Coloured by sepia-toned memories and a strong sense of nostalgia, getting ‘back to our roots’ is in vogue, especially among NRIs seeking to buy properties in India.
This heightened longing for the good old days has been instrumental in bringing back many classical architectural styles, and one of them is the nalukettu veedu in Kerala.
Design of Nalukettu
The naalukettu was a typical feature of the Kerala tharavadu tradition, where joint families lived together for generations with a patriarch and matriarch overseeing all their affairs. At the centre of the house is a nadumuttam, which is an open courtyard that served as the focal point of interactions between the family as well as various household activities and festivities. The larger and wealthier families had ettukettu or, the rarer, pathinaarukettu houses featured eight and 16 blocks with two and four courtyards respectively. All of these houses were built following the principles of ancient thachu shastra or the science of carpentry and developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when the Nairs and Namboodiris dominated the society with their power and wealth.
These aristocratic families who prided on their lineage and the name of their tharavadu would build extensive naalukettu homes that would feature a grove with a snake mound to facilitate the popular worship of snakes, a basil leaves plant installation made of stone or brick, and even a pond for the exclusive use of the family. Naalukettus can be sprawling, entirely built on the ground floor or can go up to three storeys high.
Rich and intricate detail
A disappearing heritage
Today, only a few of the original naalukettus remain mostly in the form of museums or heritage homestays.
Modern constructions now sport some features of the naalukettu style of architecture like the sloping roof, a small verandah supported by tall pillars, and a mini courtyard in the middle. Used by not only houses but also restaurants, ayurvedic spas and other establishments that are traditional to Kerala, the naalukettu design is now seeing a massive reprise. It is not uncommon to see naalukettu houses for sale in cities and real estate agencies advertising low-cost naalukettu houses to customers. And although not as glorious and rambling as the older naalukettu houses, they are a treat to the eyes.