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THE ART OF BUILDING A "BHONGA"

In April 2000 a group of architects designers & photographers from Israel, came to the village of Tunda Vand in Mundra Taluka, Kutch, Gujarat, to participate in a project of building a "bhonga" - the famous mud hut of the Kutch desert. The idea was to learn the special technology & to renew the bhonga building -- which has proved to be the most suitable to this area. This report is a first-hand account of their experience.

When thousands of cement and bricks building collapsed, the bhongas stayed solid in the earthquake of 26 January this year. The first cement building in the village was a temple, built eight years before, in 1993, after long exertions of the village elders and a few rituals to satisfy the village goddess.

The seeds of project took root when we read the book "Mud, Mirror and Thread" by Judy Frater, an anthropologist who live in Kutch & documented the Rabaris' life for years. 10 years ago Judy started a trust called "KalaRaksha" which helps to preserve the traditional art and craft of villages in the area. Those activities made us think "if you can preserve arts like embroidery or leather work why can't you preserve the art of bhonga building or mud furniture building which are so special to this area and were forgotten for eight years."


Tal decorates the mud furniture

In 22 days, with the guidance of Rajabahi, Lachiben, their family and friends, and of course, the contacts and translation of Judy Frater, we had a bhonga built the same way it was built hundreds of years ago.

In the next bhonga, we practiced the decoration of the famous rabari furniture made out of mud and donkey dung and decorated with reliefs of village life, geometric shapes and mirrors like in their well-known embroideries.

The entire process was documented by photographer's stills and video, the result is a research contains 4000 slides, 28 video hours and dozens of drafts, text pages and pictures documenting the process of the bhonga and furniture building.


Village childern and us in guests' Bhonga


Lachiben & Walluben in the Bhonga
The building starts with the breaking of a coconut and drinking its milk as a good luck blessing. Then we draw a 5.20 m diameter circle on the ground (the nail that used for the center is used later as a mark for the center pole) then we start building layers of wet black mud brought from the creek nearby to make the building easier and quicker.

Rajabahi suggested we use chunks of mud covered with mud dough, which we mixed nearby. Usually it is the woman who builds the entire structure. This time men were allowed to work, but only in certain jobs and places.

During the building of the walls (which were 60 cm thick) we inserted two windows (in opposite directions, one directed to the wind and the other is near the stove) one door, kitchen cabinet and cantilevered shelves. Half of the bhonga outline was built with a low mud podium for the furniture.

After building for seven days and till about 185 cm high (which were measured by holding the palm over the head and circling the bhonga ) the bhonga was ready for the special stucco made from 2/3 sand and 1/3 black mud, the process which was taught by two experts.


Bhonga walls before lippan (mud and sand stucco)


Villagers working on the bhonga

The work is done with bare hands, which create beautiful patterns on the inner and outer walls. The last layer is white mud - Caulin - brought from a distant place and mixed with water to give the bhonga a white bright look.

Building the roof started with a trip to the next town Mandvi, to purchase wood beams, central pole and about 5000 palm branches for the roof cover.

In another place, we purchased the final grass cover, which was to be the last layer of the roof.

On returning to the village, the carpenter (from Tunda) was waiting to place the central pole and to connect the eight circular beams to the centerpiece made by him earlier.

The next four days were the men's days for putting the roof together, first by tying an inner and outer spiral of young palm branches and then inserting between them the other branches. The end layers are grass to prevent water from entering.


The last layer of palm branches

After 22 days of building and knowing the people of Kutch we left for Ahmedabad and then returned home. Nine months later we heard about the horrible disaster in Kutch. As we were trying to get information about the people and places we found out that most of the bhongas survived even when the nearby "pukka" houses collapsed.

Now a month and a half later, we believe it is time to think of the future by using more neutral, strong and flexible materials in the new houses of villages in Kutch. Perhaps a combination between traditional methods with modern knowledge and techniques will prove to be the best nature-preserving solution.

The KalaRaksha trust is putting together a project of rehabilitation of six villages of the trust artists. The project combines adoption of villages by outside groups conducting planning research and funding and work done by the villagers in building and continues with art work which will be sold in the U.S.A. and Europe by KalaRaksha to finance the entire project.


The project was sponsored and executed by:
Lavie-Amir, Architects, Israel
Tal Bashan, Environmental designer
Rami Arnold, Photographer
Dalit Ziv, Director - Tel Aviv
Amnon Zelayet, Video photographer

The authors are a group of architects and designers from Israel involved (among other things) in projects of sustainable and traditional architecture in Israel and around the world. They have offered their expertise and cooperation to anyone who plans to rebuild villages or houses in the area. They now plan a 40 unit village in the desert of Israel. In the middle of the open area they have built a cultural & community center, constructed by the community itself from mud, wood & palm branches.

They can be contacted at Yuval@architecteam.co.il

A slide show of the actual process of building a bhonga can be viewed at their website http://www.architecteam.co.il
(Click on the "Environment" link and then on "Mud hut").


See also:
The Wrath of Vasuki - How do we cope?
Ludiya: Partnering with people
Select from books on sustainable building in the MIG Bookstore


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Earth 4 Energy - The #1 renewable energy product

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Electricity4Gas Manual

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