The old homes of coastal Karnataka are reminders of another era, finds Clare Arni. But social changes have endangered their existence.
The traditional joint family houses of the coastal region of Karnataka have withstood the pressures of time, weather and modernity and carry echoes of another era. When you step into the colonnaded courtyards and cool mud-walled rooms, you re-enter a life that follows the slower rhythms of an older agricultural calendar of planting, harvesting and threshing. The land around these houses is richly forested and watered by rivers that run from the Western Ghats down to the sea. They were built mostly by the Bunt people of the area; landlords who augmented the area’s abundance with their vibrant trading networks, carrying pepper, cloves, rice and sugar across the Arabian Sea. Their wealth was expressed in these remarkable mud and carved wooden houses.
The structures followed guidelines which suggested at least half of the area of the house was to be left open to the sky. A series of bright courtyards brought light and fresh air throughout the home. The Bunts believe that their houses are more than homes—they are also sacred spaces populated by Bhutas, or the spirits of the dead.
The houses were built by hereditary master craftsmen. Each plinth or veranda around the house was part of a hierarchy that mirrored society—visitors to the house were received in a space or area that corresponded to their standing. The main hall was for important guests and family members. The front doors were tall so a person with a basket laden with produce could pass easily through it. Often, there was a balcony where the head of the house could sit and oversee the running of his estate.
Tragically, due to migration to the cities, the land ceiling act, fragmentation of families and other factors, many of these beautiful old houses are being demolished, as families find it difficult to sustain them.
Koothugodu Nagabhushan Bhat House