Ara means an enclosed storage area, often used for threshed grain – paddy in the Kerala context. Landlords who owned and cultivated large areas would have such storehouses near the fields and also an in-house granary to stock un-husked rice for home consumption.
In many old houses the ara faces the entrance as you can see form the photo from our ancestral home shown below. (The decorations are because the picture was taken during the engagement ceremony of my niece Tanya)
This shot by KO Isaac is from the eastern gatehouse. The door of the gatehouse, the entrance to the main building and the door to the ara (in the background) are all in one line. It has something to do with thachusastram (vasthu which means the traditional science of architecture.)
The door opens to what we call aravathukkal pura, but more commonly known as arappura in Kerala. It is a corridor which has doors to the left and the right leading to the other parts of the house and the entrance to the ara (see photo by me below). It is again in line with the front door.
Our ara has two compartments. The smaller one is for nurukkari or table rice and the other for nediyari or coarse rice for the house staff. Now both are empty and we buy rice! Ten years back I stopped paddy cultivation which we were doing regularly, because the Communists imported some outsiders to plant red flags in our fields. They did this alleging that we were leaving our fields fallow!
There is a true anecdote to this. The party men who came in a truck and started a procession called our workers who were transplanting rice saplings in another field to join them. One woman stood up and answered, "Comrades, flags don’t produce rice.” Remarkable, I must say.
Coming back to ara, the entire structure including the floor is in wood. The reason for this is that paddy might spoil if it gets into contact with lime or cement. The ara is about three feet above the floor level of the rest of the house. I suppose this is to prevent permeation of moisture.
Traditionally, ara was taboo to women. They could stand in the arappura and carry away the grain measured out by men, but never step inside the ara!
Also see: Un-ploughed lies my land