Looming grey clouds on the horizon and a patchwork of tilled fields, soon to be transplanted with paddy, accompany me as I make my way to the Nadkerianda Ainmane (clan house), in Karada, Kodagu.
Ainmanes are the traditional homes belonging to a particular Kodava okka (clan or family), situated on the jamma (ancestral) land of the okka. They are a composite cluster of structures and designated areas, where traditional rituals and ceremonies are performed.
Think wood, mud and stone aesthetically put together, to create a space that brings clans together. A house in which timeless rituals are practiced and festivals are celebrated. Each member of the okka has access to and the right to live in and around the Ainmane on jamma land. This includes daughters who have married into other okkas, but have returned home to their paternal Ainmane, due to unforeseen circumstances.
There are two types of Ainmanes that are commonly found:
Othe pore: A single roofed rectangular house–a one winged house, othe meaning single and pore being a hut or thatched roof.
Mund mane: A courtyard house, at the center of which is the mund, a square, sunken inner courtyard open to the sky.
Ainmanes have been in existence since the 8th century CE. Architecturally, they evolved from simple mud houses to the more complex designs that exist from the late 18th century. They are characterized by kayyales (verandahs) with tapering, square carved pillars, which support the atta (attic), aimaras (wooden planks) between the carved pillars, elaborately carved wooden doors and windows and sloping tiled roofs.
As I make my way towards the Ainmane from the road, I climb the kalonni (stone steps) with the kaimada (sacred ancestral shrine) on my left and approach the ubba, a stone and bamboo turnstile that leads to the imposing bakka pore (guardhouse). Thoughts of days gone past, with a manned strategic look out point and rousing calls of danger, cross my mind. Situated above the paddy fields, Ainmanes are elevated to provide a good view of the surrounding area.
The enclosed bakka pore has sheltered guardrooms on both sides, with an arched entranceway that leads to the patti or paved stone yard, in front of the house. The kall boti (stone post), in this case surmounted by a stone lotus bud, is the focal point here and is used for rituals during Puthari, the harvest festival.
I could not locate the kanathare (circular stone well), normally situated to the north east of the house. Instead the pathaya–a large wooden structure for storing harvested paddy (in this case painted white with wooden slats), makes an appearance to the right, after the bakka pore.
Earlier the gudda (bathing shed), atha kott (cattle shed), koundi kott (shed were quilts are stored), ora kott (shed where paddy is threshed) and ale pore (individual dwellings) were structures that were a part of the Ainmane complex. Today, most members of the clan live in individual homes, a good distance away from the Ainmane.
The karana thare (ancestor platform) is another important feature in some Ainmanes. In most cases, these have made way for the kaimada, the sacred shrine dedicated to the ancestors of the clan. Traditionally, Kodavas are nature and ancestor worshippers; although now elements of Brahmanical Hinduism constitute a part of religious practices that people follow.
The Nadkerianda Ainmane is a well-restored imposing structure, with beautifully carved wooden pillars, doors and windows. Despite the fact that there is no one living in the main house, the sacred lamp is lit every morning, after the ritual cleaning of the house. The doors are open through the day, enticing people to walk in and experience the beauty of a traditional Ainmane. However, permission to visit the Ainmane is required from a clan member, who currently lives behind the Ainmane.
The kaimada of this particular Ainmane, is located near the graves of important clan members. It is a square roofed structure, with four pillars facing east and is built on a raised plinth. Inside it is a small raised, covered altar, within which a lamp is placed. The shrine has a passage for circumambulation around the altar.
The day I visited was a few days after an offering had been made to the ancestors. Cooked meat and alcohol, to propitiate ancestors are left at the kaimada, the evidence of which I could see, from the plantain leaves laid out before the steps of the kaimada.
In the second part of this blog on Ainmanes, I delve into the architectural details that characterize these ancient houses, which have stood the test of time and are still very much a part of the socio-cultural fabric of Kodava life.