What comes to mind when you think about Nalukettu? Does an image of a traditional mansion with centre courtyard comes to your mind? Or is it the picture of a joint family enjoying the day in the traditional house? Or the basil plant in the centre courtyard that fills your mind?
A Nalukettu is the symbol of architecture brillance of Kerala. The structure is made by considering the principle and norms of Thachu Sasthra and Vasthu Sasthra ( the science of carpentry and architecture). Nalukettu means four blocks and it has four blocks facing each of the four directions. Each of these blocks is named depending on the direction they are facing – like vadakkini, padinjattini, kizhakkini and thekkini for blocks facing the directions west, east and south respectively.
The presence of the central open courtyard, padipura, the slanting roof, all these gives the structure a unique feeling. The house like any other has kitchen, veranda, bedrooms, granaries, dining hall, pooja room, utilities, cattle shed and well. The structure is well suited to house large families like the system of the joint family followed during those times. It could have multiple storeys depending on how large and well off the household is. Sometimes the nalukettu is extended to form ettukettu or pathinaarukettu if the household is of great importance and power.
What makes nalukettu really unique is it’s planning. It is a structure that combines architecture with astronomy and science. The construction of the house is based on various ratios and proportions. The placement of windows and doors, and rooms all are well planned. The mansion is always well aerated and has excellent ventilation. The nadumuttam or centre courtyard can sometimes have a basil plant at its centre. The courtyard helps to keep the cool and well atmosphere throughout the house. The structure is made of bricks and stones and there is extensive work of carpentry. Usually, the truck of the big jackfruit tree or teak is used.
The nalukettu faded into oblivion mainly due to the change in family structure. With the families becoming nuclear, it became difficult to maintain such a big house. But slowly it is coming back since the structure gives a sense of homely feeling.