Even though life and atmosphere in villages have a lot to share in common, but compared to the pastoral ambiance, architecture, and construction style of Indian villages, villages in Kashmir stand apart for their unique features and traits.
Pertinently, what strikes a wonder with the life in villages of Kashmir is the outstanding and distinctive traditional art and architecture of the houses.
Kashmiri villages have got their own style, structure and architecture, when we match the construction plan outset of our villages’ with the rest of India.
Let’s take village houses as an example. This is the most glorious aspect of a pastoral life as from times immemorial they have been providing shelter to their inmates. But with the passage of time, as the construction boom assumed a gigantic proportion, the antiquity, signified by the muddy and thatched houses in villages went missing.
From concrete buildings to sky piecing skyscrapers, construction witnessed a boom and a huge chunk of population, after migrating from villages to cities, began to live in lofty mansions as is the norm of living in an advanced city.
As a result of the so-called modernism, it is difficult to explore such a classical village these days. But still one can find few rare evidences of that traditional village architecture in the distant corners of this land.
The interesting feature of old village architecture consisted of its mud cum thatched houses called locally as Jioy and wooden granaries for storage of their agricultural produce localy called Kutch or kuth, sometimes covered over by little pieces of wood, called in local architectural term as wooden shingle. Usually the plan of the houses has been kept rear angular while that of wooden granaries as square.
Sir Walter Lawrence, in his classic Valley of Kashmir has given an interesting description of early 20th century village houses. He writes, “The houses are made of un-burnt bricks set in wooden frames, and timber of cedar, pine and fir. The roofs are pointed to throw off snow.
The thatch is usually of straw. Rice straw is considered to be the best material but in the vicinity of the lakes, reeds are used. Near the forests the roofs are made of wooden shingles, and the houses are real log huts, the walls being formed of whole logs laid one upon another, like the cottage of the Russian peasantry.”
Plan and Construction
Almost all the village houses like those of urban houses were kept rectangular in plan facing commonly to south and rarely to east, but never to north or west. The site plan of the houses used to be measured in Asta’s (a local measuring unit equivalent about to 2 ft).
The plinth was formed of local stones called Kashir Ken (a bolder stone) usually extracted from Nallah beds. Over the plinth was placed a parallel row of wooden logs, called locally as Daas. It served as a DPC which locked the plinth. The Daas was followed by brick pillars.
The plinth was kept wide so that brick pillars could stand on it; the minimum width of the walls measured one gaz (about one meter). The gaps in between the brick pillars were covered by Inder dus (earthen wall).
These walls were built over the plinth by wooden mould which was locally called as inder, it was formed of wooden rods andsheets of the desired length and width.
This mould was erected on the designated place of the plinth and a semi wet earth was put into this mould layer by layer, which was then pressed down by feet by two to three persons standing inside the wooden frame of this mould. When desired height of this portion of the wall was ready, the mould (the wooden frame) was removed and placed in the similar way on the next step of the plinth and same practice was repeated till the whole wall of this floor of the super structure was raised.
Then it was the turn of wooden linter. The lintels were pieces of wooden logs or axe cut planks placed on row of wooden logs called Ked. It served as the lock of entire structure. After the ground floor was completed the same practice was repeated till the desired structure was completed.
The super structure was roofed over by a double pointed roofs formed of heavy wooden looms placed on the either sides of the roofs and these looms in turn were supported by a large loom called locally yekel. The super structure was also plastered with a reddish earthen plaster and usually front side of the house was colorfully plastered which gave an amazing look.
Sometimes several houses had also open verandahs, which were locally called Ivandaar Jioy, meaning house with open verandah. The houses of well to do families were usually roofed over by small pieces of wood called locally single, the windows and doors of such houses also were decorated with fine specimen of wood carving and lattice work, where as the houses of average villagers had got simple doors and windows of irregular shapes planks of wood.
Like towns and cities the villagers also preferred to have their houses double and triple storied. The ground was usually occupied by cattle while other two successive floors by the inmates.
The upper floor called Kani was usually used to house the firewood related materials for the harsh winters, but in the summer it was kept neat and clean and used to spend the hot summers.
The upper storey called kani was open from all sides and it served just today’s air conditioned balcony while the first storey was useful for winters. There were various rooms of this floor like: Tanab (Common room), Dankuth (Kitchen), Bankuth (Store room), Gaan (Cattle shed), Mandow (A big room), Paechh Kuth (Guest room) and Moar (Pen) for pet birds (kokar).
In fact the normal village house had all these facilities, but there was no arrangement for any kind of washrooms. Usually the banks of village kuls, streams and springs, offered these facilities. In fact the urban houses also lacked this facility.
Several of the European travelers while hailing the architectural styles of Kashmir, have also mentioned about poor sanitation in their respective travelogues.
Like urban houses the village houses carried certain interesting distinctive features which suited well to the local environment and culture.
In my forthcoming book on Kashmir’s forgotten architecture, I have discussed almost all the aspects of the traditional architecture.
Why our olden residential houses irrespective of caste, creed and religion have been rectangular in plan, facing always south and having low entrances? What was the myth behind this tradition that our olden houses hardly faced north and west? Why old temples faced west, while as Sufi s tombs to south and khanqah mostly to east.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.