Monday, August 13, 2007

Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu

A number of people seem to be fascinated with traditional Kerala nalukettu houses. Nalukettu means a residence with one inner courtyard. Ettukettu would have two such courtyards, and ‘pathinarukettu’, four. I found all kinds of statements about these on the Internet. I am not commenting on them but feel that it may be worthwhile to record my personal knowledge of several such houses and how life was in them.

My mother’s house, Konduparambil, and my home, Thekkanattu Parayil, are both nalukettu. Five other Parayil heritage homes (100+ years) which I know well from childhood are ettukettu. All these buildings are east facing. In our ettukettu houses the smaller of the two quadrangles is located at about the centre of the building and the larger one in the north, near the kitchen.

The construction of Thekkanattu which is the smallest among the Parayil heritage mansions started in 1890. It blends the traditional architectural style and the concepts of the modern house designs that were to follow in 20c. Here also the nalukettu is located at the north end – the single-storied area in the photo below:

Photo: TP

Now, about the inside layout. There are two broad, well-ventilated verandas on the western and eastern sides of our nalukettu and two narrower ones connecting them. The eastern veranda which is near the kitchen is not used much by the family.

The western veranda gets good breeze that blows in from the lake 500 yards away, and, with wood ceiling and tile roofing, is always cool. That was the living area where the ladies and children spent most of their time. When we bought a TV set, it was kept in the nalukettu and not in the drawing room.

Interestingly, the men did not use this part of the building. Likewise, the women did not normally go to the southern portion of the house. That was the way it was till my generation.

Here are two photos of our nalukettu:

Interior corridors leading to the nalukettu
Photo: TP

The quadrangle
Photo: KO Isaac

Having a nalukettu in a new house is fine provided it is functional and blends with the ambiance. The Parayil mansion shown below, which was built in 1940s, has a comfortable and practical nalukettu

Ayanat Parayil (Middle)

A good example of adaptation of nalukettu in non-residential construction is the canteen at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, designed by Laurie Baker.


Also see:

Kerala architecture: More on nalukettu

Kerala Architecture: Exterior of a heritage home
Kerala Architecture: Prayer room of a heritage home

Kerala Architecture: Another Parayil heritage home


Anonymous said...

The 'Nalukettu' concept has come into vogue once again.A certain builder in Kochi has built a set of villas based on the Nalukettu theme.Needless to say that the entire project was sold off, even before the completion of the project.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment, Anu.

Unknown said...

Nice explanations. actuvally I was searching for kerala architecure.

Unknown said...

I am also from Thykkattussery. Now in Qatar

Unknown said...

Thank you very much Teji. Do visit my Blog whenever you get the time.

You know, it is so nice to come across someone from the home village on the net. I studied at SMSJ School at Thycattussarry in the 1940s. It was a middle school then.

Anonymous said...

hello sir,

I am an architecture student presently doing my dissertation on traditional houses. Is it possible for me to visit your house to conduct a study if so please mail me at

Unknown said...

Yes I will. I studied in Manappuram School. My grand father was a headmaster in SMSJ school. His name is P.Chacko. Madathipparambil.

Unknown said...

Happy to know that you are Chacko Sar's grandchild. Of course I remember him though I didn't study under him.
When I was at SMSJ School, Sebastian Sar was the Headmaster.
Do keep in touch.
All the best.

Unknown said...

Thank you. Will keep in touch ..I am actually very much interested in our ancient architecture and culture..

Unknown said...

I am Nithya from Thrissur..My dream is to have a nalukettu..Be frankly I am asking you abt the actual cost of a nalukettu..

Unknown said...

Nithya, sorry for the delayed response.
Frankly, I've no idea of the cost of building a nalukettu; ours was built over a hundred years back. It should not cost more than other types of houses, I think.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Tharakan....thanks for the lovely write up and great photos. I would love to hear some more about the practical issues about living in a Nalukettu home. Much as most of us love the design, can it be used while building a new house today? Also, anything about actual day to day life in the earlier days would be great as it would give us all a feel for life in an era gone era before box-like apartments came into vogue!!

Thanks again
MM from Bangalore

Unknown said...

MM from Bangalore, thanks for the comment. The delay in response is because I was away in Bangalore!

Shall soon do a post which hopefully would answer some of the points you raised.

Anonymous said...

i have seen a nalukettu model icecream parlour in palakkad. that's very interesting to see such type of papa from cheeran family n my mummy from kadavumbhagum of my cousin have such a house. sir, i like your explanation....

Unknown said...

Mrs. John, thank you for the comment.

The 'nalukettu' shaped ice cream parlor sounds interesting. Some of the houses belonging to old families have 'nalukettu'.

pramod said...

hello sir, seen you explanation regarding nalukettu.i really fond of our old kerala architecture bcs it is nature friendly....but during this atom family system( earlier it was joint family) some people concern regarding the safety of nalukettu..bcs of its open area.wat you think,sir i am pramod from adelaide,australia..but basicaly from aluva,ernakulam district.

Unknown said...

pramod, it is really for an architect to answer your question. What I feel is that putting a grill over the open space should ensure adequate security. Of course it will cost a little more. But the area involved is not all that big.

Unknown said...

I am writing this from Kuwait.
Mr. thanrakan, it is so marvellous to happen the nalukettu details. it would be greatly appreciated if you iniate for a plan having area of not more than 1500 sq.ft affordable to middle class persons

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this comment web design

Vijay Menon said...

Thank you Mr.Tharakan for the pictures and explanations about Nalukettu. Most people in Kerala might have seen these in films. I guess everybody dream of such houses. It is nice that now a days people build such houses with modern facilities. Our tradition survives. I am writing this from US. When you are away from homeland the traditional things are felt valuable and meaningful. Thanks again

Unknown said...

Vijay Menon, thank you. I am happy that you liked the post.

miss_messy said...

Wow! I was actually doing reserch on Nalukettus and all and stumbled upon ur post. It's really good. And the houses are truly beautiful.

jayadevi said...

Hello Sir,
I am researcher doing my studies on kerala traditional practices which were sustainable. can I get your contact email. It will be great to get your opinion on my topic and also if you can allow me to use some of the photographs on your blog would be a great help.


Unknown said...

Hello Jayadevi,
I am not an expert on the subject but shall be happy to be of help in you research. My email id is:

MKM said...