Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Day 50-Havelis

HAVELI (Urdu: حویلی, Hindi: हवेली) is the term used for a private mansion in Pakistan and North India. The word haveli is of Persian origin, meaning "an enclosed place".

These haveli were 1st built by the wealthy and highly successful merchant class Indians who were largely from Rajasthan and Gujarat.

In my research, I have found out that there are essentially 3 distinctive styles of haveli as there were 3 groups of merchants who have incorporated differing and distinctive features in their houses.

First, there are the Bohra manzil (or Bohra buildings) of Siddhpur (Gujarat) that are laid out formally along broad avenues constructed and decorated almost in the European style.

Then we have the Shekhavati havelis which are justly famed for their frescoes.

Lastly, we have the haveli of Ahmedabad (where Rajiv is from) which are renowned for their remarkable and almost extinct decorative wood carving.

Different as they may seem, there are 2 distinct areas that all 3 types of havelis share in common. Firstly, driven by a spirit of rivalry between themselves and an intense competition to inhabit the best and the biggest havelis, the owners often spared no expense and were consistently generous patrons of arts and crafts, who engendered a quality and diversity of creativity that will probably never be achieved again. Sadly, and that's the 2nd area of commonality, many of these havelis, be it Bohras' , Marwalis' or the erstwhile merchants' of Ahmedabad, are now left to deteriorate and decay as their owners have moved on.

This is thus my feeble attempt to help in generating more interest in havelis (and thus encourage more preservation of these wonderful architecture) while researching on how I can convert "Termite House" to "Bombay Tea Leaves- Where the Party Never Ends".

Here are some of the research material that I found to be of interest. I am especially in love with the Patwon Ki Haveli which apparently took 50 years to complete.


The history of architecture in India reflects a rich and diversified legacy, not only through the classical examples but also in the display of a rich heritage of vernacular traditions of building.

They express the totality of a relationship between man and society. These settlements are characterized by consistency over a long period of time and a strong integration of the built environment with the patterns of life. The traditional habitats of the Islamic community of the Bohras (generally referred to Daudi Bohras) in Gujarat, found in cities and towns such as Surat, Siddhpur, Dahod, Godhra, Kapadvanj, Khambhat, Ahmedabad, Palanpur, Bhavnagar, Dholka, Surendranagar, Morbi and Jamnagar, etc. are excellent examples of traditional architecture rooted in the regional landscape.

(Pic Right: Typical window of a Bohra home) There are two broad categories of Bohrwads: one has an organic layout while the other is strictly geometrically laid out. The structure of a typical organic Bohrwad is inwardly oriented, where the houses are arranged in an introverted neighborhood form. Most Bohrwads have a formal entrance where gates used to be closed at night in the past. The houses in a Bohrwad are typically grouped around a street and these form a mohalla; several mohallas form a Bohrwad. Each mohalla is an exogamous unit and may have fifty to a hundred houses.

A traditional Bohra house, seen in its cultural and spatial context, creates a sense of place in a distinct domestic setting. The house can almost be considered a metaphor for the social system. Male dominance is strong and women are commonly segregated from men not belonging to their immediate families. Gender is important as an organizing theme in dwelling layouts and use of spaces. For the Bohras, religion is a way of life that also provides a civic code, influencing social behavior and interactions. The Bohra house is usually always oriented according to the cardinal directions as per the practice in the region. The urban house has at its core a set of spaces, which in their sequence and proportions are identical to those of the rural dwelling. It is basically a deep house-plan with three (or four) sequential rooms one behind the other.

Facade of a storied house.
Facade of a house in Kapadvanj.

The regional model was not only adapted by the Bohra community but also taken to its maximum potential with necessary adjustments due to the religious tenets of Islam. Certain concepts like clear separation between the public and private, the necessity for an in-between zone at the entrance level, the male/female divide, seclusion of women, the intense need for privacy, etc. have brought about specific devices and spatial configurations that reflect the tenets of the religion. Generally a joint family system is followed. The kitchen is common to all and it becomes central to the family. The spatial hierarchy in the typical Bohra house has a sequence of otla (entrance platform), deli (arrival space), avas (courtyard), parsalli and the ordo (room). The upper floors mainly house the bedrooms and the agashi (terrace). The Bohrwad is made up of three to four storeyed-high houses arranged in a high-density layout. The individual courtyard becomes an air and a light shaft where the cooler air sinks below and the hotter air escapes out of the roof.

The Bohras have adopted the regional tradition of Gujarat of making facades with intricate details in wood. They accommodated a whole range of styles, building materials and decorative treatments resulting in attractive facades (and streets) that have become the hallmark of their vernacular architecture. In contrast to Islamic philosophy, there is exterior display and frontal exposure as the facades are rich in variety and aesthetic expression. They create a sense of enclosure and a play of light and shadows by using of solids and voids. Through the display of several textures and patterns, they express balance and harmony within a predominantly symmetrical composition. The surface of the facade is visually broken by ornamented columns, brackets and mouldings, at times bringing multicolored cohesion to the streets.

The facades enhance the totality of the physical ambience of the built environment. Built by craftsmen, they reveal their comprehensive understanding of the elements of design, the nature of the building materials and versatility of craftsmanship. The unity of facades has been achieved by similarity of building types, materials of construction and commonality of a design vocabulary. There is a lot of aesthetic attention paid to the making of the windows, entrance doors, columns, brackets, grills and other elements. In the embellishments they use only non-figural and abstract geometrical patterns as per the Islamic tradition, which rejects animate objects (gods, people, birds and animals) in carving.

Pic left is a typical entrance to a house in Kapadvanj.

In every vernacular tradition, certain elements/objects get developed in the house that are expressive of the users’ cultural attitudes and also communicate symbolic meanings to the onlookers. A lot of variation was perceived in the types of zarookhas (floor projections) that were incorporated as a part of the design of facades in various Bohra housing in Gujarat. The Bohras developed this element to its full potential. The impact of cultural attitudes is seen in the full enclosure of the balcony in many of the Bohra houses. One hardly sees any person standing in the external zarookha or the balcony and interacting because the Bohra life-style emphasizes privacy, formality and internalization. The enclosed balcony takes the form of a luxurious window-seat referred to earlier in the case of the typical house in Siddhpur. The seat is approached from the deli and a space for it is created next to the entrance steps. This bay window has iron screens on the outside. Spacious and well-lit, the seat with mattresses and pillows is used for a group of women to relax and converse, or for a lone woman to pass her time looking out on the street while doing embroidery.

Since both the Hindu and Bohra house types are based on a common regional house form, there are more similarities than differences, where the differences generally occur through subtle interventions due to the required change in the cultural use of domestic space. It is noteworthy that in spite of the limitations of the shared-parallel-walls typology, a considerable degree of flexibility has been achieved in the spatial layout in response to sub-cultural or climatic variations.

A typical street in a Bohra neighborhood in Sidhpur.

The Bohra habitations represent a living tradition of Gujarat. However, some of the elaborately carved and richly decorated houses are deteriorating at a fast rate and are, at times, being sold to antique dealers who dismantle them completely for selling their decorative elements and teak wood. This situation is getting desperate and urgent steps are required for conservation of this valuable heritage. Conservation of individual monuments or precincts of an urban fabric poses a complex challenge. Unless the people of the community can be motivated to get directly involved and have an urgent desire, substantial and large-scale conservation efforts become impossible. The crucial fact to remember is that the Bohras are conservationists and promoters of art may be unconsciously. If they are further encouraged by a strategy for conserving entire Bohrwads, it will help continue the momentum of cultural preservation in order that some of the best historic examples of regional domestic architecture in Gujarat are not lost.

The book "Traditional architecture: House form of Bohras in Gujarat" can be bought at

National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture
CDSA Campus, S. No. 58 & 49/4, Bawdhan Khurd,
Pune Paud Road, PUNE 411 021
Tel: (20) 2295 2262, (20) 6573 1088


Located at the town center of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Patwon Ki Haveli was constructed by a Marwari business man Guman Chand Patwa and his five sons.

Before the development of the sea trade Jaisalmer was in fact an important part of the silk route connecting India to Persia and the rest of the middle east. The Patwons were rich merchants dealing in gold, brocade and silver.

Built between 1800 to 1860, Patwon ki Haveli has five havelis located within the complex , one for each son. It was estimated that a total sum of Rs 10 million was spent on the construction of the complex. The project took place during the time when the people of Jaisalmer were facing famine and the revenue generated from its construction ensured the survival of many of the people. Hindu and Muslim craftsman hailing from Gujarat, Malwa and Sindh worked hand in hand in constructing these havelis.
Patwon Ki Haveli at JaisalmerAfter the construction of the Bombay shipyard, the trade route shifted to sea and the importance of Jaisalmer as a trade center started to decline. The business families of Patwa then migrated to Madras, Maharashtra and Bengal and the havelis were left largely uninhabited.

Sometime in 1965, while traveling by helicopter over Jaisalmer, the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi saw the splendour of this building and was so beguiled that she took immediate steps to conserve this building. Patwan Ki Haveli was bestowed with the status of Heritage Building by the Rajasthan Government and the management of this Haveli was given to the Raj Kumar Kothari family trust.

Mr Raj Kumar Kothari converted part of the Haveli into 12 galleries displaying some of the his own personal collections. These collections include a turban collection, locks collection, paintings and fans. The turban gallery displays different types of turbans used by people from different castes and cultures of the state. Another gallery displays differeHavelint types of musical instruments used by different folk communities. There is also a gallery displaying different types of locks used in those days. These locks were for secret places like the basement or an alcove behind a painting where owners stored their treasure and other valuables and the location was passed to the next generation by oral communication. One such location on display was a "safe" behind a painting.

The Haveli is a magnificient example of the Indo –Islamic architecture. Inside the havelies apart from galleries,there is also a temple, a drawing room, dining hall, bedrooms and kitchen.

The entry fee for Patwon Ki Haveli is Rs 30 for Indians, and Rs50 for foreigners. Charges for video camera is Rs 40 and still camera is Rs 20. A causal tour of the Haveli will take 30 to 45 minutes.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Day 49-My 8 Proxi-mates

Sweeet, another award, this time from Casey and Doreen a whose blogs I visit, sometimes more than once a day because they are ever so generous with their "How-to"s and "Why-not"s. Oh and Rosanna too has given me this award. Dear sweet Rosanna whom everyone wants to give this award to, including me.

This is another great award that promotes ties and bonds, friendships and camaraderie, the very reason I love these awards. The award is given to blogs which are all of the following:

"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers!”

For the bloggers who provide links, share their work, visit others and leave (or not) comments, I celebrate my 8 proxi-mates and their friendships (in alphabetical order):

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Day 48-An Indian Side Table

This post first appears on Dollhouse Diaries' Projects a few minutes ago.

I made an Indian side table for the evil Maharajah today. This is not the Maharajah whom I am building the palace for but another. You see, Maharajah Ranjit has squandered his privy purse so fast, (on the ladies of course), that he is now a carpet trader travelling between Persia and India. The table is in fact standing on one of Ranjit's priced Turkoman carpet bought from Turkey more than 10 years ago. So you can say it is an antique piece.

This post however is about his table and not about him or his carpet.

Now, the table stands at about 1 7/8" high and the top is about 2 1/8" wide. It is made from dismantling 2 fretwork Chinese fans I bought last week. I cut the ends for the base parts because they are stronger. I then cut the "floral" bits as embellishments for the table top as I have yet to master marquetry. For the top itself, I used the inside of a cover from the container of Body Shop's Coconut Body Scrub which cuts like butter and smells heavenly, until the paint, that is.

Before assembly, I spray painted the parts and after I fit them together, with Tiger Glue, I spray painted the whole table again. If you see the pic on your right, you will see that I had wanted a gold table top at first but the flaws were too obvious and nothing hides flaws like Homogeneous Wenge so there, until I can accomplish the making of Moorish tables like Kimberly (Day 25), I won't be too adventurous with colours.

Well, the table is no masterpiece but then again, Ranjit isn't exactly paying me top dollars either.

And so Ranjit, rather pleased with the table for the pittance he paid (emphasis added), tried it with the vase of flowers a.k.a Mahendra's Roses of Mis-givings which he had taken from the palace.
Oh, it was quite perfect! Too bad Prince wanted a matching carpet (which explains why the vase is with Ranjit) and not a table.

He then tried putting it at the verandah of his bedroom,

O dear, the table almost disappears into the timber flooring so out of the window it went..the idea, not the table.

Ahh yes! Are there not a new batch of gorgeous perfume bottles from all the way down south made by this really talented perfumer, Mercedes? Can we not use the table as a display stand?

Oooh! He cooed. What a versatile table and the perfumes look really expensive on it too , Ranjit thought with a greedy glint.

And while he is already counting the extra rupees he has yet to earn from the wares he has yet to display, what better use for the table than to hold his pot of hot assam tea as he dreams on.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Day 47-Kiva Atkinson's Indian Food

WHAT IS A PARTY without its food? Nothing! And so here they are, my Northern Indian cuisine made by none other than KIVA ATKINSON, IGMA artisan extraordinaire. Thanks to Sumaiya who introduced me to her food on no less than 3 separate occasions, I finally decided I had to have them especially after I saw her Indian feast spread.
I wrote to dear Kiva and once again, was pleasantly surprised at how down to earth and friendly these artisans are and Kiva is no exception. With a bit of not too subtle probing, Kiva shares with me her creative process and this is what she says, in between waiting for my naan bread to come off the oven which she burnt the midnight oil to get done (bless her!):

I work right in front of my computer while staring at pictures I've googled of the actual food I'm making ;-) . I also have a stash of cookbooks I refer to. I make stuff every day, and have even been known to bring clay with me on vacations, lol!! I'm most productive at night, although I work on and off throughout the day. I prefer the quiet, with no distractions (apart from my little wall mounted tv/dvd player) and no one bugging me! When I set my mind on something, I can go pretty fast and I don't stop until I'm done. Tunnel vision! (hey Kiva, so am I!!)

I fell in love with Kiva's work when I 1st saw the mini coconuts she made. As coconut milk is the staple ingredient for making curries, I went to her website to find out more and saw that she has actually done a tutorial on how to make a coconut for the March 2005 issue of America Miniaturist . When I lamented to her that I would never be able to get hold of that magazine here, she very sweetly said:

Susan, I'll try to find that coconut how-to for you, but I can tell you how to make them right now: I roll little balls of brown clay in bits of real, shredded coconut husk, then make three shallow indentations on the surface. To make an open one, I roll out the brown clay, put a "log" of white clay in the center, join both ends of the brown clay so that the white is in the center (like a cream filling), stretch this and roll slightly so that it lengthens, then pinch one end of this log so it's closed. I cut a bit from the log, then pinch the other open end closed. I roll it more into a ball shape, then roll it into the shreddded husk, and add the three indentations. I then bake, cool, and slice in half with a straight razor. Then, I get my Dremel out and "carve" out each half! That's it! Oh wait- I also take my razor and put little "nicks" along the edge of the coconut meat ;-) . If you ever feel like making some food, don't hesitate to ask me, Susan!!

Kiva, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. In your honour, I will name the Maharani, "Kiva" and she will of course, have absolute and complete command of the palace kitchen.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Day 46-The Himalayan Home of Gaiety

Much gaiety, alcohol and merry making in the Chateau de Kapurthala


The Maharajah of Kapurthala and the Maharajas of other States like Patiala, Rajpipla, Panna , Nabha and Jind, gave sumptuous dinner parties at Mussoorie to which they invited the cream of the society of Mussoorie as well as British officers and civilians, both English and Indian, along with their consorts.

I well remember the several dinner parties and receptions held at Chateau de Kapurthala during the period of my stay there. Balls were very popular, particular fancy dress balls where men and women disguised themselves in various types of dresses, a lot of alcoholic drinks and sumptuous food were served and merrymaking went on throughout the night. Men and women- both English and Indian-quickly got intoxicated. Printed Dance Cards were issued to the participants before the ball to make reservations for dancing and it was very seldom that British women refused the invitation of an Indian man to dance and to reserve dance for him in their dance cards.

While dancing was going on, dozens of couples would disappear into the park and miss their dancing reservations. What happened in the park is left to readers to guess, but my Indian friends told me that they had tremendous success with the women. There were benches in the dark, secluded places in the park where the couples enjoyed each others company to their hearts' content...

This is an extract from Chapter 3 of Maharani by Diwan Jarmani Dass. Therefore, ALL the words were HIS and none of them mine. I only deleted one word from the passage in case someone finds it offensive.

Maya, Tara, Jai and Raj Singh's are completely exhausted from the 6 day journey home and the wild party that they had to attend.. so Subha Ratri, everyone and Goodnight!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Day 44 & 45-Temple of Heaven

This post 1st appeared in my projects blog on 24/3/09.

A PROJECT that completely absorbed and exhausted me for the weekend, I am still suffering from its aftermath. For I have worked a marathonic [sic] 33 hours non-stop since 3pm Saturday on building this temple, almost as bad as the Queen Anne. This is not counting Friday night and Saturday morning .

At Day 40 & 42, I recorded the genesis of this project. Yes, it started with a dead (but not rotten nor gone) tree branch which I have made into a tree. My 1st tree and loving it ! When Mercedes' Buddha arrived on the same day I bought the temple kit, I knew I have to start on the temple NEXT.

As you can see, Tree has acquired new occupants, brought home on Thursday evening with a load of other wild animals which I may never get to use. Just as well I got Monkey and Dog to keep Tree company as Buddha is moving !

Friday evening and I was ready to start . I opened up the construction kit and stared at it for a while. The instruction sheet looked simple enough. And it was, for a while..

Shortly past midnight and I have already finished assembling the base and the 1st floor. At this point, I even emailed Mercedes to tell her how "really easy" it was to build with this kit.

After this point however, I was cracking my head on how I should convert an obviously Chinese pagoda into an Indian stupa. Not much I could do at that hour, so I packed everything into a neat corner and went to bed.

Saturday morning, bright and early, I started researching on pagodas in India and this is what I found:

Ancient Chinese architecture boasts a rich variety of styles and high levels of construction... All these architectural forms were recorded in early documents of Chinese history. Pagodas, however, appeared relatively late in China. A Chinese term for pagoda did not exist until the first century. The reason is that this new form of architecture was introduced to China only when Buddhism spread to the country.

The origin of pagodas, like that of Buddhism, can be traced to India. (Aha!) The relation between Buddhism and pagodas is explained in Buddhist literature, which says that pagodas were originally built for the purpose of preserving the remains of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. According to Buddhist scripture, when Sakyamuni's body was cremated after his death, his disciples discovered that his remains crystallized into unbreakable shiny beads. They were called sarira, or Buddhist relics, as were his hair, teeth and bones. Later, the remains of other Buddhist monks of high reputation were also called sarira. Since more often than not, no such precious shiny beads could be found in the ashes of cremated Buddhist monks, other things, such as gold, silver and crystal objects or precious stones, were used instead.

In Sanskrit pagoda (or stupa) meant tomb. Before the pagoda was introduced to China, it had already had a considerable period of development in India. Beside serving as tombs, pagodas were built in grottoes or temples for offering sacrifices to people's ancestors. When the Indian word for pagoda was first translated into Chinese, there were some twenty different versions...

In case you are wondering, the pictures of the pagodas above are those of China, Thailand, India, Japan and Burma respectively. Even more interesting is the transformation of ancient stupas to present day Chinese pagodas:

Even at this time, I still thought I could make some modifi- cations to transform temple left (the real Temple of Heaven in China which the kit is modelled after) to temple right which is the temple I really want. The Mahabodhi Temple (Literally: "Great Awakening Temple") in India is where Siddhartha Gautama, attained enlightenment and became Buddha. It has a huge giant Buddha and next to the temple, to its western side, is the holy Bodhi Tree. Can you see our connection?

SuZ popped by late morning and we both decided to use Fatepur Sikri as a reference point and create a pink sandstone temple. We even mixed the paint together to make sure we got the colour. We then went out to buy groceries and I also went to Spotlight, Carrefour and Daiso to see if I can find textured paint. No luck. Reached home at 3pm and started working on the temple again. By the time I finished, it was 12 midnight on Sunday! I don't think I left that table except to spray paint or visit the loo or look for something.

Anyway, this is how the progress went:

I first painted the base and the 1st floor "Sandstone Pink". In order to add the texture to the surface of the exterior walls, I used paper egg cartons so while I waited for the paint on the temple to dry, I painted the egg cartons and the brass embellishments I intended to use on the walls, the same shade of pink.

I then tore the egg carton into small bits and using craft glue, pasted them onto each and every piece of the square tile forming the base. When the glue dried, I painted over the finished parts to give it an even look. I then glued the embellishments on so that they looked like they were carved out from the "sandstone". I painted everything again after that.

This part of the temple took almost 13 hours to complete and was the most tedious of the whole process but it gave the walls a more realistic feel, I think. See close-up.

I then painted the rest of the temple which became greyer/ blacker at the top. I decided not to texture the upper levels because by the time the kit was assembled, you cannot really see the effect. More importantly, I was quite exhausted by then and the prospect of texturing more walls was no longer tolerated.

Before I worked on the top, I assembled what I was going to put inside the temple and worked on the steps:
The "giant" Buddha which will eventually span 2 1/2 levels:

As you can tell from the picture on top, it was bright and sunny by then (Sunday). It was when I was working on the steps that I thought I would make the beams "wooden" so that this temple has an "old" feel as Buddhist temples are no longer built this way. So I spray painted the beams "October Brown". Below is a close up of the beams:

I don't know how time flew from then on but everything seemed to take longer after that. I guessed I was working on sheer determination by then as my brains, hands and eyes were all failing. By the time I finished spray painting the last batch of beams, it was almost 10pm Sunday night!!

The other tricky part about this kit was fitting the parts together especially the windows to the slots on both the top and bottom pieces. There were altogether about 38 windows and I remembered at one point, I was appealing to Buddha to please help make it easier. Despite the exhaustion, the sight of the mess in the dining room and the fact that I could not tolerate it for another day spurred me to suffer the ordeal some more and so here it is, my "Palace Pagoda"-(Maha Stupa, perhaps?) If you are not bored by now, here's more shots of the temple:

Palace Pagoda with Tree:

Pagoda's carved top which was bought separately, like many many of the things on this temple:

As you can see, the top can be removed

which means that until my palace is built and Pagoda is moved to the palace grounds, it can serve as an incense holder. Pictures below were taken when I lighted the candles and the incense.
And for a full 2 minutes until the candle burnt out, my glowing Pagoda:

I wish though that it is more Maha Bodhi rather than Fogong Pagoda Temple (China)

If you have any suggestions on how I can make it more Maha Bodhi or improve on the process, please do let me know. I can always buy another kit.

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