The Nadkerianda Ainmane in Karada, Coorg is a magnificent specimen of a mund mane or house with an inner courtyard. Typically, most Ainmanes face east, unless there is a shrine nearby, in which case the entrance faces the shrine.
Like most traditional houses, Ainmanes have a host of interesting architectural details, where form follows function. They were built by craftsmen from Kerala and used wood extensively.
Instead of a foundation, they were built on a raised mud plinth, about a meter in height above the ground. Mud mixed with the resinous bark of the kulur mavu tree (found in Coorg), was applied in layers to form the plinth. On drying, this mixture becomes as hard as concrete. The base was left exposed for a summer and a monsoon, which gave it additional strength. The raised plinth protected the house from the heavy monsoon rains.
As I climb the steps to the kayyale (verandah), what strikes me first is the beautifully carved wooden frame of the main door. A profusion of patterned flowers, creepers and other decorative elements exist in semi-relief.
The kayyale itself is impressive. Characteristic chadara kamba or large, square, wooden pillars taper upward, fronting the kayyale. Between these are placed the aimaras. These are long, polished slabs of wood fixed on low parapets, between pillars and are used for seating.
Each pillar has a finger like projection, which curves upwards at two levels, midway and higher up, serving as hooks. This piqued my curiosity. I discover that in earlier times, in keeping with the martial heritage of the Kodavas, these hooks served a specific purpose. Women of the clan would hang up kupodis or parcels of cooked rice and curd with dried meat or fish, wrapped in banana leaves. This was convenient for men to pick up quickly, if they were called to war at short notice. A tiny, architectural detail that saved lives.
Aimaras have a special significance in Kodava culture. The first aimara to the left of the steps leading to the kayyale, is dedicated to the karanava, the founder of the clan. It is treated as reserved seating for the pattedar or head of the family.
Looking down at me from the walls of the kayyale are numerous photographs of illustrious ancestors, with rather disconcerting expressions. The kayyale has an ornamentally carved, wooden screen window. This allows the residents to look out at anybody entering the Ainmane, without being seen.
The main door leads into the nellaki nadu bade (central room), lit up beautifully with the light streaming in from the open top of the mund (courtyard). A central hallway surrounds the mund, with four magnificently polished wooden pillars at each corner. Here too, the aimaras make an appearance. The pillar in the southeast called the kanni kamba, is considered sacred and is dedicated to the karanava. All the other rooms lead off this central hallway.
In most Ainmanes, directly opposite the main entrance, on the western wall around the mund is a niche, which has the nellaki bolcha (sacred lamp) that is lit every morning and burns through till dusk. This particular Ainmane has a beautiful thook bolcha (hanging lamp). The room in the south west corner, called the kanni kombare, is also considered sacred and is assigned to the karanava and the ancestors.
The entire ceiling or machi of the Ainmane is built of long, heavy beams and cross beams, with wooden planks laid over it to form the floor of the atta (attic). The attic is essentially used to store paddy, rice, salt and other household objects/utensils that are not in frequent use. It is accessed by a long narrow stairway, sans railings, either from the central room, kanni kombare or the kitchen.
The roof of the Ainmane is tiled and slopes downwards on all four sides, as well as around the mund. This allows rainwater to flow down and drain off easily. Another unique architectural detail lies in the way the roof trusses are held together. Wooden bolts at the two nodal points hold the entire structure together, without the use of additional nails. The roof can be taken down easily by dismantling these two bolts.
Similarly, the doors in the Ainmane have no hinges. Each door has two vertically separated halves, made of solid wood, with pegs at the top and bottom. These serve as pivots, allowing the doors to swivel within the sockets chiseled in the door frame.
Interestingly, some Ainmanes have secret passages leading from the courtyard to the outside, which allowed women and children to escape in times of war. I was disappointed not to find one here.
After leaving the Ainmane, what stays with me for days after, is the excellent quality of restoration work undertaken in this particular house. The interplay of wood, brick, mud and stone, work together to create a beautiful, hallowed space. Lit from the inside, this indeed is an edifice that has been built, with insightful thought and great attention to detail. The saying ‘God is in the details’, seems more than appropriate in this case.