Kerala is located in the southwestern coastal region of India and is a small state. It stretches about 580 km along the Malabar Coast and varies in width from around 30 to 120 km. Kerala shares borders with Karnataka towards the north, Tamil Nadu to the east and the Arabian Sea to the south and west. The Mahe division of the state Pondicherry or Puducherry is in the bounds of Kerala. Thiruvananthapuram known as Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala. Kerala has diverse and rich cultures and different religious traditions. Malayalam is their local language.
The culture and tradition of Kerala are exquisite and reflected in the architecture of the structures built using local resources and are in perfect sync with nature and climatic conditions. The materials used in building religious places are diverse from those used for building homes. Architecture in Kerala mostly follows the Thatchu Shastra style, a science of carpentry that oversees building construction. The most unique feature of Kerala architecture is the long, sloping roofs are built mainly to withstand heavy rains. In the old times, the concept of “Nalukettu” for homes was common for ventilation and natural lighting.
A few famous architectural structures are the following:
- The Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum is on seven acres of land and has four main entrances. The deity of the temple, Lord Vishnu also known as Sree Padmanabha Swamy is in a meditative Anantha-Shayana posture. The 18 feet long idol’s interior is filled with 1208 salagramas shipped from Nepal. In the olden days, the central part of the city was mainly to the east of the temple.
A landmark of Trivandrum was the temple’s gopuram, made of granite and brick. It has a pyramidal structure and rests above the east entrance to the temple. Rich sculptures adorn the walls of this temple. There are seven floors with a pair of openings along the centre on opposite sides of six of these floors. The temple is made of granite but has valuables inside the vaults including gold. This temple is an architectural wonder of Kerala.
- The Guruvayur Temple in Thrissur is around 5,000 years old and is dedicated to Lord Krishna, also known as Guruvayoorappan. Due to its worship, the temple is also known as ‘Dakshina Dwaraka’ (Southern Dwarka). The walls of the main shrine are decorated with beautiful mural paintings and intricate carvings. The structure gives hints of typical Kerala temple architecture and is believed to have been designed by the architect Vishwakarma. It is built in a way that the Sun God (Surya) himself pays homage to Vishnu on the day of Vishu. The main doorway to the shrine is from the east. From this doorway, one can spot the idol of the Lord.
In the temple, the ‘Chuttambalam’ is a gold-plated ‘dhwajastambham’ or flag mast, around 33 meters high. The ”dipastambham’ or pillar of lamps, attracts people when lightened in the evenings. The entry to the inner sanctum is set just ahead of this pillar. On two raised plinths, ten beautifully carved pillars can be seen on either side of the passage. The golden slokas of ‘Narayaniyam’ were written here, praising Lord Guruvayur.
- Cheraman Juma Masjid is the oldest mosque in Asia. The mosque is located in Kodungallur, a town near Cochin. It does not look like the typical mosque, with domes and minarets. It has a Kerala traditional house look, with a tiled roof and ornate wooden doors. The interior of the masjid has a qibla, and prayer mats, like other mosques. Another rare feature is the hanging lamps, which are part of traditional Kerala houses and temple architecture. It has gone through multiple renovations over the years.
- Mattancherry Palace, also called Dutch Palace, is located in Mattancherry, Fort Kochi. It is an architectural marvel of the 16th century. It has a blend of colonial and Kerala architecture. This palace, built on the conventional Kerala style of Nalukettu with four buildings set around a courtyard, was gifted by the Portuguese to Veera Kerala Varma, the then Raja of Kochi. Renovations were done in the palace by the Dutch in the 17th century, after which it became known as the Dutch Palace. It also houses a temple of the goddess Bhagavati in the courtyard. Today, it stands as a famous museum, having exquisite and intricate detailed ancient murals, exhibiting a rare collection of royal artefacts. The architectural blend is evident in the design of the arches and the size of its chambers, designed in the European style. The Dining hall’s wooden ceiling is richly decorated, and the floor is adorned with one of the exceptional types of Kerala flooring that appears to be polished black marble.
- Bekal Fort lies in the town of Kasargod and has a serene beach surrounding it. The significance and antiquity of the fort lie much beyond the present era. The fort captures centuries of heritage and culture that have played a key role in shaping the history of that region, designed and built using dark maroon laterite stones. It is polygonal in shape and covers more than 40 acres, and is one of Kerala’s largest forts. The design of the fort reflects its defensive character. The main gateway is located away from the sea on the landward side. The fort was endowed with impressive walls and ramparts interrupted by massive citadels. The citadels were equipped with several large and small openings for guns. The walls are spread with windows and peepholes to spot the enemy from far away in the past and offer scenic views of the sea today.
Although Kerala is a small state, it is vast in having many amazing wonders of architecture that are must-see places. The above are just a handful of places for tourists to check out. The unique culture here invites many, as the different designs and architecture found in Kerala.
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