FRIDAY REVIEW

Echoing the poetic Malnad

Kuvempu.

Kuvempu.  

HE LIVED the life of a true Vishwa Manava for nine fulfilling decades, wrote some of the greatest works of Kannada, forged a new poetic tradition, and reigned supreme in the world of modern Kannada literature like a colossus. Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa, better known as Kuvempu, is dear to every Kannadiga.

Kuvempu hails from a small village nestling in the Western Ghats - Kuppalli in Theerthahalli taluk of Shimoga District. Kuppalli is like any other single-house village in Malnad, against the backdrop of thick evergreen forests. One understands why Kuvempu was so deeply inspired by nature when one visits the village and his typical Malnad house there.

Today, Kuvempu's Kuppalli home is a museum. It displays his works, pictures, and articles of use. It has been restored by the Kuvempu Prathisthana, which was formed in 1992 to take up preservation and promotion of Kuvempu's literature, development of his ancestral house in Kuppalli into a national monument, and conservation of the enchanting surroundings of Kuppalli. The work stands as a splendid example of genuine restoration work.

On reaching Kuppalli (on the Koppa-Theerthahalli Road), it is the poignant silence that hits you first. Quiet, untouched by urbanity, Kuvempu's home signifies the calm and poise of the homes in Malnad that bond with the natural surroundings and create a rare composure in the landscape.

With gurgling stream flowing by the side, tall arecanut trees fielding one edge, thick forests etched in the backyard, and narrow trails by the house that take off at tangents into the forests, a separate bathing area in the backyard and a cowshed by its side, it is not only a museum related to the great poet, but is a fine example of Malnad architecture itself.

Kuvempu's ancestral home, which was in a dilapidated condition, was acquired by the Prathisthana after paying suitable compensation to the legal heirs of the joint family. And restoration work commenced in 1996. An estimated Rs. 75 lakh has been pumped into the project ever since.

Cement walls have replaced the original mud ones, but most pillars have been retained. The roof has been redone completely, while the exterior of the house - the courtyard in front - has been modified (rather out of context) to pave the way for a slightly modern looking garden.

Articles used by Kuvempu's family have been displayed. But what makes the museum all the more special is the fact that it also houses several items used in Malnad homes, showcasing lifestyle and architecture of Malnad as a whole.

Kuvempu's home is a quintessential Malnad home in many ways, basically geared to brave the extreme monsoons that dominate half the year. Everything about the Malnad lifestyle - the way the houses are built, the cuisine, the recreation forms and so on - revolve around this overpowering natural phenomena.

In its stout walls, the low ceiling, and the clear compartmentalisation of the house (the inner house consisting of the kitchen, and the rooms for the family members and the outer portion accessible to all at all times), the Kuppalli home symbolises this typicality.

A View of the Kuppalli house... showcases the Malnad lifestyle.

A View of the Kuppalli house... showcases the Malnad lifestyle.  

The windows are usually small in size, making the homes relatively dim lit. This is essentially to counter the weather again. Care is taken not to let too much of wind or rain gain access to the main living area (inner house) in the house. It is thus shielded from all sides. At the Kuppalli home, intricately carved pillars decorate the frame of the inside thotti (the open tank-like porch in the centre of the house).

The hoge atta (literally meaning the "smoked attic") at the Kuppalli home is, for instance, an architectural feature characteristic to most Malnad homes. It is a porous attic situated directly above the cooking area. Smoke from the stove (when firewood is used) is sucked up into this attic, thereby also serving the purpose of a chimney.

During the rains, when moisture claims both the perishable and non-perishable commodities in the home, this storage place assumes great importance. The pickle jars, papads, grains, and other food items, which would succumb to the moisture in the air, are kept here. This is a unique innovation simply because it not only uses the smoke from the kitchen and distributes it such that it doesn't suffocate inside, it also provides for an indigenous preservation method during the monsoon months.

Another significant detail in the life of Malnad is the kambli (woollen rug). During the monsoons, it serves as a raincoat of sorts. At other times, it is used as a blanket. One sees kamblis in all their forms in the museum, with attention to details such as the typical hook on which the kamblis are hung.

The marada doni (a huge storage structure meant to store rice/grain that is carved out of a single tree), the channe mane (a game board), the beththada butti (a sort of suitcase woven from cane), kalabi (a typical storage structure, again carved out of the trunk of a single tree), kovi (a country muzzle loader used to hunt small game), and different types of hale toppi (caps made from dry areca leaves) are all a part of the museum.

The kitchen is another treasure trove. Vessels original to the Kuppalli home, used by the family, are displayed. Ladles of different shapes and sizes, a huge idli-making vessel called saragolu, sambar marige (a wooden box with compartments for spices which has a movable circular lid), different sizes of kavalis (pans) made of kadapa kallu (black stone), kadagolu kamba for churning buttermilk, baagu mairge used to filter ganji are all neatly displayed.

The story goes that when the Kuvempu family resided in the house, they cooked upto 50 kg. of rice on some days, since they were a family of 75 people at one point of time.

The Kuppalli house is big. It is anybody's guess that only an affluent family in Malnad would build such a majestic house.

The typical inner courtyard of the Kuppalli house with intricately carved pillars.

The typical inner courtyard of the Kuppalli house with intricately carved pillars.  

The first and the second floor of the house have a number of pictures on display which include Kuvempu's works, awards, books etc., making one proud of the literary legend that he was. The mantap in which Kuvempu got married is kept in one corner of the porch in the outer house.

A visit to Kuppalli transports one in time. It reminds one of the rich cultural heritage of the hills, and preserves, in spirit, Kuvempu's efforts to mirror the diversity in the hills of Malnad.

Kuvempu's works have showcased the lifestyle and highlighted the people of Malnad for their simplicity and ingenuinity. So, it is quite in tune with his works that the home at Kuppalli preserves.

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