Kerala has made its notable contributions to the science of architecture. The Tantrasamuchaya, Vastuvidya, Manushyalaya-Chandrika and Silparatna are well-known treatises on the subject. The Manushyalaya Chandrika is a work devoted to domestic architecture.
The traditional Kerala house is a quadrangular building called Nalukettu constructed strictly in accordance with the principles of Tachu Sastra (Science of Architecture). It was located in a self contained compound and was specially designed to cater to the needs of the huge tarawads of old under the Marumakkathayam (matrilineal) system.
The Nalukettu was so called because it consisted of four blocks viz., the Vadakkini (northern block), Padinjattini (western block), Kizhakkini (eastern block) and Thekkini (southern block). The house was generally built of laterite plastered with Chunam and the roofs were tiled or thatched with the leaves of palmyrah or coconut trees. The wood work of the building was usually solid and beautifully carved. It may also be noted that the old palaces of Kerala represent the style of traditional domestic architecture.
The most important palaces that deserve mention are the Padmanabhapuram Palace (Kanyakumari District), the Dutch Palace at Mattancheri and the Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam. In recent times domestic architecture has undergone significant changes in style and design. The houses are now built only to accommodate single households. Cement concrete houses have taken the place of the traditional houses made of brick set in either mud or lime.
The Kerala temple has a district architectural style which has been acquired as a result of a long process of evolution. The rock-cut temples are among the earliest known of the temples of Kerala and they are assigned to the period prior to 800 AD. They come mainly under two groups, the southern group and the northern group. The former includes the rock-cut temples of Vizhinjam, Madavurppara, Kottukal and Kaviyur and the latter of those of Trikkur, Irunilacode and Bhrandanpara.
The Saivite cult dominated the architectural style of the temples of both these groups. Those of southern group are of Pandya origin and of the northern groups. Those of southern group are of Pandya origin and of the northern group of Pallava origin. In addition to these two groups of rock-cut temples, there is also the rock-cut temple of Kallil near Perumbavur which is at present a Bhagavathi temple, but was formerly a Jain Shrine. The structural temple of Kerala had its origin during the 9th century A.D.
The Kerala temples have been built in square, rectangular, circular, apsidal and elliptical ground plans. The dominance of the circular shrine is a unique feature of temple architecture in Kerala. The southern half of the State has a preponderance of circular shrines. The apsidal temples lay scattered all over the west coast up to Thiruvananthapuram but there is a concentration of this type in central Kerala. The rectangular and elliptical ground plans can be seen only in a few temples in Kerala. As the rectangular plan was more suited for enshrining Vishnu as Anantasayanam , the Sri. Padmanabha Swami temple, Thiruvananthapuram, follows this type.
In the early period the Christians of Kerala seem to have built their churches after the model of Hindu temples, as is evidenced by the alleged action of Vasco-da-Gama in entering a Kali temple at Calicut mistaking it for a Christian church. They adopted for their churches the temple plan comprised of a four-sided sanctuary with a large pillared hall in the front. The church had also a tower which, like the Sikhara above the Garbhagriha of the temple, soared to the maximum height.
The indigenous tradition which influenced church architecture continued without break till the coming of the Portuguese in 1498 AD. As part of their policy of Latinisation of the Church is Kerala, the Portuguese introduced innovations in the design of church buildings. The massive arch replaced the thick entrance door and stained glass windows were installed to allow more ventilation. The sanctum chamber ( Madubaha ) was attractively ornamented with statues made of wood or clay as well as with beautiful wall paintings.
The St.Francis church provided the model for the construction or more churches in India. In modern times styles of church architecture from outside have influenced the construction of churches in Kerala. The Puthen Palli at Trichur with its arches, vaults, steeples, flying buttresses and stained glass windows has been built after Gothic style. The St.Joseph's Cathedral of the Latin Christians at Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram and the Kothamanglam church are Romanesque in their architectural style. The St.Thomas Pontifical shrine, Kodungallur, resembles the St. Peter's Church in Rome.
Mosque architecture which drew inspiration from Persian and Turkish tradition in north India had no influence on mosque architecture in Kerala till recently. The traditional Kerala mosque is a simple two-storied building with tiled roofs. Its outer walls are built on a basement similar to that of a Kerala temple.
It has a central hall meant for prayers with corridors on all four sides. As in the case of temples and churches wood has been used profusely in the construction of the Kerala mosques. But there are a few mosques, like the Juma Masjid at Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram and Puthiya Palli at Calicut in Kerala now which are reminiscent of the Islamic style of architecture prevalent in north India.
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