Comparison of Kerala Mosques and Maldivian Coral Stone Mosques
The islands of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean are known for their exquisite scenery and rich cultural heritage. With the coral stone mosques of Maldives and other historic buildings built out of coral stones, traditional Maldivian architecture is unique. The islands were a transit point for the sea traders coming to India and the East. Due to the influx of traders from different parts of the world, a blending of different cultures occured in the Maldives. This might be getting reflected in the architectural elements, building styles, and construction techniques of Maldives.
Table of Contents:
1. Introduction to Traditional Maldivian Architecture
Construction in any region in the old days was mainly dependent on the availability of local materials. Maldives with its numerous islands surrounded by beautiful coral reefs led to a unique kind of architectural style, different from that prevalent in many of the countries which would have influenced its architecture. The mosques of Maldives were built with coral stone walls and timber roofs.
2. Comparative Analysis of Architectural Elements of the Coral Stone Mosques in Maldives with the Architectural Styles of Kerala
This article concentrates on enumerating the similarities and differences between the architectural styles of Kerala, mainly focusing on the religious buildings of Kerala, and the six focal Maldives mosques, which have been nominated under the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
The analysis has focused on understanding the similarities and distinctive features in the architectural styles of the two areas by comparing the architectural elements, building techniques, and materials of the various buildings in Kerala and Maldives.
The following images illustrate the similarities observed in the plinth of the religious buildings of Kerala (Photo1) and the mosques of Maldives. It also focuses on the details that can be observed in the foundation and plinth of the mosques of Maldives (Photo(s) 2, 3, 4, 5). It can be observed that the plinths made out of coral stone in some of the mosques had carvings, which are not seen in the mosques in Kerala.
This component of the analysis draws a comparison between the architectural styles in the mosques of Kerala (Photo(s) 6, 7, 8, 9) and the mosques in Maldives (Photo(s)10, 11, 12)in terms of elevation.
The mosque in Kerala were more elaborate in terms of the roof structure with more than two tiers in some cases, for example Kuttichira Mosque. The roofs of Maldivian mosques were also composed of different levels but were less elaborate and prominent. Verandahs surrounded the main inner core in some of the mosques in Kerala (see Photo 7), whereas this seems to be a prominent feature in the coral mosques, for example, Friday Mosque.
This section of the analysis depicts the coral stone walls of the Maldives mosques. The coral stones are the primary building materials in Maldives since they are considered to be a long-lasting material. The history of construction using coral stones has existed for a long period of time and continues to exist in Maldives even today. This adds to the authenticity and integrity of coral as a building material.
This section represents the difference that can be observed in the appearance and ornate workmanship of the doors in the mosques in Kerala (Photos 17, 18, 19) with comparison to the doors in the mosques of Maldives (Photos 20, 21, 22, 23, 24). Although door frames are similar, the shutters are quite different.
Although timber columns are seen in Kerala mosques (Photos 25, 26, 27 & 28), the shapes and proportions are very different from that of the Maldivian mosques. The level of ornateness and detailing that can be seen on the columns in Maldives are higher (Photos 29,30, 31, 32, 33 & 34).
While masonry columns are common in many mosques in Kerala (Photo 27), mosques in Maldives are supported by coral stone columns and capitals(Photos 31, 32, 33 & 34).
The design of the timber columns is very different in both places. The similarities in the design of the capital of the timber columns inside the Medhoo mosque (Photos 39, 40) and columns in roof ears of the Kerala mosques can be seen in the images (Photos 35, 36, 37 & 38).
Although initially, the small widows (Photos 42, 43, 44 & 45) of the Maldivian mosques look similar to those of the mosques in Kerala (Photo 41), they are in fact quite different. On the outside, latticework can be seen in Isdhoo mosque, but this is absent in the Kerala mosques. In Fenfushi mosque, you can see timber arched openings which are very similar to the doors in Maldivian mosques (Photos 48 & 49).
2.7 Interior Details
In both areas of study, the elements in the mosque such as the Mihrab, which is the main praying area, appear to be similar in form. It is also analogous to each other in the subtle yet elegant designs and details that can be seen on the Mihrab (Photos 50 to 54).
The Minbar in the mosques of Kerala (Photos 55, 56) and the mosques of Maldives (Photos 57, 58, 59, 60) are similar in terms of their form. In Cheraman Masjid, a minbar carved out of timber has been lacquered (Photo 55). In Munambam mosque, the minbar is made out of masonry. In Maldivian mosques, one can see minbars made out of timber and masonry.
There are lot of similarities and differences in the way the timber is used and decorated in Kerala and Maldives. Even within Kerala, there are a lot of different ways of making the timber ceiling (Photos 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66 & 67). In some of the mosques, they are very simple, while in the others, there are carved panels (Photos 66 & 67).
The difference between Kerala and Maldives can be seen in the lacquered ceiling. When compared to the buildings of Kerala, the lacquered ceiling is widely used as a decorative feature in the mosques of Maldives (Photo 72). In Kerala, they are seen in some buildings such as the Padmanabhapuram Palace (Photo 71).
One of the other prominent features which you can find in the Maldivian mosques is that the central portion of the main prayer hall has a raised coffered ceiling (photos 76-85). Most of them are very decorative lacquered ceilings. Such a feature is not common in the case of mosques in Kerala (Photo 76) but can be seen in many temples (Photos 73, 74& 75).
2.10 Timber Joinery & Roof Coverings
There are some similarities in the way the timber roofs are made (Photos 86 & 87). But due to the fact that the clay tile roofs of most of the mosques in the Maldives have been changed to metal coverings (Photos 90 & 91), the comparison becomes difficult. In Meedhoo mosque, the Mangalore tiles have been imported from Quilon, Kerala (Photos 88 & 89). The first Mangalore tile factory was established in Kerala in 1865 only, which shows that the import of tiles has happened much later.
The distinct factor that can be analysed for both the areas is the roofing material; while Kerala has retained the architectural tradition of using Mangalore tiles as the integral roofing material, certain mosques in Maldives have digressed from their traditional roofing patterns and have deviated to using modern materials such as asbestos sheets and further to metal sheets as the main roofing material. This deviation could have affected the integrity of some of the mosques.
In most of the Kerala roofs, the rafters of the timber truss rest on the wall plates; and the gap between the timber beams of the ceiling and the wall plates is very less. But in Maldives, the roof does not sit directly over the wall, there are gaps between the wall plate and the timber beams used for the ceiling (Photos 94, 95 & 96). In the interiors also, the timber columns are terminated short of the ceiling timber beams, which are supported using short columns (Photo 97).
The original eaves boards of the Maldivian mosques would have been made in timber (Photo 98). One can see that for a small portion, the metal sheet eaves board is fixed on top of the timber eaves board. Later on, the metal sheet eaves board would have become common in Maldives (Photos 99 & 100).
2.11 Ablution Tanks
The purpose of the tanks in mosques is mainly for absolution, which is an important practice that is followed in the Islamic culture. The only clear difference that can be observed between the two case studies is that the practice of absolution is manifested through different platforms. The presence of tanks in the premises of the mosques is more common in Kerala (Photos 101, 102, 103 & 104), but in Maldives, the tank was found only in Fenfushi mosque (Photos 105 & 106). Coral stones were used for the construction of the sides of the tank (Photos 107 & 108). Otherwise, open wells, with the sides built using coral stones, were used for ablution (Photos 109 & 110).
2.12 Carvings and Mouldings
When one compares mosques in Kerala and Maldives, there are numerous similarities and differences between the carvings & mouldings. The elaborate embellishments that are engraved, exhibit high-quality craftsmanship in both areas. The carvings in the mosques of Kerala (Photos 111 to 116) are unique to the area and represent an indigenous continuation of traditional craftsmanship. The carvings and mouldings in Maldives are potentially unique to the region (Photos 117 to 124) and add to the outstanding universal value of the mosques.