The art and architecture of all lands emanate from their cultural heritage and geographical and climatic conditions. Kerala has a unique architecture that blends harmoniously with nature and creates an aesthetic appeal from its simplicity and functional perfection. The architectural creations of Kerala talk volumes not only about the artistic competence of the craftsmen but also of the visions and aspirations of the architects.
Nalukettu is the most developed form of the typical Kerala mansion. The construction of nalukettu follows the norms and principles of the traditional Thachu Sasthra (the science of architecture). It is a courtyard type house where the central courtyard is an outdoor living space open to the sky, which houses a thulasithara (raised bed for the sacred tulsi or basil bush). A nalukettu is rectangular in structure, where four halls are joined together with the central courtyard. The four halls on the sides are called as vadakkini (northern block), padinjattini (western block), kizhakkini (eastern block) and thekkini (southern block). The facilities provided by a nalukettu were ideal for large families of the traditional tharavadu (a system of joint family) for whom it was customary to live under one roof.
The building design and site planning are monitored by a learned stapathi (master builder) who combines the technical matters with astrology and science. The four halls, identical to the nalambalam (the outer structure around the sanctum sanctorumof a temple), may be divided into several rooms for different activities such as cooking, dining, sleeping, studying, storage of grains etc. The building may have one or two malika (upper storeys) depending on the size and importance of the household. It can also have a further enclosed courtyard by a repetition of the nalukettu to form ettukettu (eight-halled building).
The doors, windows and the wooden granaries are usually made of teak wood and anjili wood (wood of wild jack tree). A nalukettu will also have large verandahs supported by huge wooden pillars, a padippura (a gate house) and cattle shed. The padippura resembles a gopuram (a monumental pagoda at the entrance of temples) which may contain one or two rooms for guests. Besides, bathing tanks, wells, farm buildings, grain stores etc. will be there, protected with an all round compound wall or fence.
The Mattancherry palace at Kochi and the Taikottaram of the Padmanabhapuram palace near Kanyakumari are two of the best preserved examples of nalukettu.