A large spacious garden, a watchman at the gate to guard it, and in the middle, stands a large, beautiful bungalow; in short—heaven. A symbol of wealth and status. The concept of bungalows set its roots in India during British rule. Hence, colonial bungalows, they are called. Tracing to the very depths of its origin in the country, data leads us to the fact that the word ‘bungalow’ has been derived from ‘bangla’, which was the indigenous, local thatched hut style of Bengal province.
The reason for picking up the word from the Bengal region could be because Calcutta, now known as Kolkata, had been the capital of India during colonial rule. The Bangla was a modest house, rectangular in shape, placed on a plinth with its roofs sloping out, supported by regular intervals of wooden pillars.
As the civilians of Europe landed up in India and sought to settle in the country, there was a need to provide a new class of housing for them. It was considered demeaning for them to stay in line with the Indian citizens. So, to distance themselves from the locals and also to provide an abode suitable for their class, the concept of colonial bungalows came into existence.
Colonial bungalows were initially modest in size and form but later evolved as a much more luxurious and huge version of their earlier self. It became a symbol of the social status of its inhabitants. The typical master plan of a bungalow complex involved large, high raised compound walls, a watchman to guard the place at the entry gate, a paved driveway which leads to the bungalow placed at the center of the site, and carefully landscaped gardens, sometimes in English style too. The organization of different spaces in a bungalow was also according to the prototype used everywhere.
The bungalow greeted its visitors through a huge, deep verandah, ascended by a wide flight of steps and the sloping roof supported by doric or Tuscan columns. The verandah often extended around the entire perimeter of the bungalow. It followed a rectangular plan, the verandah extending till the back door of the bungalow, along its entire length. The drawing-room, the largest space in the colonial bungalow, was centrally placed with the dining room adjacent to it. They were connected by an open archway.
The dining area opened itself into the backyard, which was again used for gardening, usually to grow things required in the kitchen for cooking. These two main areas led to the other rooms, on both sides of the bungalow. The kitchen was a separate block, detached from the main body of the colonial bungalow. A small corner in the site housed modest servants’ quarters, usually occupied by the native ones.
The regional modifications
As years passed, the planning of bungalows evolved with slight variations according to the local climate and context. In Delhi, the imperial, neoclassical style of colonial bungalows was a hit. In Mumbai, the suburban art deco bungalows gained popularity. The facades, especially the front facade, were ornamented with fine latticework and were decorated in art-deco style.
In Calcutta, the colonial bungalows were referred to as Rajbaris. They compulsorily had sloping roofs, a bare necessity owing to the heavy rainfall in the region.
Down south, the colonial bungalow developed its own different architectural style. In Chennai, they were called garden houses; They had larger gardens than ever before. Sometimes, a courtyard was also introduced, due to the humid climate of the Madras region.
In the Bangalore and Mysore regions of Karnataka, extensively carved barge boards and fretwork canopies were used to enhance the gables and the wide porch roofs. These were known as ‘Monkey tops’. They were introduced as projecting hoods, pointed in nature, above openings such as the doors and windows the canopies enclosing the porches and verandahs. Teak beams were widely used in the colonial bungalows of Bangalore. Also, the colonial bungalow evolved into a double-storey structure in Bangalore.
During the 20th century, major changes took place in the architecture of colonial bungalows all over the country. Families become more nuclear, the age of marriage increases, which leads to the requirement of lesser servants. The size of the colonial bungalow became more compact and the kitchen was included as a part of the main bungalow block itself.
Thick walls and high ceilings and deep porches were the basic principles adopted in colonial bungalows to tackle the heat issues. Louvered shutters latticework screens were used to cut off the harsh summer sun. The small windows placed high up on the walls, called ventilators were used to draw hot air out of the bungalows. Chiks, which were woven reed screens, and curtains of khus, an aromatic reed, were raised for the same purpose.
Muslin cloths were used to shield the pitch roofs from inside, which also acted as a barrier against insects. Punkahs, operated by the servants, were used to fan the rooms during the summer months.
As a whole, the concept of a colonial bungalow gradually lost its popularity but never its importance. They remain to be an important part of the architectural history of India and a standing example of those bygone times.
- Desai, M. (2016). The origin and indigenisation of the Imperial bungalow in India. [online] Architectural Review. Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/places/india/the-origin-and-indigenisation-of-the-imperial-bungalow-in-india?tkn=1 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2021].
- Mādhavī Desāī, Desai, M. and Lang, J. (2012). The bungalow in Twentieth-Century India : the cultural expression of changing ways of life and aspirations in the domestic architecture of colonial and post-colonial society. Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, Vt: Ashgate.