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The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch

 
 

Bhungas – a unique type of circular mud hut – are closely linked to the identity of Kutch desert areas of Gujarat. After an 1819 earthquake that caused severe damage to the lives and properties, the people of Kutch came up with the circular design of bhungas, which has been in use for nearly 200 years now. Even after the severe earthquake of 2001, it was seen that despite being very close to the epicenter of the earthquake, bhungas stood firm while many other buildings were devastated.

The diameter of a bhunga is approximately 18 feet and has a depth of foundation up to 24 inches. Lightweight thatched roofs; low walls plastered with mud, twigs, and dung; and an independent circular structure without any corners have made these bhungas disaster-resistant. All these features are helpful against the lateral forces of both earthquakes and storms. Moreover, the mud walls of the bhungas are thick and thus the surface is less susceptible to heat. The small openings keep the room cool in the searing Kutch summers and warm in harsh winters. The circular shape does not obstruct the wind and hence reduces pressure on the structure during cyclones, another frequent occurrence in the region.

Bhungas, with their elaborate design and artistic elegance, portray Kutch culture, tradition, and lifestyle, They demonstrate the ecological, social, and aesthetic aspects of the region.

Sugato Mukherjee is a photographer and writer based in Calcutta and his works have appeared in The Globe and MailAl JazeeraNational Geographic TravelerHarper Collins and Yale University Journal. His coffee table book on Ladakh has been published from Delhi in 2013. Some of his visuals and stories can be found at sugatomukherjee.zenfolio.com 

The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
All the bhungas of this little village in Kutch survived the tremor of 2001, when every other house collapsed. The art of bhunga construction is passed on to the next generation, as the Kutchis are devoted to maintaining their architectural tradition of circular mud huts that will keep them safe from earthquakes and other natural calamities.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
A bhunga uses a circular shape for its maximum advantage against the lateral forces of an earthquake. The shape also does not obstruct wind movement, which helps during cyclones and sandstorms.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
Bhunga walls are plastered with easily available ingredients like mud, twigs, and cow dung. The outer walls are often decorated with floral motifs and scenes from the daily life and culture.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
Kamalbhai, an old Kutchi man, is busy decorating the inner wall of a bhunga with mud and mirror work. This is locally called Lipan, which is done with fingers and palm. A single lamp proves enough to light up the home due to the reflections from the mirror work.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
The walls of a bhunga are very low. This helps the stability of the structure during an earthquake.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
Thick mud walls along with Lipan work are less conductive of heat and makes the room comfortable even while the temperature outside in summer is above 46 degree centigrade and in winter drops to 2 degrees. It remains a comfort zone for infants.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
Bamboo sticks are used to make the dome of the roof. These sticks are tied together with dried grass and rope and sometimes covered with a sheet.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
For the purpose of cross-ventilation, windows are set at a lower level in the circular wall.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
The inner diameter of a bhunga ranges from 3 meters to 6 meters.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
Mud and mirror work on the outer surface of the bhunga acts as an insulator by reflecting heat.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
A thatched roof is a weak conductor of heat and adds to the thermal comfort.
Image Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
The overhanging roof of a bhunga comes quite low. It thus casts shadows on the walls and protects from direct sunlight. The small openings also help in the extreme climate of the region.
The Earthquake- Proof Huts of Kutch
The bhunga is the emblem of the folk tradition of the region; even the children's doll’s house is a miniature version of the bhunga. This shows that children are preserving their age-old architectural tradition.
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