Spaces of Power and Authority: Colonial Bungalows in Travancore

Rajesh Komath
Abhilash Thomas P

In scholarly discourses the bungalow is frequently considered as an architectural form with a significant imperial import. At the same time the bungalows are a remnant of colonial life and cultural exchange between the natives and the British. Bungalow, in the colonial setting characterized the opposite of the more or less communal living that was exhibited in the urban and rural houses of a sizable number of Indian indigenous towns. While traditional home designs resembling bungalows do exist in West Bengal, Karnataka, and Kerala, their settings are not the same as those of British residents. This paper unravels historical and architectural symbols in Travancore that record a specific time and space under colonial regimes. It resembles symbols of power and centering authority in the social relations of colonial production of space.

Keywords: space, colonialism, architecture, symbols and authority


As a ruling power, the British constructed buildings in the territories held by it. Small and large of these buildings were meant either for trade or for crude administration. Gradually, as the British power got momentum, there was an increased exigency to display the social power and authority. This is therefore, considered as a kind of production of space in the colonial settings1. Spatial practices, which is human and social relations in the making of a space means relations and means of production of things, which create physical and mental spaces. It is a perceived space. Representations of space are a conceived space by the architect, design and application of science and knowledge in the creation of the space. Representational spaces are lived space in which symbols, signs, word, and non-verbal articulations of the life are embedded. We try to view colonial spaces and bungalows in this theoretical context and try to interpret this space as spaces of power and authority. Imperial constructions of building and associated spaces have created a sense of authority of the spaces for the British as well as the native Indians.

According to Shanti Jayewardene-Pillai, in her Imperial Conversations: Indo-Britons and the Architecture of South India, the earliest instance in which a government building was used to symbolize the colonial power was in the early 1800s when a new government building was constructed for the then Governor General of Calcutta. This building was constructed in the classical architectural style. Thus, consequently, this also became the first instance when the classical architecture was used as a symbol for colonial political power.2  This argument also holds true for the British bungalows that came up in the princely states including Travancore. 

The British viewed the bungalows as sites that marked their superior position. And, in the late nineteenth century, Indian intellectuals and professionals viewed the British bungalows and the lifestyle inside the bungalows as something to imitate because these intellectuals were concerned about their self-identity that was deprecated due to the image of them being seen as despots, barbaric and effeminate by the British. The bungalows represented the most modern way of life according to the popular beliefs of the time and belief, because we see in the British policies and racial concerns such as ideas of superiority, enlightenment, civilization and modernity. The British denied the same to the natives. As the natives took to western education and employment opportunities offered by the colonial government, we see the idea of backwardness being internalised by the natives. So, in order to make one-self believe and convince of one’s dignity and to reaffirm the individual’s dignity the adoption of the western lifestyle that was most visible in the British and the means which promoted such a lifestyle into the native way of life. A significant factor to note is that these processes were playing in the psyche of the coloniser and the colonised. 

By the 1930s, the middle classes had elevated their social status and standing through western education and government jobs and adopted the bungalow as their residence. In this process the bungalow was customised into a model. This process took place throughout colonial India and yet, the pace at which this process was being implemented in the different provinces and princely states was not the same.3This difference was due to the different and divergent social and political factors that determined the way and pattern of dwelling and housing. The notion of a dwelling in the middle of a plot was attributed to the local determinants of dwelling. In this process the bungalow ingrained itself into the collective consciousness of the native population and took on a variety of sociocultural connotations along with its divergent spatial, stylistic, and technical variants.4Even when the bungalows were undergoing a process of getting ‘nativised’ the colonial bungalow continued to emit their superiority with their astounding regional diversity and expression of power.5

Apart from the public buildings the most conspicuous visual element of colonial architecture in Travancore is the bungalow. Both colonial and native bungalows creates the different urban centres and sometimes became the landmarks of these sites in Travancore. Heavy and opulent mansions in the form of Kovilakams and Tharavadus6 had once constituted the visual evidence of the occupants’ caste and ritual superiority along with the territorial authority they held in the local political structure in Travancore. But once colonialism became deep rooted in the kingdom, the visual and material evidences of social superiority became vested in the houses that were constructed in the western style. This shift is synchronous with the shift in the political balance. The brahmins and the rulers came to be relegated in the face of the powerful British colonial empire. The shift in the political balance resulted in the power of the brahmins and the ruling elite being limited to the religious sphere. And the realm of religion and traditions were separated from the general administration of the princely state. The notion of a civic administration that catered to the needs of the people was also engendered in Travancore. In this context the best medium that was available to showcase and display the individual’s or the community’s superiority was bungalow. Being a British creation, the bungalow encapsulated the ideals of modernity and progress. In a social and political atmosphere where being liberal-in the way the British understood, more people adhered to bungalows to display their social status. 

Hobson Jobson, a glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases gives an eighteenth-century description of the term bungalow. According to the description the bungalow is a single storeyed building that is raised by two to three feet from the ground and which has a central room for eating which also functioned as  a sitting room, along with rooms around the corners for sleeping; the building is also said to have a common roof that descended on to all sides and open ‘portices’ and ‘viranders’ with on the sides; sometimes the sides being converted into whole rooms.7

The first attempts by British military engineers to create a standardised and permanent home was based on local domestic buildings for the East India Company in the eighteenth century. In its later incarnations, these houses or the bungalows became modest, one-story, spacious homes with a veranda all around that was symmetrically laid out, internally split, and located in a wide complex. Almost everywhere British imperial rule was in place at the time, this fundamental concept was likewise implemented, with certain changes.8However, as regards the other architectural elements the origins of which are not separate and isolated in time and space, the bungalows do not possess any particular point in space and time during which this architectural typology can be clearly located. Yet, the question of the origin of bungalow is answered by two widely used legends.

The first legend states that the bungalow was actually a peasant shelter that was native to Bengal. According to the legend the name itself, here the term bungalow, indicates that it originated in Bengal, for the term ‘bangla’ in Bengali means ‘belonging to Bengal’. In this account, the bungalow is a single-storeyed mud pavilion with a curved thatched roof and large windows and verandas that run on all sides. The large windows were meant for flushing air during the humid weather conditions of the Bengali floodplains. The English East India Company adopted it and caused the architecture to take its roots throughout the British colonial empire. However, the adoption of the bungalow by the East India Company transposed the function of the bungalow and the meaning conveyed by it. The bungalow at the hands of the surveyors and army engineers of the East India Company became loaded with symbolism that articulated the ideas of the colonial racial and political domination by the British. In doing so the bungalow changed its purpose from a straightforward, logical response to the humid climate to the tool for the expansion of the British colonial imperialism.9

The second legend traces bungalows all the way to England.10 In this narrative, bungalow is traced back to the single - storeyed detached country house that was popularized in the nineteenth century by the English architect John Taylor. This was the period when the middle class of England were looking more towards leisure. Considering the significance of leisure, Taylor, along with others, developed the single storeyed detached country houses.11According to this narrative, bungalows were being constructed in nineteenth century England. Kathryn Ferry argues that, in England bungalows frequently served as second homes. These buildings functioned as a sort of pleasurable exotic retreat that was altered in form and style by the period’s Arts and Crafts architects.12There is a common element that connects both the origin myths- bungalow was a type of house that was easy to build, live and also to relax in.13

Even before its conquest of Bengal the Bengali peasant hut was chosen by the East India Company as the place of residence for its officials from the early seventeenth century on. These residences were referred to as “bangala” that meant ‘from Bengal’. The original design was a one-storey brick building with a thatched roof that was bent and a veranda. With the corners meant for sleeping, there was a huge centre chamber for sitting and eating. While the main central room/hall served as the drawing or living and dining room, the British residents enclosed the corners and occasionally the side section of the verandahs to create bedrooms and baths14. This was the fundamental shape from which the flat-roofed and sloping-roofed bungalows evolved.

However, term bungalow conveyed different ideas in different times. Over the time and space, the term has expanded and meant varied things and elements. For instance, by the advent of the twentieth century, the term meant a variety of dwellings in the subcontinent.15The Anglo-Indian bungalows were adapted in civil stations for administrative controls, as in Calcutta and New Delhi, in cantonments -army bases, like in Bangalore, and in hill stations as summer retreats. Anthony D. King in his The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture argues that the term bungalow alludes to the Anglo-Indian model of dwelling and not the original Indian dwelling. During the course of time, the opulent natives of the subcontinent adopted this kind of residential building and converted it to a permanent and decorated form for them to live.16Despite the change in meaning, for a long time, bungalow meant a building, specifically a house with two or more storeys constructed within a large compound.17

Overtime, the bungalows became an architectural type in the subcontinent. An architectural type, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, is defined as a pattern or prototype or original work serving as a model after which a building or a set of buildings are copied.18 It is also argued that the cultural and environmental factors of a particular period also led to the formation of an architectural type.19 In the context of colonial Travancore the original colonial bungalows became an architectural type which then served as the models for native constructions.

A perusal of the historical accounts such as the personal memoirs of Christian missionaries and the records of the Travancore encyclopaedia compiled by both the native and British reveals that bungalows and the several variants of bungalows were constructed and used in Travancore. These bungalows did not exist as any single architectural style nor was built in one architectural style. Different in structure and purposes, certain spatial qualities, architectural terminology, and use of space remained similar between these variants.

In Travancore the bungalows became the most sublime specimens of domestic architecture mixing with colonial signs and spaces. Bungalows in this princely state constituted not only palaces, but also some of the public spaces such as the restrooms for travellers. Bungalows adapted to the different needs of the population of the state and in time have become one of the major “urban relics” of the erstwhile princely state.20The logic behind the production of such spaces was to demark and create distinctions and judgement of the new building as spaces of subordination of the native and domination of the rulers and groups attached to the ruling classes.

Colonial Bungalows as Social Space in Travancore

In Travancore bungalows for British officials were constructed during nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and with them, missionaries also had their bungalows constructed.21These buildings were austere in such a way that one scholar terms this austerity as puritanical22. The buildings were simple and were painted in white. This style was evident in the bungalow built by the British resident Colonel Munro at Kollam and also in the Durbar physicians’ bungalow at Thycaud and the Barton bungalow at Thekkumoodu.23 All these buildings were constructed in the classical style which was the preferred architectural pattern of the time.

The earliest bungalows to come in Travancore were the two British Residency buildings constructed at Thycaud and Kollam which were built by the British Resident and Dewan of Travancore, Colonel Munro.24Both these bungalows were double-storeyed structures with a high colonnade that were arrayed along the length of the ground-floor verandah, and a similar upper veranda that featured balustrades and columns that were half the size of the columns below. The verandas were shaded by rattan25 blinds that were then to become a quintessential feature of British bungalows in Travancore. The bungalows also had a projecting central apsidal volume that was flanked on either side by rectangular volumes, and a large descending hipped roof26 with a central conical profile.

The British bungalows were built outside the fort walls. These bungalows had simple volumes and a clear classical-style architectural vocabulary. The entrance driveway, the front portico, the colonnaded veranda and large rooms arranged towards the centre and ventilated by louvered wooden windows indicated the similarity in the designs with the bungalows constructed in Calcutta and other colonial centres. The Sri Chitralayam Art Gallery is a good example for the bungalows constructed in this style and format. 

It consists of three buildings that are connected by covered walkways. The first is the single-storeyed bungalow with an entrance, portico, a colonnaded veranda, a deep descending hipped roof, and three main rooms that are connected to a double-storeyed one which appears to have been a later addition. The third building is located behind the single-storeyed bungalow. Its location indicates that it was used as service quarters. It is also connected to the main structure by a walkway. Other examples of such bungalows include the bungalow of the Durbar Physician at Vazhuthacaud and the Barton Hill Bungalow at Thekkumoodu.

Colonel Munro chose to build the British Residency in Quilon27, on the banks of the Ashtamudi lake. The site chosen was very much close to the military barracks as in Bangalore and it was a large compound that was away from the native quarters of the town. This sense of superiority, segregation, and social exclusiveness is also visible in Thiruvananthapuram where these were reinforced by placing the bungalows atop the hills, securing commanding views of the region that surrounded it. The British Residency at Thycaud, the Sri-Chitralaya Gallery inside the Museum complex, the Durbar Physician’s Bungalow, the Barton Hill Bungalow, and the Fern Hill Bungalow at Vazhuthacaud also exemplify this tendency.28

Other such building is the residence of the Chief Secretary to the Government of Travancore, the Park View Bungalow. Converted now into Keralam Museum of History and Heritage, the Park View Bungalow looks over the geographical location of Palayam and has in its vicinity the Napier Museum and the Kanakakunnu Kottaram.29 Spanning 7000 sq. ft of space, this building was once called Park View Bungalow.30 Many Chief Secretaries resided in this bungalow. This bungalow was constructed in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style. The building consists of two floors with the first floor having a verandah and a balcony that projects out of the main structure. Supported by an array of colonnades small and large the bungalow’s two tiers are visibly separated by gables.

The ground floor of the building is surrounded by lengthy corridors on its three sides. The rooms in this floor are arranged in a horizontal pattern with one room following the next. The entrance to these rooms can be accessed from each different room. Moreover, these rooms also open to the corridor.31 Windows are also constructed in such a way that the view from the windows from within the room is that of the corridor. With this in view, it can be surmised that these rooms were used for official purposes and duties of the Chief Secretaries. The first floor is connected to the ground floor by a set of staircases that is built within the structure. Usually, in native bungalows, the staircase would be placed outside the structure so as to give the residents a private space. But in this bungalow, we see a paradigm shift relating to the notion of the public and private.

The idea followed in Park View bungalow was that the resident’s privateness could be protected by the rooms and was not that much exposed out as was thought before. However, the interesting factor is the location of the stair case. The stair case is located on the left side of the building and not on the centre or even inside. The privateness of the people and the secrecy of the events happening inside the rooms could be protected and guarded if the movement of the people can be regulated. A flight of stairs that is located on the extreme left side of the building as is in the Park View Bungalow would keep the people away from the rooms and the privateness is thus ensured. Thus, consequently, the stair case had the dual function of connecting the two tiers of the building and keeping inappropriate gaze and intrusion of ‘other’ people.

The large spacious corridors of the bungalow also might have performed the same function. A spacious corridor on the front would give a large space for the visitors and the alike. The gap that divides the rooms and these people would, as in the case of stair case, would serve the interests of those who are inside the room and would guard the events occurring in the rooms.

In such a defined and arranged spatial separation one can see the ideas of ‘us’ and the ‘other’ being played. The occupants of the rooms make up the ‘us’ and the events inside the room ‘ours’ while the people who are not granted access to these rooms, the ‘other’. This binary division of identity visibly communicates the power hierarchy that was playing in the native sphere of the state, more than the one that was playing in that particular space where the colonial and native came together. Moreover, in this space, the windows might have functioned as tools that connected the public and the private.

The first floor of the bungalow is more arranged than the ground floor. There too, the corridor runs for three sides. There are more rooms in this floor. According to the information that the information board provides one Chief Secretary has had his residence in this floor. This is proved by the remains of the different hues that could be seen on the floor of one small space, which according to the board was the space where the ritual kalam would be drawn.32

The increased number of rooms, it may be argued, shows the living quarters of the chief secretary. Due to some modern initiative to convert the bungalow or for some other reason, certain rooms are rendered small. These rooms are separated from the balcony by the corridor. This separation, it can be argued, manifests the separation between the ‘us’ and the ‘other’. The highly distinguished and dignified guests could be taken to the balcony and offered a scenic view and simultaneously become detached from the ‘private’ space offered by the rooms. 

There is also a small winding stair case to the right corner of the first floor. The ceiling of the bungalow is constructed by using wooden panes. The wooden panes of the ceiling are supported by wooden lintels. The walls are thick in order to balance and support the weight of the ceiling as well as the first floor. The structure of the window panes makes the viewer assume that glass panes might have been used. The glass panes would serve the viewer in providing a good view of the outside from within the bungalow and a restricted view of the interior of the building from outside. 

Until the arrival of the Madras Governor Lord Francis Napier in 1866 in Travancore the prevalent architectural style was the classical-style architecture. It was employed under the chief engineers in the early bungalows, the Durbar Hall and other public offices.These buildings were all bare white-washed volumes, with sparing use of ornament or architectural richness. Lord Francis Napier entrusted Robert Fellowes Chisholm, Chief Consulting Architect to the Madras Engineer Group to conceive a new architecture for Thiruvananthapuram, by incorporating the European and traditional elements through the design of a museum and thereby ‘to instruct an erudite Travancore elite on how best to foster and extend their own art’.33Consequently, there begun Indo-Saracenic architecture in Thiruvananthapuram that can also be called the Travancore-Victorian architecture.34This recognisable by the sudden leap in architectural scale, the brick-red and white granite building skins and the motifs borrowed from the indigenous architectural styles that were combined with the European spatial thinking, and the use of native elements like the sophisticated Kerala gabled roof. The Napier Museum, the University College at Palayam, and the nearby Oriental Studies Department and the Golf Links Mantapam at Kowdiar became the flag-bearers of Indo-Saracenic.

Moreover, the passion for architecture was also shared by the active and generous patronage from the royal family. Such a passion is most visible in the capital Thiruvananthapuram. With the transformation of the public realm in Travancore starting from the mid-nineteenth century several new types of public buildings came up— an astronomical observatory35, a public museum in Nanthancode, several public hospitals and dispensaries, and a public library at Palayam.36

The early bungalows in Travancore were laid in a pattern. To understand this pattern, the segregation of native town and British space must be understood. Wherever the British settled, the place was divided into two spaces, one being the native space also called the black town and the British space. The segregation was so deep that the residences of one group- here, the natives or the British, would not be seen in the demarcated space of the other group.37 Native experimentation with the bungalow in Travancore began within the East Fort walls that surrounded the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The Travancore royal family was its initial exponents. Later, the senior nobility which also constituted the kin of the royal family and later the educated and affluent class of administrative officials adopted the bungalow and carried it to the other parts of the state.38


As tracing of the discourses centred on colonial bungalow, it is built in as a space to demarcate and make distinctions from other forms of spaces in Travancore. It was frequently considered as an architectural form with a significant imperial character, content and an import from non-native mental space. But at the same time as these spaces control and subordinate some and give spaces of power and authority to others, it was a production of space that appropriated labouring and social relations of spaces to design a colonial power structuring, ideas and practices. These bungalows, at the same time, were a remnant of colonial life and cultural exchange between the natives and the British in which the native subjugated their lived and perceived space to design colonial power and authority upon themselves. Bungalow, in the colonial setting and their representations of spaces characterized and produced an opposite design against more communally segregated spaces of the caste and classes in the town as well as in the villages. The village settlement and their lived spaces were identified the bungalows as ideal, superior as it was also a spaces of rulers living as well as spaces of authority. This colonial production of built spaces even classified spaces of their everyday life as spaces for eating and sleep which structured native life in the later time to follow and create such models of spaces of everyday life. Unravelling traditional home designs resembling bungalows in West Bengal, Karnataka, and Kerala, their settings were not the same as those of British residents which inform us spaces of built space forms its everydayness combining life of the native and the colonial subjects. It is in this context that historical and architectural symbols in Travancore that recorded a specific time and space has been evaluated and analysed in this paper. It resembles symbols of power and centering authority in the social relations of colonial production of space.


1 Henri Lefebvre, 1991. 
2 Shanti Jayewardene-Pillai, Imperial Conversations: Indo-Britons and the Architecture of South India, Yoda Press, 2007, p.44; Miki Desai, Madhavi Desai, ‘The Colonial Bungalow in India’, The Newsletter, No. 57, 2011, p. 26. 
3 Although the provinces and the princely states were two political entities the changes brought about by colonialism were equally felt and experienced. Only the pace at which these changes were happening was different. 
4 Op Cit, p. 26. 
5 Ibid, p. 26. 
6 A residential structure that was used to accommodate the large joined families of the Nair caste.
7 Henry Yule and A.C.Burnell, Hobson-Jobson The Definitive Glossary of British India, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, p.29. 
8 Miki Desai, Madhavi Desai, The colonial bungalow in India, The Newsletter, No. 57, 2011, p. 26. 
9 Amiya JemeemahHisham, “Bungalows of Travancore: A Study of the Architectural Typology.” Sahapedia, 17 June 2019,
10 Ibid. 
11 Kathryn Ferry, Bungalows, Oxford: Shire Publications, 2014, p.36. 
12 A movement that started in late nineteenth century Britain which sought to revive traditional handicrafts and architecture in response to industrial production. Also, Ibid, p.36. 
13 Op cit. 
14 Peter Scriver, Rationalization, Standardization, and Control in Design: A Cognitive Historical Study of Architectural Design and Planning in the Public Works Department of British India, 1855-1901, Delft: Publikatieburo Bouwkunde, Technische Universiteit Delft, 1994, p. 57. 
15 Ibid. 
16 Anthony D. King, The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 55. 
17 Ibid, p. 55. 
18 James Stevens Curl, The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, p.79. 
19 Amiya JemeemahHisham, “Bungalows of Travancore: A Study of the Architectural Typology.” Sahapedia, 17 June 2019, 
20 Ibid. 
21 John Abbs, Twenty-two years’ Missionary Experience in Travancore, London: John Snow & Co; 1870, p.52. 
22 Madhavi Desai and Miki Desai, The Bungalow in Twentieth-Century India: The Cultural Expression of Changing Ways of Life and Aspirations in the Domestic Architecture of Colonial and Post-colonial Society, London: Rutledge, 2012, p.42. 
23 Amiya Jemeemah Hisham, “Understanding British and Native Bungalows of Travancore.” Sahapedia, 17 June 2019, 
24 V. NagamAiya,The Travancore State Manual Vol. I, Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Gazetteers Department, 1999, p. 464. 
25 A kind of thin palm stem used to make furniture. 
26 A type of roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls.
27 Present day Kollam. 
28 Amiya Jameemah Hisham,”Understanding British and Native Bungalows of Travancore.” Sahapedia, 
29 “A Vintage Museum of Kerala’s Heritage, Thiruvananthapuram.” A Vintage Museum of Kerala’s Heritage, Thiruvananthapuram, 
30 Ibid. 
31 Information board at Keralam Museum of History and Heritage. Accessed on 10th October, 2021.
32 Ibid. 
33 ShantiJayewardene-Pillai, Imperial Conversations: Indo-Britons and the Architecture of South India. New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2007, p. 244. 
34 Amiya Jemeemah Hisham, “Understanding British and Native Bungalows of Travancore.” Sahapedia, 17 June 2019,
35 V. NagamAiya,The Travancore State Manual Vol. I., Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Gazetteers Department, 1999, pp. 488-489. 
36 LouiseOuwerkerk, No Elephants for the Maharajah: Social and Political Change in Travancore 1921–1947, Delhi: Manohar Publishers and Distributors, 2011, pp. 50-72. 
37 Such spatial demarcations can be found in the sixteenth century Portuguese cities in India. Thus, the segregation between people has a long history.
38 Amiya JameemahHisham,  “Bungalows of Travancore: A Study of the Architectural Typology.” Sahapedia, 17 June 2019,


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Rajesh Komath
Associate Professor
School of Social Sciences
Mahatma Gandhi University
Pin: 686560
Ph: +91 9961402105
ORCID: 0009-0007-6217-956X
Abhilash Thomas P
Former MPhil scholar
School of Social Sciences
Mahatma Gandhi University
Pin: 686560
Ph: +91 6238852247 
ORCID: 0009-0004-3017-376X