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Village Houses

At present one cannot see much differences between houses built in villages and the ones built in urban areas within Jaffna peninsula, as the houses built out of concrete blocks with clay tiles or asbestos roof covering are common in villages and urban areas alike. Till about 50 years back, majority of the village houses were shelters, built out of  temporary materials such as clay for walls and coconut or palmyrah leaves for roof covering. These type of shelters are still in use in many  villages in Jaffna peninsula and in the main land area which is called Vanni.

Typical shelter of an average middle class Jaffna villager was a cluster of mostly small structures of temporary materials and other utilities, built within an enclosure of high live fence clad with palmyrah  leaves or stalk or woven coconut leaves. This enclosure was entered through a wooden gate, which in some cases set to open out side, and fitted with a simple self closing mechanism consisting of a counter weight. This gate is named as "Sangadap padalai in Tamil, which literally means " a difficult gate", makes it difficult for the stray animals to enter in to the enclosure. 

The number of  constituent structures and other elements, of the cluster within the enclosure, depends on the affordability and social status of the occupants. An average village house cluster would include three main spaces as separate compartments, namely ;

  1. Main house or "Veedu" in Tamil language.

  2. Visitors' and male occupants' space or "Thalai vasal" and

  3. Kitchen.  

Other than these three basic elements the following additional elements also may be seen within the enclosure.

  1. A well with a lever mechanism for drawing water. 

  2. Cattle sheds

  3. Storage sheds for agricultural produce and implements

  4. A lavatory

The main house or "veedu"

The most important element of a village house is "veedu" which means house. Mostly this is a one room shelter, rectangular in plan, completely covered with thick clay wall with an entrance door provided almost in the middle of the longer side. This wall is normally kept low, in some cases less than even an average person's height. The roof is always fairly steep and the centre part of the room always get adequate clear height. Out side this room on either side of the entrance with the external wall wide platforms are constructed  for sitting, sleeping etc. The lower floor between these two platforms function as a walkway towards the entrance to the room. This structure is generally used by female occupants and for keeping valuable possessions. In the case of families from lower economic strata, the house may consists of only this single structure within the live fence enclosure. 

"Thalai vasal" 

This structure is covered only on top by a roof, clad with leaves of palmyrah or coconut palms, supported by four or more Jungle wood posts. Around the space a low, wide wall is constructed for people to sit or lay down on it. This space is mainly used by male occupants and also used to entertain guests. The name "thalai vasal" litteraly means main entrance. This may be so because the space functions as a transitional space between out side and inside and it is an entry point for the relationship with the internal areas.

Kitchen

Kitchen also has a thatch roof supported on four or more posts and a half wall is built around the space. A screen made out of palmyrah stalk is provided above this low wall. The screen protects the kitchen from birds and animals entering in, but facilitates air flow through the gaps between palmyrah stalks. A built-in traditional hearth is provided at the floor level in the north eastern corner of the room. 



 

Lay out of elements

The three main covered and semi covered structures are arranged around a central open space in such a way that all these three shelters face towards this central court yard which is called a "Muttam" in Tamil language. Although the covered structures are small in size and seems inadequate for larger family sizes of the past. Our thinking is based on the present day notion of the living spaces which incorporate different set of priorities. The priorities of the village communities are different. The concept of living space in a village house does not limit itself with the covered spaces but includes court yards and other open spaces around it and the climate of Jaffna allows for such an extension of activities to open spaces during most part of the year. Further the concept provide for better control and coordination of activities within the enclosure. The mother cooking inside the kitchen  can keep a watch on her child playing around, the old grand mother doing some work sitting on the 'thinnai' can keep an eye on agricultural produce that is allowed to dry in the court yard. This concept work well with their economic condition also. 

Another important factor influencing the layout is the astrology and certain rules based on the traditional Hindu building codes known as "Vasthu sasthra". However in village houses very simple rules are followed. Before someone start building a house he should first determine the location for the well within the plot. Generally the well is located within the north eastern sector of the plot. However the final location of the well depends on the locations of the kitchen and the main house. The well has to be to the north east of the kitchen and the kitchen to be located to the north east of the main house. Certain astrological considerations which depend on the time of birth of the chief occupant of the house have an effect on the orientation of the main house. "vasthu sastra" does not recommends any structure in the centre of the plot, which corresponds to the concept of  central court yard. It seems that, as this requirement already had been incorporated as part of the proto type design, it had not been insisted separately. This may have made it easy for the removal of the central court yard in later houses once the earlier proto types became "out of Fashion"

Round House of Jaffna

As a variation to the main stream rectangular village structures, we can come across round shaped shelters as the main element of the cluster in certain areas of the Jaffna peninsula and Vanni. During the early part of 20th century these round houses had been found in many villages in the divisions of Thenmaradchi, Vadamaradchi and Pachchilaippalli in Jaffna peninsula and in the Mullaitivu district of Vanni. At present this house type has been vanished from most of these villages. In 1975 we visited the village of Ampan in search of round houses and found only two one of which in almost abandoned condition. As per the village head man who guided us to these houses, there had been numerous houses of this type about ten years earlier. Two or Three years later some students of architecture who were involving in a study of these houses found more of them in "Thanneeroottu" village and nearby areas in Mullaitivu District.

It seems that in no other Regions of Srilanka round houses are presently in use or had been used in the past. Therefore a proper study on this subject may reveal interesting information on the migration of people from out side the island and the composition of Jaffna population.

Except for the shape and the construction method of the roof structure, the round houses are in many ways similar to the village shelter found elsewhere in Jaffna region. The use of the elements such as "thinnai" (raised platform) and "nadai" (lowered walkway) are also similar. There are no differences in the concept of cluster arrangement and the spatial relationships with different elements of the cluster.

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Last updated on 04 February 2005
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