Home – a space with comfort, warmth and love. A home always has a special place in our lives, and especially for Indians, it is connected to family and bonding. Spaces where people spend time with family and in their most relaxed state create a home. Even though people’s lives keep changing, their residence holds memories and reflects the kind of people who live in them. An Indian traditional home is a key player in family, festivals and celebrations and brings everyone together. Let’s see some architectural elements of Indian houses which play a key role in shaping their character as a ‘home’.
Courtyard | Indian Traditional Homes
At the centre of the house, the courtyard offered an open space which connected all the spaces in the house at one level. In Indian homes, this was the part of the house where everyone would meet as people lived in joint families. From sun-drying papads and pickles in summer to celebrations like weddings or festivals, this space was the focus of the house. A courtyard serves to have a place where there can be more room for people to accommodate being indoors, but at the same time have a place where there is no barrier between them and nature.
The architectural planning of the courtyard goes way back to the Indus Valley Civilization era. One can see courtyards incorporated in homes from other places outside India like China and Europe.
A courtyard also has an essential function in terms of cooling the spaces around it, as it allows air to flow centrally while driving warm air out through convection. This element can be seen as escaping the summer heat as well as the cold winters in Gujarat pol houses or the wadas of Maharashtra.
A very common element of Rajasthani architecture, a jharokha is a small balcony enclosed by a chhatri-like roof and curved around the façade. Depending upon the type of building these were made with intricately carved elements of materials like stone or wood. The jharokha served an important purpose for the people of the house. Traditionally, jharokhas were used by ladies in palaces to keep an eye on the day’s proceedings without themselves being seen, which complied with the social norms of that era, most common in the medieval period. This small balcony provided a very interesting feature to the walls, also at the same time creating small openings which led to a play of sunlight in the interiors. One can see an entire façade of such windows in the Hawa Mahal, one of the famous architectural marvels of India. It was visible but hidden, which gave unique secrecy to the space. Always mentioned in tales are lovers glancing through these, building a story through the space and its people.
Verandah | Indian Traditional Homes
Being neither inside nor outside, the verandah is one of the most interesting spaces in an Indian home. From the grandmother singing lullabies to the kids and having afternoon tea with guests, a lively atmosphere has always been the characteristic of a verandah.
These semi-open spaces are an inevitable feature of the Indian homes, considering climatic as well as social aspects. The climate of India makes it suitable to have an intermediate space between the interiors and exteriors to protect the house from the sun and rain. In a traditional Kerala home, in addition to the front verandah, the poomukham, there are verandahs on the sides also, called chuttu verandahs. Traditionally, Indian houses had pitched roofs which continued on the verandah and then were supported by a series of columns, sometimes carved with very intricate details. This would give the verandah a dynamic volume while also creating a space outside the house.
A verandah also creates an intermediate connection between the outside public areas and the private areas of the home. It facilitates the Indian culture of welcoming guests at home and would become the space where one could chat with neighbours as well as lie down in the afternoons when guests come over. One could say that these verandahs reflected the home and its people at their best for anyone from outside.
With their varied and detailed patterns, jaalis are even today very easily incorporated in an Indian house. They filter light and wind into the interiors, their latticework and designs with beautiful patterns modulate light and air through the day. A jaali acted as a semi-transparent partition wall, offering visual connectivity but at the same time separating the two spaces. They also were widely used as a decorative element and exhibited the skilled craftsmanship and artistry of that era. One can see jaali work in many palaces, mosques and other monuments, where it is one of the most important ornamentations of the structure.
In the hot climate of India, a jaali offered diffused light along with shade while also keeping the place ventilated. These screens let in the cool breeze but keep out the harsh sun and the dust. One can see jaali work which is carved as well as sometimes made with bricks or stone. Laurie Baker is well known for using brickwork jaalis in his designs, which he adopted from the vernacular architecture of India.
Niches | Indian Traditional Homes
In the past, when houses were lit without electricity, small niches served as a place for keeping lamps. Found even in the most modest of homes to palaces with elaborate designs, these have always been a characteristic feature. The diyas or lanterns at night kept in these alcoves would not get blown out by the wind. They become an interesting element of the wall giving it depth and dimension, as well as the light of the lamp, creating a spectacular effect. Wasn’t this like the accent lights that we have in our interior designs today? A small element of utility which also had an aesthetic value, these niches with their small lamps and beautiful shapes add a decorative element to even the smallest of spaces and give them warmth and cosiness.
Where we live, the spaces hold the stories of the people and the culture. How architecture plays a role in a house, has always been a topic of great interest. The vernacular architecture and heritage in India show us some great examples of how to create these spaces of comfort, interest, liveliness, and spaces which feel like home.