Public: It’s Not About Mud: Indigenous Building Systems of India (2)

The Following article was published in the June 2015 Edition of Domus India, documenting the building traditions and systems of 5 different rural regions of the country. The full PDF of the same can be downloaded here. Also can be found at

2. District Tumkur, Karnataka

Latitude: 13.34N; Longitude: 77.10E

Height Above Mean Sea Level: 894.6 m

Average Annual Rainfall: 698.5 mm

No. of Precipitation Days: 39

Max. Summer Temperature: 34-35 degree Celsius

Min. Winter Temperature: 16-17 degree Celsius

Primary Materials Used: Adobe (Sun Dried Mud Brick), Granite Stone, Mud Mortar, Areca Nut Trunks, Coconut Palm Trunk, Granite Slabs, Granite Pillars, Bamboo, Coconut Leaves Thatch, Kadappa Stone slabs

Language of the Indigenous Builders: Kannada

The Tumkur district of Karnataka lies on the leeward side of the Western Ghats due to which its average annual rainfall is much lesser than Udupi although they both are on the same latitude. The material of choice of the indigenous people been adobe, made of mud, sand, rice straw, the latter being added to act as fibrous reinforcement to prevent excessive cracking when dried. Like Uttar Pradesh, the size of the brick is 9”*4.5”*3” and wall thickness do exceed 18”. These houses are generally only ground floor high.

Good quality granite stone is readily available. Due to its impervious nature and strength, they are used in the foundations along with mud mortar. Above the ground the stones are dressed by skilled masons and raised to height of 3’ on the exterior walls. This is done to protect the adobe walls from the splash back of the rain. Thereafter the adobe walls continue to the eaves level of the roof. Granite corner stones are used in the adobe wall section to distribute the load over a larger cross section area and break vertical joints if any.

Roofs are pitched with bamboo, areca nut and coconut palm wood rafters and beams. The roofing material traditionally was coconut leaves thatch. This has given way now to the omnipresent Mangalore tile due to superior strength and lack of maintenance. Shahbad stone slabs are used as 1.5’ long overhangs at the eaves level to protect the exterior mud walls from the rain.

A 1.5” coat of exterior plaster is provided on the external walls to protect them from the rain. As the mud is not stabilized with any chemical stabilizers, this protection is very essential. This plaster needs to redone every few weeks to months depending on its wear and tear. Generally these processes are weaved into the community culture with festivals or child birth offering reasons for the community/ family to plaster and lime wash their walls.

Kar1-Abundance of good quality granite stone    Karnataka2-Adobe walls with granite corner stone  for adequate distribution of load and breaking of vertical joints

 Karnataka3-Adobe walls over 3' high impervious granite stone walls.     Karnataka4-Adobe Walls Section showing 18inch thickness Karnataka5-Adobe Walls with 1.5 inch mud plaster








  1. District Medak, Telangana


Latitude: 17.73N; Longitude: 78.17E

Height Above Mean Sea Level: 442 m

Average Annual Rainfall: 922 mm

No. of Precipitation Days: 52

Max. Summer Temperature: 46-47 degree Celsius

Min. Winter Temperature: 6-8 degree Celsius

Primary Materials Used: Cob (Mud balls), Granite stone, Mud mortar, Neem wood, Semicircular Hollow Clay Tiles, Slaked Lime, Shahbad Stone Slabs, Kadappa Stone Slabs, Neem Leaves

Language of the Indigenous Builders: Telugu, Urdu, Hindi


The Medak District of Telangana of the newly formed state, is a study in contrast. Located in the Deccan Plateau region of the Indian Subcontinent at an altitude of 442m AMSL, this region is characterized by hot and dry summers and moderately cold winters. The prevalent building construction technique here is that of cob- balls of semi-wet, stiff mud slapped on and massaged together to form load bearing walls. These walls vary in thickness from 18” to 24” and can rise up to 20’ in height if built well. Good quality granite stone is available in this region. Due to its superior compressive strength and impervious nature, they are dressed by a mason and used in the foundation, plinth and external walls upto the cill level using mud mortar. This is done to protect the external mud walls from the splash back of the rain. Stone chips are used in the cobbing process to prevent excessive cracking due to drying.

Neem trees are part of courtyards of houses here and are weaved into community culture due to medicinal values. Door and window frames and shutters are made of this wood. The availability of wood had a given encouragement to tradition of refined wood craftsmen. This can be extrapolated from the intricate wood work that is found in some of the upper caste houses here. Unfortunately with migration to cities and their eventual loss of skill, these skills are slowly dying. Two floored houses have a system of Neem beams, joists and batons forming the intermediate floor. This is topped by a 3” layer of mud which forms the floor of the room above. Window sizes are small owing to the limitation of the spanning materials and the use of the space, as most day time is spent outdoors in manual labour.

Annual average rainfall here is 922 mm, which is more than UP. This change is reflected in the pitched roofs of this region. They are made of an intricate system of Neem wood trusses, rafters and batons and inclined at an angle of 23 degrees. The closely spaced batons provide an almost impervious surface on which is topped a stiff mixture of mud, 3”-5” thick. This section of mud has two purposes- to hold the semi- circular hollow clay tiles that come over them and to provide an extra layer of insulation from the intense summer sun.

Niches and alcoves are provided in the walls for storage. External walls are whitewashed with lime. In some cases you see continuous horizontal bands in the walls. This showcases the height of each course of cob done in a day, so that the wall dries and does not collapse under its own wet weight. Neem leaves are mixed into the cob mix as it is believed to act as a deterrent to termites. Shahbad stone slabs are used to provide a 1.5’ overhang at the eaves level of the roof to protect the walls from the rain.

Telangana1-A typical Medak house with cob walls over 3' granite stone walls Telangana2-Cob mud balls being prepared from the  loamy mix Telangana3-Cob balls being thrown up to the master mason Telangana4-Intricately carved Neem wood brackets Telangana5-Intermediate roof of Neem wood neam, joists and batons Telangana6-Neem Wood Roof truss with moving joints Telangana7-A G+1 cob house showing horizontal bands Telangana8-Play of the roof scapes of hollow intelocking clay tiles

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