Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kerala Architecture: A heritage home undergoes repairs

Before concrete structures came into vogue, the roofs of Kerala houses were made with wood. In Malayalam it is known as melkoora or melkoodu. The amount of calculations that go into making a melkoodu is amazing. And each wooden piece that forms a part of it has to be precisely made.

Assembling – that is exactly what it is – all the beams and crossbeams and rafters and support items is a critical phase in the construction of a house. If there is even a minor mistake in the calculations or the dimensions of the made parts, the assembling would fail.

The wood that is normally used is old anjili (jungle jack tree). It is a hardy wood capable of withstanding the vicissitudes of time and weather. (A clarification seems necessary here. Anjili, though belonging to the same family, is different from jack fruit tree.) Nevertheless, it is safer to check the structure for possible damages. The common problem is rain water seeping in through the tiles on to the wood pieces that support them.

Currently we are undertaking repairs to the top roof of our ancestral house, Thekkanattu Parayil at Olavipe, Kerala, India. This is the second such venture in my memory.

In large houses, such repairs are done in parts: one area is finished and then the work moves to the next area. There is always an urgency to ensure that the job is completed before the southwest monsoon arrives in June.

My bother Jacob has pointed out an interesting aspect of this round of repairs to the house. The wood used is from an anjili which is estimated to be 120 years old. This means that when the house construction started in 1890, the tree would have been a tiny sapling!

Trees are vital and it is sad to cut them down. But it is also important to maintain homes, heritage or otherwise. Thachusastram (the Kerala science relating to construction) permits felling of old trees for meaningful purposes. Anyway, we have dozens of anjilis at various stages of growth on our lands and we take good care of them.

I am reproducing below some photos of the house. The last one offers a sight that is rare because very few houses with wood melkoodu are built these days.

South portion of the house. It is the top roof here that is undergoing repairs.
Photo: JJ Tharakan.

The specific part of the roof where the tiles have been removed for repairs.
Photo: JJ Tharakan.

Same portion at night.
This beautiful photo is by Dr. Sanjay Parva.

The roof as it looks without tiles, exposing the
wooden superstructure. Photo: TP.

All photos: Copyright Reserved. Click to enlarge.

Related posts:

Kerala Architecture - Olavipe Heritage Home

Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu


islandgal246 said...

What a beautiful house, and to have lived there must have been exciting.

meerasworld said...

beautiful,beautiful home.

Viruvelil Hormise Thomas said...

Originally what wood you have used for the roof work?Anjily? In that case will anjily get deteriorated within 120 years?
120 years old Anjily now being used must be real good wood with rich hard core(kathal) jack fruit wood is normally called as Plavu.Even though the Plavu wood is quite good,it is likely to have hollow portions inside
I have seen this building.What wood you have used inside Mukhappu which comes at the end of slope roof?This portion is fully exposed to rain and sun always.It appears to be quite good even now

Abraham Tharakan said...

islandgal246, yes, it is a wonderful place to stay.

Abraham Tharakan said...

meerasworld, thank you.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Viruvelil Hormise Thomas, thank you for the informative comment.

I suppose that originally also Anjily would have been used for construction of the house. Actually the roof is in pretty good shape. But due to inevitable leakage at isolated spots, some 'pattikas' get damaged. They are replaced.

Plavu (jack fruit) trees develop problems in our area. So they are normally used for furniture and not house construction.

I am not sure what wood is used for the 'mukhappu'. Must have been hard core Anjili.

Viruvelil Hormise Thomas said...

If you use Anjily which grows in area where it is difficult to get water like in hilly terrain away from river,lake and other water bodies,that tree will have more hard core(Kathal)
Anjily is the wood which is used for making of Country boats(vallams).For this large size wood with bigger diameter is selected.
Now many people use imported Pingoda usually called as Cheru teak for frames of doors and windows in houses.When compared to Anjily this wood is definitely inferior and this imported wood cannot withstand our climatic conditions in the long run

Nebu said...

A major disadvantage of the wooden roof is that during the prolonged rainy season the tiles get soaked and as a result the portion of the pattika, the wood in direct contact with the tiles, which is not of the Kathal (hard core) tend to weaken. The nails too by which the pattika are fixed get rusted and in due course give way. The structure still hangs on because of the interlocking and the tiles. At least once in 25 years (stretched to 50 due to cost considerations) the tiles have to be taken down and major repairs as being undertaken now at Olayaip have to be carried out.

With the cost of timber and carpenter wages shooting through the roof (it’s double the normal wages for working on the roof) as well as experts hard to come by, wood is giving way to metal. Now the same type of roof is possible with iron anglers. They are easy to construct, assemble and should last long too. For the aesthetically inclined the end portion of the Kazhikol , the portion that can be seen, is made of wood and bolted to the metal inner part!


What a beautiful house.

Kariyachan said...

Not just beautiful, but Majestic!

sam mananthavady said...

keep this beauty at its original effect

Media CAD said...

Please upload new photos of the roof



Can any one tell me the dealer from where I could get antique mukhappu please?


Anand N

Denis Srampickal said...


Would you be having records/memories of who designed Thekkanattu Parayil? I am sure that Ideas for a colonial house would have been quite rare in 1890 in Kerala !


Abraham Tharakan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abraham Tharakan said...

Denis Srampickal, you have asked a questionwhich we have been asking ourselves. During the last few days I again checked for an answer.

It seems that when my grandfather decided to build the house, he made an extensive tour of Tamil Nadu visiting important houses. Probably a thachusastra expert also accompanied him and made notes.

There are some features in our house which indicate Tamil architechtural style. We even had a Madras terrace which was dismantled later.

In fact several parts of the house were dismantled. Some were added or modified. That has been a continuing process. So much so, it can be said that ours is a 'panitheeratha veedu' (house which is yet to be completed).

Denis Srampickal said...


Thank You for the insight.

The phrase 'panitheeratha veedu' sounds interesting.Yes, Truly agree with you considering the size of the house and the consistent renovations happening with each generation, as with the Madras terrace too.

The design envisioned by your grandfather and his aide back then beats any modern designs of today.

Also, Wondering how the house will look another 10 years from now ???