Nalukettu is the traditional style of architecture of Kerala, wherein a
house has a quadrangle in the centre.
Originally the abode of the wealthy Brahmin and Nair families, this style of architecture has today become a status symbol among the well to do in Kerala. Nalukettu is evident in the traditional homes of the upper class homestead where customs and rituals were a part of life.
The mansion is created using wood and tiles, central open courtyard and wondrous architecture. The interiors of the house are tastefully decorated with a wealth of antiques made from teak, sandalwood, mahogany etc.
The Glorious Examples Of Nalukettu
The 'Tantrasamuchaya', 'Vasthuvidya', 'Maushyalaya Chandrika' and 'Silparatna' are the celebrated treatises in the field of architecture that Kerala has contributed to the world.
The Nalukettu of Kerala is famous for building along with the rules of 'Tachu Sastra' (Science of Architecture). The Padmanabhapuram Palace, the Dutch Palace at Mattancherry and Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam are some of the famous palaces of Kerala.
The rock temples, woodcarvings, and metal cuttings are excellent pieces of works of Kerala.
The Evolution Of Nalukettu
Essentially, Nalukettu can be explained as an expansion of the concept of 'sala' enshrined in the 'Vaastushastra', the Indian science of architecture. A 'sala' was a square or rectangular living room with verandas on one or more sides.
An 'akashala' or single unit house was affordable for even the poorest and the lowest in the rigid caste hierarchy. The addition of another L-shaped hall made it a 'dwissala' or two-structured abode. Further economic advancement and familial needs led to the addition of a third structure, making three sides of open -ended square -a 'thrissala'.
When the fourth side was also hemmed in by the addition of another 'sala', the resultant square became 'chatussala' or the 'nalu' (four) and 'kettu' (built up sides).
The Style Of Construction
The traditional 'Nalukettu', barring the foundation and floor is made of carved and slotted wood and has a close resemblance to East Asian gabled and thatched structures. In later years, tiles replaced the coconut fronds.
The enclosed courtyard or 'ankanam' is usually sunk and therefore called 'Kuzhi (pit) Ankanam'. The protruding roofs of the 'salas' formed shady verandas and protected the rooms from direct sunlight, keeping them cool even on the hottest of days. The inner verandah around the 'ankanam' is open.
The outer verandahs along the four sides of the 'Nalukettu' are enclosed differently. While both the western and eastern verandahs are left open, the northern and southern verandahs are enclosed or semi-enclosed.
In the middle of the enclosed southern or western 'salas' is the 'Ara' or the storage room, flanked by bedrooms. The floor of the 'Ara' was raised even higher than that of the other 'salas' to accommodate a 'nilavara' or basement.
Entrances to the building were provided at the centre of the east, west, north and south sides depending on the position of the 'Ara'.
As the families prospered and grew in size, other squares of 'salas' were added to make 'Ettukettus' or mansions with eight 'salas' around two courtyards.
On the firmer grounds of Kerala, the 'Nalukettu' rose upwards into two or three storeys, the upper floors being reserved for the 'Karanavars' (elders).
By the time multi-storeyed mansions evolved, the wooden walls had given way to laterite ones plastered with lime. The ultimate development in this line was the 'pathinarukettu', or structure with 16 'salas'.
The Tradition Preserved
The 'Nalukettu' tradition was preserved by the 'thatchans' or trained architect-painters, well versed in the science of 'Vaastushastra'. Much of the rules of construction are codified in the 'Manushyalaya Chandrika', a treatise on architecture by the famed architect, Mangalathu Neelkantam Namboothiri.