FRIDAY REVIEW

Homes with views

Heritage buildings: Agraharams were once bastions of learning and culture.

Heritage buildings: Agraharams were once bastions of learning and culture.  

NITA SATHYENDRAN

‘Agraharangalude vilapam,’ a documentary, delves into the vanishing heritage of agraharams.



AgraharaM, an ubiquitous feature of most South Indian towns and which literally means a garland with open ends, is floundering in the wake of globalisation.





They were once the bastions of learning, knowledge, art and culture, yet they were simple homesteads at the heart of South Indian society. They are the agraharams – the traditional homes of South Indian Brahmins; invariably row houses with slanting roofs and common walls lining both sides of the street that leads to a temple.

Lamentably, today, these heritage buildings are mere shadows of their former austere glory. These living remnants of a fast fading culture have been poignantly captured in the award-winning documentary ‘Agraharangalude vilapam,’ (‘Agrahara- a lament’) directed by M. Venukumar.

Ubiquitous feature

“The idea for this documentary was born out of nostalgia. The very style of architecture of these structures once encompassed a kind of world that was quite insular,” says Venukumar. “Sadly, the agraharam, an ubiquitous feature of most South Indian towns and which literally means a garland with open ends, is floundering in the wake of globalisation. The theruvus (streets with agraharams) are usually situated in the heart of towns, making them ideal locations for starting a business. However, the agraharams are gradually being torn down to make way for multi-storeyed edifices, a prime example being the Fort Area of Thiruvananthapuram,” adds the journalist-turned-director who won State awards for the documentaries ‘Jeevana kalayude Pulluva Geetham’ and ‘Nadatham Jeevante Agni.’

In this 22-minute documentary filmed in Puthen Street and Karamana in Thiruvannathapuram, Kalpathi in Palakkad and in various locales in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Venukumar has chosen to personify the agaraharams, giving them a feminine voice. Why? “Because we identify houses with the feminine. The angst of the mother of the house is the most poignant and the house is usually an extension of her personality.”

The ‘agraharam’ takes the viewers into the interiors of these houses; explains the layout with its open-ended plan; shows them the nuances of its personality with carvings, paintings and many a unique feature that is in complete harmony with nature; its secrets; its inhabitants and their distinctive rituals. The ‘agraharam’ ends its account with pathos. It shows viewers visible signs of decay including termite laden wood beams, unkempt environs and general disrepair. Finally, the most heartbreaking is how it is all being torn down to make way for glitzy new buildings.

“There are laws in place to protect these heritage buildings from being destroyed. Sadly there is no tangible effort by the Government or individuals to enforce the law,” rues Venukumar. The documentary was produced by Maharaja Sivanandan, filmed by Sree Raj Panikar, narrated by Anandavalli and researched by T.S Subramoney.



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