Vernacular Architecture

Similarities in traditional architecture of Kerala and South-east Asia

Traditional-vernacular architecture of Kerala is an exceptional South-Indian artistic typology, found nowhere else in India, and interestingly shared artistic commonality with traditional architecture in Southeast Asia. In this case, we use sample of architectures in Sumatran, Indonesia as typological comparison. Tropical climate, living culture based on wet-paddy agriculture, matrilineal kinship, and history of maritime trading, had contributed shared characteristic to both regional outlook of the architecture. Aspects of Southeast Asian Architecture, rendered by Roxana Waterson (1988), Gaudenz Domenig (1980); and Jacques Dumarcay (1988) are in many respects applicable to verify traditional-vernacular architecture of Kerala, by marking: hipped and gabled roof running steep- closed to typical of Dongson’s art; significance of granary and its development into residential shelter, wood construction, and the organic settlement’s arrangements. Typical of courtyard house (nalukettu) in Kerala may be the only mainstream characters of Indian architecture that marks discontinuity of Kerala architecture’s vocabulary with the Southeast Asian architecture. For case of Kerala’s architecture, possible background suggested to lend base on the shared characters are: first, the cultural seclusion of Kerala from the rest of Indian sub-continent until first century AD, due to natural boundary of Western Ghatz. This had held progressive Aryanization to deep South-India until the approximate reign of Indianization in Southeast Asia. Second: the development of maritime trading with overseas countries played important role in the establishment of the culture, including contact with Austronesian and Austro-Asian culture. Coedes (1964) has underlined that remnant of the Austro-Asiatic and Austronesian culture was observable by marking existence of social tradition based on canal settlement, wet paddy farming tradition and irrigation, with matrilineal kinship, as well as the importance of coastal community. (Coedes, 1967; Hornell, 1920). These characters are found in traditional-vernacular domestic living culture and residential architecture of Kerala. This  is a discursive attempt to respond on narration of Asian architecture as formatted mostly based on high-traditional architectural artifacts (palaces, religious buildings), and is directed to mainly mark distinctions among Asian cultures. This paper also responds on mainstream viewpoint about South Indian culture which is tended to be mainly explained as affiliated with culture of Central Asia, Mediterranean and Arya. Realm of vernacular architecture study on the other hand shall show how in the operating day-to-day art and craft, the commonality with Southeast Asian culture is more obvious. Before 1960’s field of vernacular architecture (architecture of the commoners) such as house were considered negligible to signify cultural importance. But currently it is realized that vernacular art reflect more indigenous, less historical, less political and more spontaneous living culture than High-Traditional architecture, so as to be able to represent more natural development of a indigenous living culture. Observing case of traditional residential architecture of Kerala and Sumatra, we hopefully learn that it seems obvious that part of Southeast Asian and part of South Asian architecture might have once belonged to a global and homogeneous tradition, regardless current modern but unraveling, different geo-political boundaries. Hypothetically, traditional architecture’s style of Kerala when is compared with Southeast Asian traditional architecture potentially make obvious a sustaining shared typology of the indigenous structure of Asian domestic living architecture.

Courtesy : abstract of Indah Widiastuti’s Paper titled  : A Study of Typology of Vernacular Residential Architecture in Kerala : A Continuity of South India- Southeast Asian Architectural Tradition

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