After the devastating earthquake of 1819, the people of Kutch came up with an innovative circular design of bhungas to minimize the damage to their lives as well as properties. The reworked design of bhungas that is about 200 years old stood very firm during the earthquake of 2001 when it was very close to the epicentre.
Bhungas are traditional houses, a unique type of round mud hut identified with the Kutch desert areas of Gujarat. The houses are circular walled with thatched roof. These beautiful houses are built using mud and other locally available materials like clay, bamboo, timber etc. These austere huts are decorated with various embellishments that showcase the life and culture of the people of Kutch. They are mainly found in the desert islands in the northern part of Kutch like Banni and Paccham.
These houses are commonly called as ‘Architecture without Architect’ because of the superior architectural knowledge gained by the locals through the years. These are considered to be architectural and structural marvels as they are not only earthquake resistant (because of their circular form, it is good in resisting lateral forces of an earthquake) but also preserve the internal environment of the house. The design of the house is such that it keeps the interior cool in summers and warm in winters and they are tremendously strong and can withstand natural calamities like desert storms and earthquakes.
The typical traditional dwelling has a single cylindrical shaped room. It has a conical roof that is placed on two thick wooden posts across the circular walls. These two posts bear the weight of the roof. Wooden framed windows are set at lower levels for cross ventilation. The low hanging roofs that extend beyond the walls as well as the round design protects it from direct sunlight and harsh desert winds while maintaining a comfortable temperature inside.
The thatched roof is built on top of the walls resting on a spiral frame using bamboo sticks to form a cone. These sticks are tied together with dried grass rope and a thick layer of grass is placed on the roof. Walls of a bhunga are also made of bamboo sticks which are held together with dried grass ropes. Then cow dung and mud are used as the wall plaster.
The bhunga does require periodic maintenance with regular application of lime plastering to the walls and floor as well as replacement of the dried grass on the roof. As one walks by the mud huts, one is captivated by the beautiful paintings that adorn the walls, the exquisitely detailed mud and mirror work seen inside and the richness of colours, textures and creativity that forms an integral part of the lifestyle, heritage and social dynamics of the people of Kutch.
This seamless integration of climate, social life, crafts and architecture is seen in the aesthetically designed circular mud and thatch hut, in the clay decoration, in the colourfully embroidered dresses, in the printed textiles, in pottery, in stonework, in woodwork and in silver jewellery to mention a few.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)