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Notes on the Geography of Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses

The Kandyan kings allowed only a few of their nobles to build houses of more than a single story or to have windows, ornamented doors, tile roofs, whitewashed walls, or rooftop flags.  The city, in short, was austere, except for the Temple of the Tooth, the royal palace, and a dozen valavvas, or manor houses, belonging to the nobility.  With the arrival of the British in 1815, these restrictions were forgotten, and people did begin building more substantial houses.  A few survive.

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Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 1

A good example is here, even though it's very easy to walk past without paying it any attention.  Still, you can pick out the classical elements of the heavy tiled roof and column-supported veranda.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 2

A cleaner view of the same house, which is on the list of the city's heritage monuments.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 3

Here's another example, with the same elements but including also a staircase up from the street: this, too, was a classic feature of the city's traditional building style.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 4

Very few such buildings survive--probably not more than a dozen.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 5

The steps lead to a lattice-screened veranda.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 6

Beyond the veranda, there's a doorway into another room.  A decorative lattices provide some ventilation.

 

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 7

The archway into the next room is characteristic: the same thing is found in parts of the Old Palace, for example, where it is trimmed with scallops and plaster figures of animals.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 8

Somewhere in the house, there is a courtyard for domestic chores.

Sri Lanka: Kandy: Traditional Houses picture 9

One of those chores was grinding grain--not rice, but the companion staple korukkan, or finger millet.  This crop was the sole staple in Sri Lanka before the arrival of rice, and it continued thereafter to be the chief crop grown in chenas, or patches of shifting cultivation.  It continues to be grown today but is such a popular food, prepared in many ways after being milled to flour, that Sri Lanka now imports much of it from India.


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