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The alternating, decorative bands of ochre and white seen on the front walls of their homes as

well as the temples were yet another feature of these agraharams. These colours had symbolic
significance - the ochre and white, perhaps, were symbolic of blood and milk. This probably
signified the individual's self. The walls painted in these colours signify the surrender of the self
to the paramatma.

The layout was evidently designed on a very logical and scientific basis incorporating the
topography, household needs, water supply facilities, and other factors. Every house would be a
microcosm of the community outside, which fostered a culture of sharing. Houses had shared
walls, and every village had a few wells that were meant for common use by all residents.
At the entrance to each house would be a raised platform called thinnai, which ran all around the
house acting as seating for visitors while they waited to be called inside. A big awning would
shelter people from driving rain and blazing sunshine, keeping the inside of the house cool at all

A disappearing tradition
Today, agraharams are fast disappearing to make way for bigger, swankier apartments and
modern houses. With the younger generation migrating to cities or other countries across the
world in search of jobs, agraharams now stand alone with only memories of a way of life.
Urbanisation has made the performance of elaborate rituals shorter, and there is a marked change
in modern lifestyle that can no longer be adapted to the agraharam and its community. Privacy is
valued a lot more today, which means common walls are a source of discomfort and common
wells are no longer in use with every household having a plumbing system.
In all the southern states where agraharams were prominent, governments and independent
heritage conservation bodies are driving efforts by spreading awareness and providing incentives
to people to preserve the agraharams. For, the unique charm of agraharams is timeless.

Distinctive architecture
Once entire streets occupied by Brahmins, agraharam architecture is distinctive with Madras
terraces, country tile roofing, Burma teak rafters and lime plastering. The longish homes
consisted of the mudhal kattu (receiving quarters), irandaam kattu (living quarters), moondram
kattu (kitchen and backyard) and so on. Most houses had an open to sky space in the centre
called the mitham, large platforms lining the outside of the house called the thinnaiand a private
well in the backyard. The floors were often coated with red oxide and sometimes the roofs had
glass tiles to let in light.

The lineage of Tamil Brahmins who migrated to Kerala can be dated back to as early as 15th
Century, prominently into the areas of Palakkad, Trivandrum, Kollam, Kayamkulam, Kochi and
Thrissur. Palakkad kings had their own reasons to welcome these Brahmins with a hidden
strategy of breaking the hegemony and the authority that the local Kerala Namboodiri Brahmins
held sway. Gradually they established several villages and carved a niche. Kalpathy, Nurani,
Sekharipuram, Lakshminarayanapuram and Vaddankanthara are some of the earliest

The Tamil Brahmins who migrated spread themselves all over Kerala, and established
their own colonies called Agrahaarams, with a temple being the focal point of the whole
community. Their everyday life revolved around the temple, so the temple became a prime
gathering point for social occasions and for yearly festivals. The Brahmins of Kerala can be
broadly classified into two categories: The Namboodhiri Brahmins, and the Tamil Brahmins. The
Namboodhiri Brahmins were basically the Brahmin priests in Kerala who were heads of various
temples. The Brahmins who migrated from various parts of Tamil Nadu brought with them a
new housing pattern and an altogether different lifestyle. These Brahmins were granted lands by
the existing kings and gradually they established their own settlements. However, these
Brahmins quickly adapted to the existing customs and practices and an eventual fusion was seen
in terms of Housing typology, society and language. There were various reasons triggering these
migrations, political turmoil, invasions by Mughal rulers and fall of the Vijaynagar Empire,
which persuaded the Brahmins to search for safer abodes. However, the subsequent fall of the
empire accounted for large scale Brahmin migrating to various parts of Kerala. A vast majority
of these Brahmins hailed from Thanjavur (Tanjore), which was one of the areas adversely
affected by Muslim invasions.

Thus, an Agrahaaram can be defined as a collection or group of houses with the

temple being the central crux or the focal point
It’s interesting to note how the spatial planning influenced the culture and tradition of the
villages and there was a certain amount of synthesis and blending with the existing
topography of the land. In a due course of time, these Agrahaarams attained a unique style
which became a part of the Dravidian Architectural heritage, which was a key factor in
shaping the built fabric of the society

The compact house plan was evolved from the elaborate Nalakettu plan with the length
being greater than the overall width and the rooms being arranged just one after the other. These
housing typologies have evolved and matured in terms of Architecture due to various factors
like locally available materials, climatic conditions and the Fig. 2: Nalukettu plan showing
the courtyard with rooms distributed around itSource:
skill which was employed while construction. Climate responsive design can be seen directly in
Nalakettu plan.