A Traditional house: Gujarati house

Regional Architecture & Interiors Dated:  March 25, 2014
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Traditional wood carvings constitute much of traditional Gujarati interiors. Eternal and elemental wood carvings through new forms and applications have come to form Gujarat’s renowned interiors. Encompassing history, cultures, mythological fables, religious understandings, social sensibilities, tradition, technologies, interpretation and expression of nature, this invigorating art is a projection of society, through vast ornamental forms.

The wooden traditional houses conform to their organisation of a narrow front that represents wood facades and long walls on sides, well defined spatial components, timber construction and densely articulated within confined settlement patterns known as pols.

The primary spaces inside the house are identified by names not in accordance to their functions. The entrance, defined by raised plinth with steps called otta- a prelude to the umro or otla- a communication zone between residents and outsiders - encompassing columns supporting wooden facade. The latter is varied in treatment and width subject to the status of the owner. Highlighted by carvings, it is made ornate and exquisite in beauty- an image builder. The otta leads to a buffer space used a reception room or baithak, directly linked to the open to sky interior courtyard known as chowk- a nodal point linking all spaces together. The interior facade flanking the chowk is richly carved. The chowk, attached to a rasoidan( kitchen), paniyaro (space for storing drinking water) and the puja( prayer room), all the three being considered sacred spaces.

The Parsal is a semi open space between the chowk and the living areas like ordo or ordoo the last room, farthest from the street and most private. It opened in the chhindi or a narrow rear street, by small windows for cross ventilation. The rooms functioned for sleeping and storage. Privacy in business led to developing divankhanu, on the upper floor. The roofs are sloping covered (clay tiles), some left flat (known as agasi)

Plan of a traditional/ typical gujarati house

The extensive ornamentation visible throughout in elements, motifs and patterns was a direct influence of Hindu and Muslim cultures. An assimilation of Jaina and Vaishnava  characters with Islam, Rajaputana and Marathas reflected in intricate and elaborate carvings on columns, brackets, doors, windows, ceilings, cantilevered balconies,  screens as well as panels.

Details of Bracket and Columns

More Intricate Wood Carvings

Balcony Window Adorned by Parrot Motifs on Sides

Large amounts of timber that were imported from Daman, Malabar and Burma made possible the evolution of wooden architecture in Gujarat that has contributed to its traditional houses. Easier to procure and carve and suited to its climatic conditions, it was extensively used. The half timbering construction technique was favoured in urban centres through brick mortar

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and wooden frames. Alongside, few motifs and patterns were borrowed and modified by Gujarati artisans over time from West Asia. The todla or tolla, at the corner of a door frame of a Gujarati house also seems to be borrowed.

The art of wood carving that reached its zenith during the Mughal rule, experienced devastation and degradation during the British establishment when traditional Guajarati houses were either destroyed or set on fire. Marking an end to architectural wood carvings in India, the process however led to the development of a new branch of wood carvings of interior elements.




Naqsh: The Art of Wood Carving in Traditional Houses of Gujarat: a Focus on ornamentation

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