Monday, April 30, 2007

Twin Churches - An Update.

There is some good news regarding Churches on demolition line. The move to demolish the twin churches at Ramapuram has been stayed by the Archeology Department. It is not clear when this was done.

This morning I contacted offices of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India at New Delhi and the Palai Bishop in Kerala. Both denied any knowledge of the referendum reportedly scheduled for yesterday.

The Bishop’s office gave me the Ramapuram church telephone number. The priest who attended my call was guarded in speaking. He said words to the effect that people are spreading all kinds of baseless rumors. Then he mentioned about the stay without elaborating. But he did state that efforts are on to vacate the stay.

This is the time to act. I suggest that all those who are against the destruction of heritage buildings petition the Honorable Chief Minister of Kerala and organizations like INTACH

I have already done this.


Churches on demolition line.

Response to post on church demolition.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Some Olavipe Photos by K.O. Isaac

Eastern Gate House,
Thekkanattu Parayil.

Western gate in the background

Rice- shrimp field


Saturday, April 28, 2007

The tooth fairy came by...

Photo: K.O. Isaac

Sweet, pretty, good student, painter, keyboard player, naughty sometimes but loved always. That is my grand daughter Nonee (Annie Tharakan).

Response to post on church demolition.

First of all I must thank the readers for the response to my post ‘Churches on the demolition line’.

Reproduced below is comment by Mr. Bhattacharya: “I sincerely hope that you will be able to mobilize the support of adequate numbers of like minded persons to save this beautiful, historic Church:
"You could approach the following three Organisations for intervention.
1. The Archaeological Survey of India, which has the authority under the AMASR Act, to bring ancient monuments under its protection.
2. The Kerala State Department of Archaeology which can declare ancient monuments as protected monuments under the as The Kerala Ancient Monuments and Archaeological sites and Remains Act of 1968.
3. INTACH which files PIL ‘when actions of the local or national administration are a threat to the heritage of the country.’ They have 5 Chapters in Kerala.
You can get more information from their websites.
From: Bipul Bhattacharya. April 28, 2007 12:38:00 PM IST”

I have already communicated the details to INTACH. This is an NGO which has been doing great work in preserving India’s heritage. I had mentioned about this organization in my post ‘Armenian Catholicos in India’:

INTACH is likely to help in the restoration of the Armenian Church (built in 1772) in Chennai.

It will be effective if more people write to them. In fact, the twin churches of Ramapuram are on their list of protected sites. The email ID of INTACH is:

I know of two other old churches, which are also facing demolition. In all likelihood, there would be more on the bulldozing list.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Churches on demolition line.

(INTACH Post Card)

Beautiful, isn’t it?

These are the historic twin churches at Ramapuram, one of the cradles of Christianity in Kerala, India. The smaller of these, in the name of St. Augustine, was built around 1450, and the other in 1864. These monuments may be razed to the ground soon. What no invader, no government, no other community, have dared to try, is being done with abandon by the Church itself.

Aisanet TV reported last evening that a referendum is being conducted among the parishioners of Ramapuram on Sunday, April 29, 2007 about demolishing these famous shrines. The Church officials have taken a strong stand in favor of the destruction. Therefore the outcome of the vote is a foregone conclusion. The priests do not seem to be worried whether such actions and procedures conform to the laws of the country.

The move to demolish the twin churches and build a ‘modern’ one in their place has been on for some time. The Hindu carried a report about this on February 18, 2005. The reason given for this proposal by the Vicar was that more space is required to accommodate the increased number of pilgrims! Apparently he was not alert to the fact that the newer of the two churches was also built for the same reason, but people who were responsible then had ensured that the old one was preserved.

The vicar went on to give a piece of wisdom to the world: “God created the whole world for man. Archaeology is for the benefit of man and not vice-versa''. Shades of Benito Mussolini! Il Duce was reported to have said when his car knocked down and killed a boy, “What is the life of a child in the matters of state?”

The Syro-Malabar Church of Kerala, under which Ramapuram comes, is the second largest (after Roman /Latin) Rite in the Catholic Diaspora. It is headed by a Major Archbishop who is a Cardinal. Can the authorities of the Syro-Malabar wash off the responsibility for the demolition mania? There is something called acts of omission and commission.

What about the Pope?

In the recent Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Sacramentum Caritatis’, the Pontiff states, "A solid knowledge of the history of sacred art can be advantageous for those responsible for commissioning artists and architects to create works of art for the liturgy. Consequently, it is essential that the education of Seminarians and priests include the study of art history, with special reference to sacred buildings..."

[The response of some priests in Kerala to this might be, ‘Oh, it’s about some paintings in Europe’, like Stalin who once asked during WW II, ‘How many Divisions does the Pope have?’ In Kerala itself, invaluable frescos were lost by recent demolition of Thycattussarry Church. See my post ‘Historic church is no more’ by clicking on the title]

Indiscriminate destruction of heritage structures should be a matter of concern not only for Christians, but also for others. If you agree, please email this to as many people as you can. The procedure is very simple. Just click on the ‘envelope’ icon below and give the email IDs.

Let us preserve our heritage.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chenda – The Kerala Drum.

Chenda is a percussion drum that is part of Kerala’s culture and tradition. (It is also used in a few other parts of South India.) Many writers seem to consider this instrument as a part of temple festivals. But it is very common at church feasts and other functions as well.

Chenda is made from a cylindrical wooden drum about two feet long. Both ends are covered with hide. The tuning is done by adjusting the tension of the skin and the strings on the sides. The instrument is hung on the neck of the artiste. Only one face of the chenda is beaten, with sticks.

Usually the performances are by a group, but there are solo presentations also. Two popular ensembles are Panchari melam and Pandi melam. Usually the sound of chenda is loud but an expert can play it with great sensitivity.

The photographs below by KO Isaac were taken at my niece Rose’s wedding at Olavipe .

Also see:

Kerala food: Kappa (cassava or casava, yuca, manioc, Manihot esculenta)

Morning After the Storm - concluding part.

Click on the title to read the concluding part.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Death of a Priest Turned Layman.

This evening my brother Joseph phoned from Cochin to say that Dr. Kuriakose Changadakkary died three days back at the age of 97. He belonged to one of the last batches of Indian priests from Kandy Seminary of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). According to the obituary, he had published articles in Readers Digest, Catholic Digest and other eminent journals.

The news of Dr. Changadakkary’s death brought back several memories. He was the chaplain of Velliara Church, the Parayil Family’s Private Oratory (see ‘A Kerala Tharavad’
during the World War II years. Subsequently, he was the vicar of a parish near Vayalar where the Communists organized an armed uprising in 1946. (See ‘Morning after the storm’

Dr. Changadakkary was, I think, the first young priest posted at Velliara. Normally retired priests were sent to the place and they were looked after by the family. Then came this well-groomed young man, full of zest and ideas. He wanted company. A club hall was built next to the church where the priest and the Parayil family members would meet in the evenings. The main activities were Bridge and a new game (those days) called ‘ping pong’ (table tennis).

Probably the priest had seen the game in Colombo. It became very popular in the club. Then there was a problem. The ping pong balls became scarce because of the war. The first question any member returning to the club after a trip to Cochin or Trivandrum faced was whether he managed to get the balls. If I remember right, the popular brand was ‘Diamond’.

In the early 1950s Dr. Changadakkary fell out with the Church hierarchy. In 1956 he left priesthood and married. I think he was under what is known as ipso facto excommunication. But he corresponded with Rome and finally got an indult from the Pope. He was the first priest in Kerala to obtain this dispensation.

The priest used to tech us youngsters Syriac. I think, with some effort, I can still recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, ‘Abun de beshmi…’

May Dr. Kuriakose Changadakkary’s soul rest in peace.


Morning After the Storm - Part 3..

Read Part 3 of the story at Short Stories by Abraham Tharakan. Click on the title.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Morning After The Storm - Part 1.

This prize-winning story presents, through the point of view of a Dalit, the great changes that affected the life in Kerala during the last century.

In the foreword to Winners Volume I (British Council-Unisun. 2005), an anthology that included this story, the Editors said: “In The Morning after the Storm the language is terse and spare. The author presents a searing reflection of pre-independence times in the persona of Chathan who is emblematic of Everyman. In crisp telegraphic sentences, the story telescopes many realms and many spheres – social, economic and political.”

The Hindu Literary Review (May 1, 2005), had this to say: “"To Trail A Wooden Wagon" by Kalpana Naghnoor and "Morning After the Storm" by Abraham Tharakan, which won the third prize, are tinged with sadness. A sense of longing for something lost.”

This is the original version of the story.

Click on the title to read.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Kerala Tharavad.

Photo: Patrik

The photo above is that of Velliara Parayil, the oldest among the five Parayil heritage homes, and the 'tharavad'. This was built about two-hundred years back near the original ‘tharavad’ of the family. After it was completed, the old one, also an ‘ettukettu’, was dismantled and shifted to a plot called Edavanthala in Olavipe.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the terminology, here is a brief explanation. ‘Tharavad’ is the original home of a family. ‘Nalukettu’ means a house with one inner courtyard. ‘Ettukettu’ would have two such courtyards, and ‘Pathinarukettu’, four. Important families with a certain social standing were allowed to construct up to ‘ettukettu’. Only members of the royal families could have ‘pathinarukettu’. Likewise, the privilege of having gatehouses for their homes was exclusive to people belonging to the upper crust.

The verandas of the inner courtyard near the kitchen used to be area for women and children. The men of the house hardly went there. Similarly, the women rarely visited the front part of the house. That was the men’s domain.

Coming back to the Velliara mansion – apart from the size, two things that would impress a visitor are the quantity of carved wood used in the construction and the area of the northern inner courtyard that could accommodate a small villa. There used to be an escape route from the granary within the house, a tunnel, which was sealed off decades ago. In spite of all the facilities, space and the large estate around, for some time now no one is staying there regularly.

No account of Velliara is complete without a reference to the family’s private oratory near the ‘tharavad’. Consecrated in 1869, it is popularly known as Velliara Church. See photo below:

Also see:

Kerala architecture: Mansion of the Marquises

Friday, April 20, 2007

Change in blog name - 'Song of the waves...'

Some of the returning visitors might have noticed that there is a change in the name of this blog. I have added ‘Song of the waves’ to the title. Hopefully, it should not cause any problem in accessing the site. The URL remains the same. If there is any difficulty, use the old name.

Let me explain what prompted me to do this. A recent post in ‘under the fire star’ (a must read blog; carried the following comment: ‘Parayil A. Tharakan Blog may not have the most catchy name, but it's worth looking at. It is full of stories and pictures from a Kerala which must largely exist only in memory.’ (Well, the pictures are current.)

When I stumbled into the blogsphere hardly knowing the technicalities (a condition that prevails even now) the idea was to name my site ‘Abraham Tharakan Blog’. The label wasn’t available. It had been taken by none other than my second son who has the same name. His blog contains some good poetry ( Unfortunately, he seems to have abandoned the blog. I suppose that running a division of an IT giant doesn’t leave much time for creative literary work.

My elder son, Joseph is a Chief Officer in the merchant navy. He has published some good short stories and poems. My two daughters, Rosemary in Chennai and Teresa in Mumbai are both professional editors. That leaves out my wife, Annie. She doesn’t write or edit, but attends to the other side – reading. If the number of times she has read over the books of PG Woodhouse, PD James, Ruth Randal, Anne Taylor, John Grisham and a host of other writers were recorded she possibly stands a chance to get into the Guinness Book.

Now, about the reason why I chose the name ‘Song of the waves’. It has always been there, deep down inside me, the rhythm of the waves of Olavipe Lake, the murmur of the wind on the coconut palms, the music of a pristine land.

Before signing off this post, let me thank all the readers who have encouraged me during the short time that I’ve been blogging and request for continued support.

And, here’s a photo of the Olavipe Lake repeated from an earlier post ‘Gift of the waves…’

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mahe - Petite France in Kerala.

Who will win the 2007 French Presidential election - N. Sarkozy, S. Royal, F. Bayrou or JM. Le Pen? In the laid back atmosphere of Mahe, a beautiful seaside little (9 Sq.kms) town in Kerala 33 French citizens who are eligible to vote discuss this question and keenly watch news bulletins and features on French TV channels. They have to travel 650 kms to Pudducherry (Pondicherry) on the east coast of India to personally exercise franchise. But they can, alternatively, nominate someone there to cast the votes on their behalf.

In 1724 the French East India Company constructed a fort in Mahe with the permission of the local rajah. There were several wars, particularly between the French and the English for possession of the settlement. It changed hands a few times. Finally the French retained Mahe till 1954 when it was de facto integrated with India. At that time the people of Mahe (as well as the other French possessions in IndiaPondicherry, Yanam, Chandranagore and Karaikal) were given the option to select either Indian or French citizenship. Today there are 72 French citizens in Mahe.

For decades, the French influence lingered on. Now only traces of it are left. A classic Malayalam novel, ‘Mayyazhi Puzhayude Therathu’ (On the banks of Mahe River) by M. Mukundan, a son of the soil, makes great reading. I don’t know whether it has been translated into French or English.

Mahe is a must visit destination at any time, but preferably from November to February. It is a land of great scenic beauty and hospitable people. The place has ancient temples, cultural events and the famous shrine of St. Teresa of Avila. The excellent cuisine specializes on lobsters, mussels, fish and other seafood.

And, in this small territory, there are over 60 bars!


Also read:

Indian who could have been the King of France?

The Indian 'King of France'.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An Addenda to Laurie Baker - A Tribute

Again it is about a church. Yesterday I received an email which, among other things, made a comment about my post ‘Laurie Baker - A Tribute’


wondering whether a church was finally built at Olavipe. By an oversight I had not dealt with this point in my article mentioned above.

Well, a church was constructed, but not what Baker had envisioned. The grand design was created by some priest totally incompetent in architectural matters. We have quite a few of those going around. The result was a tolerable (if one believes in mortification) building that ignores the importance of light and air circulation. That was what the diocesan curia decreed and that was what Olavipe got!

The structure (no adjectives used) cost more than three times what Baker had estimated for his design! Now a move is on to demolish it and build a new one.

Don’t ask questions. Pay up if you want a place of worship. Only if you have a church you can raze it to the ground and build another one at that site.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A historic church is no more.

Photo: Patrik


In 1791 the Parayil Tharakans built a church at Thycattussarry, the village of which Olavipe is a part, to house the statue of the family’s patron saint, St. Antony, which had been brought with them when they came to the place perhaps a century earlier.

The Parayils rebuilt the church twice to accommodate the growth in membership. The photographs reproduced below are of the third structure, constructed around 1881. This building, which had been a silent witness to several crucial events in the Malabar (Kerala) Church history, is now a memory. It was demolished a couple years back and a new church is almost complete at the same site. The number of parishioners today is perhaps lower than that of the original church!

This has been happening to several old churches in Kerala. Wonder whether the seminaries that churn out priests impart a sense of local history to the aspirants.

At least we have the photographs! And the story - 'Once upon a time there was a church...'


Monday, April 16, 2007

Amazing Grace.

Read about the great hymn Amazing Grace and John Newton, the man who wrote it, at Articles By Abraham Tharakan. Click on the title.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The House That Grandfather Built.

The Thekkanattu Parayil Crest.

Parayil Mathoo Avira Tharakan
(my grandfather)

The house that grandfather built.Construction started in 1890
and the house was occupied in 1903. Today it is a homestay.
(Olavipe Homestay)
Photo: Patrik.

Related post:

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vishu: Did God Create Earth on This Day?

Today is Vishu in Kerala State. Also, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Baisakhi in Punjab and Bihu in Assam. Is this the day on which God created Earth? We shall come to that later.

Vishu, which is one of the equinox days according to the Indian astrological calculations is celebrated on the first day of the month of Medam (usually coincides with April 14) in the Malayalam calendar. It is more of a New Year event than a religious function though mostly the Hindus observe the day.

The belief is that the New Year should start with seeing auspicious items. For this, a collection of such articles is prepared the night before and kept for the members of the family to view first thing in the morning. This is known as ‘kani’. The other important part of Vishu is ‘kaineettam’ (handsel). Usually the eldest member gives coins to the others as a token of good luck.

An integral part of the ‘kani’ is ‘konna’ (cassia fistula) flowers.

Photos: Sibin (above)
PrasanthC (below)

One cannot imagine Vishu without these golden yellow beauties. But of late, Kerala is having a scarcity for them around Vishu time. The reason is that the konna trees that used to flower invariably in late March/ early April have started blossoming in February and early March these days. According to some botanists, global warming causes this early blooming. Consequently, Kerala is importing the 'golden shower' flowers from neighboring states for Vishu.

The customs relating to Vishu differ from place to place. The event is much more popular in North Kerala among the upper castes than in the South. In my area, Olavipe in mid-Kerala, only the 'lower caste' Pulayas observe the day. This appears to have a link to the agricultural operations in which, traditionally, the Pulayas had a major role to play.

The preparation of the rice fields for cultivation starts in April. On the morning of Vishu, the ‘kani’ for the Pulayas was the face of the landlord on whose fields they worked. Couple of seniors among them would go to the ‘house’ at 4.30 A.M. The landlord would be waiting for them, wearing fresh clothes after bath.

The visitors would hold up torches made of dry coconut fronds to see the landlord’s face. After that they would each hand over a silver-looking coin. Formerly it used to be a silver mint known as ‘panam’. Its value was four ‘chakarams’ or about 1/7 of a rupee. Now a one rupee coin is used. (See my post at
Later on in the day, each of the Pulaya representatives would be given a measure of paddy. This practice continued till I shifted to Chennai three years back.

Now, about creation. In the readings in some Syrian Christian liturgy, particularly during the Holy Week, it is stated that God created the earth on Medam 1. Considering the equinox factor, this sounds logical.


Note: Click on the title to read about Syrian Christian.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Queen Visits Her Lord.

A thousand policemen took over the security arrangements at the temple premises. The devotees who had come to worship were prevented from entering the temple grounds. Even the priests, all of them except a boy priest, were made to leave the place.

All these because the 51-year-old Lilabati Pattamahadei, Queen of Puri was visiting the famous 12th century Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri.

Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri
Photo acknowledgement: Tourism Department.

She came in a palanquin carried by the palace staff. The King, in traditional dress accompanied her in another palanquin. They were escorted by representatives from twenty-two royal families, royal attendants, martial arts performers and flag procession. The spectacle was watched by a huge crowd.

It was no ordinary visit. The ritual, which is actually a private one, is known as ‘Gahan Bijie’. The King was presented with the keys to all the temple chambers and the Queen entered the empty shrine in the company of the boy priest and two married Brahmin women. She could spend as much time there as she liked and no force would disturb her. But only once in her lifetime. Never again would the present Queen perform a ‘Ghan Bijie’. The last one was forty-one years back, by the previous Queen.

This took place on April 8, 2007.

There is no kingdom now. But the King is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Jagannath. The tradition is twelve centuries old and no one is expected to question it. Some rationalists did protest against the rite, and to them the King, a former student of St. Stephen’s, Delhi, had this to say (according to The Hindu), “If any change has to be brought about, the persons who are part of the culture and tradition can initiate the reform. But someone who is not part of the culture cannot have any say in this.” The ritual has the sanctity of the Jagannath Temple Act and the Record of Rights as well.

At the end of the day, the crowd of “at least” 50,000 people who came to see the ceremony, had only one regret. Because the Queen had arrived with the palanquin curtains drawn, they could not get a glimpse of her face!


(Based on media reports.)

Also see: The last of the Travancore Maharajas

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A beautiful photograph.

Entrance to the front veranda of
Thekkanattu Parayil Heritage Home.
Photo: Ca. Hari.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Tyreseller.

Read this prize-winning story at Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan. Click on the title.

[I am republishing this story now in memory of Chandy Mathew Pallivathukkal who was the moving spirit behind Unisun Publications. He passed away at Bangalore, India on April 7. An MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad, he was the Chairman of Duroflex, and the Chief of Unisun Technologies Ltd., a company that has made great contributions in the field of solar energy. Chandy’s collection of short stories ‘Looking in, looking out’ was acclaimed by critics. Abraham Tharakan.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Going to school in a feudal era - Part 1.

I’m talking here about the late1930s. There was no school bus, no horse-drawn cart, no bicycles. Not even a road in Olavipe those days. Walk to the church-run primary school about a mile away, through coconut groves, over the bunds of the rice fields, wade through water in some low-lying areas. Ramble along almost all the way though the family properties.

If one is late to reach the class, no matter. The teacher might glare briefly, but would never reprimand. The Headmaster put me in the second grade directly because I didn’t, for some reason, like the teacher in grade one! That was how it was those days.

The picture below shows a portion of our route to the school:

Photo: Patrik

There was a code of conduct for other pedestrians during our way to school and back. No one could overtake us unless permitted. The drill for people coming in the opposite direction was, (1) ‘untouchables’ like Pulayas had go off the path to a respectful distance, or step into the water if they came across us on a bund, (2) Ezhavas and other lower castes would have to shift a few yards away and wait for us to move on. The higher castes were to stop and let us pass.

Can you think of children going to school without carrying slates and books and pencils? Well, we were like that. There would be at least one male servant to carry our school bags, umbrellas, water bottles and the like. After escorting us to the respective classes he would go back to fetch our lunch, which was eaten in a room at the vicarage made available exclusively to us for the purpose.

Then came the best part of the day. The area around the school and the church was sandy. A small, shallow stream ran between the two buildings. Launching paper boats in the clear, flowing water and racing them was great fun. Back to class after that. The servant/s would wait on the school verandah to take us home in the evening.

No games at school with the other children. Get back to the house and after a high tea, it was play time, with a selected few local boys. Some of the games that we played were native ones for which no special equipments were necessary. But mostly it was football, ball badminton and, later, cricket. Interestingly, cricket came to Olavipe in 1941. That’s another story.

Looking back from another age, these may sound incredible. But mine was a pioneering generation, nevertheless, in our family. We were the first to attend a local school and sit in the classroom with 'all and sundry'. Till our time, the family members were tutored at home and some like Appan went city schools and colleges for higher education.

My parents were strict about two things. We were to be polite to the other students and respectful to the teachers.

[ A brother of mine has sent the following email comment: "I read your piece 'about going to school' in 1930s. I of course knew the same reality and can appreciate it. I do have a slight concern whether part of it might be interpreted as underlining a superior social position. But it was the reality anyway. by the way, the photo in it is superb." Note: What I have done here is to present the situation as it was seven decades back, before World War II. Abraham Tharakan.]

Next part of this story would follow shortly.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Lili Marlene.

Read about the immortal song at Articles By Abraham Tharakan. Click on the title.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Songs of the sea - Part 2.

To read the concluding part of the story, click on the title.

Jackfruit, the jumbo

Jackfruits. The yellow and green leaves are those of a climber. The jackfruit tree leaves
can be seen on a small branch on the right side.


Which is the largest tree borne edible fruit in the world? The answer is jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) a native of India’s Western Ghats. The label ‘jack’ comes from jaca, a Portuguese adaptation of the Malayalam name chakka. To call the fruit ‘tree borne’ is an understatement. It grows on the trunk, main branches and sometimes even on exposed roots.

Jackfruit is really big. Records show that the fruit can reach a size of 90cm in length and 50cm in girth and weigh up to 36kg. Inside the fruits are large, fleshy bulbs that cover oval shaped seeds.

There are two main types of jackfruits – ‘koozha’ and ‘varikka’. In the former, the flesh is fibrous and mushy. ‘Varikka’, which is more popular, has firmer carpels that can be served as table fruit. Jackfruit has so many culinary uses that would fill a small recipe book. These include curries, breakfast food, pancakes and steamed rolls, halwa, and spreads. Delicious curries can be made even from the seeds.


Also see:

Gold color chips and a golden hearted Lady

Giant fruits from small tree

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Songs of the sea - Part 1.

A tender story about a little girl and the sea. Click on the title to read.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Laurie Baker - A Tribute.

Padmasree Dr. L. W. Baker 1917-2007.
Photo Acknowledgement:

The famous British-born architect, Laurie Baker died at the age of 90 this morning at his home in Trivandrum, India. The burial is scheduled for tomorrow, at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the State capital.

Baker graduated from Birmingham School of Architecture in 1937. Two years later he joined a voluntary ambulance unit and was sent to China and Japan and from there to Burma. He spent most of the War years tending to the wounded and the sick. While waiting at Bombay in 1944 for his passage back to England, Baker happened to meet Mahatma Gandhi. This influenced the man to come back to India and work among the leprosy patients.

After marrying Elizabeth Chandy, a doctor of medicine from Kerala, Baker moved to a remote area on the Nepal-Tibet border with his wife. They spent nearly sixteen years there helping the locals with medicare and education, and came to Kurisumala (Hill of the Cross) in Vagamon, Kerala in the early 1960s. Baker built a hospital mainly for the tribal people and a house that was an architectural marvel, on a 24 acre plot next to the Christian Ashram there.

It was at that enchanting place that I met Laurie Baker. I have stayed there with him on a few occasions. From the house, the land sloped down to a stream beside which Baker had erected a dovecote. It was fascinating to watch the scene from the house when moonlight shimmered on the flowing water with mist floating around like streamers of white smoke.

In 1965, at the initiative of my brother Dr. PKM Tharakan (Professor Emeritus, Antwerp University) we decided to build a church at Olavipe. See

I requested Baker to design the church for us and he readily accepted. Those days he used to take assignments only for churches. He came to Olavipe and stayed with us for three days.

Baker used to go alone to the site for the church on the shores of the Olavipe Lake every morning and would return to the house only after sunset. He wanted to absorb the atmosphere before starting work on the plan. What he produced was something remarkable. It would have blended so well with the surroundings like the sails of the country crafts that plied the lake.

It was breathtaking to watch the model that Baker presented in a box with a window. One could visualize the completed church and the interplay of diffused light on the alter through tinted glass. And, the estimated cost was lower than our budget! We rushed to the Archbishop with the model. He seemed to like it, but the caucus around him shelved the plan. They said that it was too advanced a design for Olavipe and that they would keep the model in the museum for future reference. I had difficulty in explaining it to the architect who had put in the effort with much involvement, and for free.

I am not going into the achievements of Laurie Baker and his brilliance as a pioneering architect for low cost structures. A great deal has been already written about those.

The last I met him was at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum (one of Baker’s great projects) when my youngest brother Dr. Michael Tharakan was on the faculty there.

I consider it a privilege to have known Laurie Baker. May his soul rest in peace.


Also see:

An Addenda to Laurie Baker - A Tribute

Book Review: The Other Side of Laurie Baker