entry to the compound with the house. At present the door is not there as car will have to enter the house through the entry. Still tiled roof is provided preferably with a traditional type lamp below the roof. Instead of door of entry, we now have the Gate


It is the prime portico soon after steps to the house. Traditionally it has a slope tiled roof with pillars supporting roof. Sides are open. In the earlier days, the head of the family called Karanavar used to sit here in a reclining chair with thuppal kolambi (Spittoon) by the side of chair. This chair will have long rails on either side where the Karanavar will keep his legs raised for comfortable rest

Chuttu verandah

From the Poomukham, a verandah to either side in front of the house through open passage called Chuttu Verandah. Chuttu verandah will have hanging lights in equal distance hanging from its slope roof.


By the side of Chuttu verandah and Poomukham, wooden benches with carved decorative resting wooden pieces for resting the back are provided. This is called Charupady. Traditionally the family members or visitors used to sit on these charupady to talk

Ambal Kulam (Pond)

At the end of Chuttu verandah there used to be a small pond built with rubble on sides where lotus or Ambal used to be planted. The water bodies are maintained to synthesized energy flow inside.


Traditionally Nadumuttom or central open courtyard is the prime center the Nalukettu. There is an open area usually square shaped in the exact middle of the house dividing the house in its four sides. Due to this four side division of the house by having a Nadumuttom. Similarly there was Ettu kettu and Pathinaru kettu which are quite rare with two and four Nadumuttom respectively

Nadumuttom will be normally open to sky, allowing sunshine and rains to pour in. This is to allow natural energies to circulate within the house and allow positive vibrance within. A thulsi or tree will be normally planted in center of Nadumuttom, which is used to worship. Architecturally the logic is allow tree to act as a natural air purifier.

Pooja Room

Pooja room should preferably be in the North East corner of the house. Idols can be placed facing east or west and the person praying can face west or east respectively. At present, woodden paneling is done on Pooja room walls and there is a standard design for Pooja room which can be given to clients interested in having traditional Pooja room

Key features

The whole being protected with a compound wall or fence. An entrance structure (padippura) may also be constructed like the gopuram of a temple. This may contain one or two rooms for guests or occasional visitors who are not entertained in the main house. The position and sizes of various buildings, including the location of trees and paths within the compound wall were to be decided from the analysis of the site according to the prescriptions in the classic texts. This analysis involved the concept of vastupurusha mandala wherein the site (vastu) was divided into a number of grids (padam) occupied by different deities (devatha) and appropriate grids were chosen to house the suspicious structures. The site planning and building design was done by learned vishwakarma sthapathis (master builders) who synthesized the technical matters with astrological and mystical sciences.

There are numerous buildings of the nalukettu type in different parts of Kerala, though many of them are in a poor state of maintenance. Changing socio-economic conditions have split up the joint-family system centered on the large nalukettu. The Kailasa mandiram at Kottakkal belonging to the Arya Vaidyasala is a standing example of a three-storeyed nalukettu complex. Of the best preserved examples of this type are Mattancherry palace at Kochi and the taikottaram of the Padmanabhapuram palace near Kanyakumari.

Nalukettu type buildings are also seen in many villages and towns, occupied by prominent people. The humbler buildings of the population are however smaller and simpler in form but basically derived from the nalukettu. Nalukettu is a combination of four halls along four cardinal directions, centered on the courtyard or anganam one may build any one of the four halls (Ekasala), a combination of two (Dwisala) or a complex of three (Thrisala) depending on the needs. The most commonly found type in Kerala is the Ekasala facing east or north. Being located on the western and southern sides of the anganam they are referred as western hall (padinjattini) and southern hall (thekkini) respectively.

The core unit of Ekasala consists of generally three rooms connected to a front passage. The central room is used as prayer room and grain store and the two side rooms are used as living rooms. The core unit may be raised to an upper storey with a steep stair located in the front passage. The building may also be extended horizontally on all the four sides adding alindams or side rooms for activities such as cooking, dining, additional sleeping rooms, front hall for receiving guests etc.The Chappamattam Tharavadu at Chirakkadavu is a classical example of extended Ekasala. If needed Ekasala may also be provided with ancillary buildings for cattle keeping, barn, bathing rooms near tanks, outhouse for guests, gate house etc. By such extension the building may become much larger than a Nalukettu in space, but it is still categorized as Ekasala with reference to its core unit.

Vastuvidya texts prescribe the dimensions of different house types suitable for different classes. They also give the proportional system of measurements for different parts of the building all based on the perimeter (chuttu) of the core unit. The scientific basis of this dimensional system is yet to be enquired by modern studies; however the system appears to be well founded on traditional computational methods and rigidily adhered to all sizes of buildings. All over Kerala and specially in villages where the building activity is still carried out under the control of traditional stapathis, the system is still a living practice, though it has started disappearing under the impact of 'modern architecture'.

Types of Nalukettu

Nalukettus can be differentiated based on structure kind as well as based on caste of its occupants.

Based on structure

Nalukettus are primarily differentiated based on their structure. Traditionally Nalukettu has one courtyard with 4 blocks/halls constructed around it in cardinal directions. However some Nalukettus have 2 courtyards, which are known as Ettukettu (8 Blocked structure) as they have altogether 8 blocks in cardinal directions. Some super structures have 4 courtyards, which then are known as Patinarukettu (16 blocked structure).

While Nalukettus and Ettukettus are more common, Pathinarukettu are extremely rare, due to its enormous size.

Likewise Nalukettus can be differentiated based on their height and number of floors. Some Nalukettus are single-storeyed and made with wood completely. Other Nalukettus are two-storeyed or sometimes even three-storeyed and have laterite-and-clay mixture as walls.


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