Mansions at Dusk

Clare Arni 5

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.

Tannudi

Tannudi The upper balcony. The owners have watched over their estates from here for over 350 years.

The upper balcony.
The owners have watched over their estates from here for over 350 years.

Open wood fires keep a newborn calf warm. They also heat water in copper cauldrons for the household.

Open wood fires keep a newborn calf warm. They also heat water in copper cauldrons for the household.

The elaborate wooden columns and carved screens of this mansion have been lovingly restored

The elaborate wooden columns and carved screens of this mansion have been lovingly restored

 

Shetty Betu

Many houses, such as the 200-year-old Shetty Betu, are deliberately placed to afford the best view over the surrounding estate

Many houses, such as the 200-year-old Shetty Betu, are deliberately placed to afford the best view over the surrounding estate

The kitchen ceiling has wooden slats to allow smoke to pass into the attic, where grains and other produce are stored to avoid damp and fungus

The kitchen ceiling has wooden slats to allow smoke to pass into the attic, where grains and other produce are stored to avoid damp and fungus

 

Vishwanathapura Agrahara

This is a 450-year-old mud structure within a larger grouping of Brahmin homes, called an agrahara

This is a 450-year-old mud structure within a larger grouping of Brahmin homes, called an agrahara

 

Marakada Guthu

This 190-year-old house was made of local laterite dug straight out of the ground

This 190-year-old house was made of local laterite dug straight out of the ground

Certain spaces-such as the rear corridors and courtyards-are still reserved for agricultural activities

Certain spaces-such as the rear corridors and courtyards-are still reserved for agricultural activities

 

Koothugodu Nagabhushan Bhat House

The family have their sleeping areas on the upper floors, a practice that has been continuing for 250 years

The family have their sleeping areas on the upper floors, a practice that has been continuing for 250 years

Ancestor portraits line an upper veranda

Ancestor portraits line an upper veranda

5 Comments

  1. manish February 18, 2015 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Beautiful pictures and of a time gone by; These homes look so comfortable and must be the right choice for such climatic and cultural conditions.

  2. peculiarblend February 18, 2015 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    These are some unbelievably beautiful sights of the Indian heritage. Thank you for covering such a aspect of diminishing beauties of India.

  3. Megha February 18, 2015 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Lovely, nostalgic, comforting.

  4. Nakul Shetty February 18, 2015 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Brilliant stuff there. Makes me miss my hometown even more.

  5. deborah thiagarajan May 1, 2015 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    beautiful photos and beautiful houses. Dakshinachitra Museum has been looking for a bunt house for its center..not a huge one but a medium sized one, if anyone knows of one available.

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