Time stands still outside this house, hat in hand

Holding on to the past: The agraharam-style house still retains its old-world charm with a thinnai and untouched interiors. photos: k.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

In any sphere of life, there is no escaping modernisation. Our living spaces demonstrate this truth powerfully. Yet, despite the relentless and inevitable march of time and change, certain dwellings remain rooted in the past.

An independent house on T.P. Koil Street, Triplicane, is one such dwelling. Around 200 years old, this house is said to have been occupied by the families of chief priests at the Parthasarathy Temple. Despite the considerable lapse of time, the structure has retained much of its original character.

On the outside, the recently painted walls may suggest an effort to go with the times. However, on stepping inside, one is ushered into a different world and times.

It has elements characteristic of houses in any old agraharam.

It has a thinnai, a raised platform before the main entrance, which is still used by members of the house to attend to guests and sometimes to rest in the evenings. The house is supported by multiple cement columns called thoon, beautifully engraved and imparting an art-like look to the house. The red-oxide flooring, said to have been polished around 25 years ago, looks well-preserved.

The living spaces are divided into two sections: mel kudam, which is used as space for performing puja, and kalyana kudam, which serves as the central hall.

In keeping with an ancient norm of architecture, the house does not have an attached bathroom or a toilet, and one has to walk to the backyard for using them.

The bathroom and toilet, which have been retained in their old place, have however been modified with modern fittings.

The ceiling is around 20 feet high and has wooden columns. The wall is one-foot thick and made with lime mortar and later plastered with cement. The thick wall and high roof helps maintain the temperature inside the house. The heavy doors, made of teakwood, have stood up admirably to time and weather. The house has a narrow space around it for maids to walk through and is still used for the same purpose.

The wall at the backyard has a few cracks. The residents say they haven’t been able to find a labourer who knows how to touch up this old-style house. The cracks have been plastered with white cement.

While the ground floor retains its old character, the first floor has been completely modified as the wooden columns on the ceiling gave way under the repeated onslaught of inclement weather conditions. It has been removed and replaced with cement roof. The flooring has also been changed and is now tiled. The terrace has been developing cracks and a portion of it had to be scrapped off and re-laid.

The owner of the house, Parthasarathy Patachariyar, chief priest of the Parthasarathy Temple, says they had a similar house attached to this one, but that had to been demolished and reconstructed into a flat as it was badly damaged. There were two doors connecting the two houses and the one, leading to the backyard, has been retained. As the house he lives in is closely connected with the temple, he plans to retain it for as long as possible. “It does not need much alteration. The only problem is cleaning the cobwebs from the high ceiling and dusting the cravings on the pillar. ”

(In the run-up to the Madras Week celebration, starting August 17, we will feature centuries-old houses in Triplicane and neighbouring regions. If yours fits into this category, please write to us at

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 3:05:41 AM |

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