Some years in the past, whereas exploring Bhuj, a small metropolis in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, I stumbled upon a fantastic and initially enigmatic construction: a column that supported an enclosure adorned with a whole bunch of holes. It appeared to me to be a geometrical abstraction of a large tree — till a pigeon peeped out from one of many openings.
Quickly there have been a whole bunch of birds flying out and in of the grand birdhouse. Locals knowledgeable me that the construction was referred to as a “chabutra.”
Over the course of my preliminary four-month keep, and afterward, throughout follow-up visits all through Kutch, the district that features Bhuj, I started documenting the fantastically crafted birdhouses — taking images, amassing native narratives and recording individuals’s reminiscences related to the constructions.
The outdated chook towers I encountered had been manufactured from wooden and stone. Newer specimens are principally manufactured from concrete and are far more colourful and vibrant. Every design is completely different.
In a lot of India, housing and feeding birds is a standard follow. However in several cities, the collective affinity for birds expresses itself in several methods. Some communities take part in pigeon-rearing, often called kabootar-baazi, which includes taming the birds, caring for his or her well being, coaching them to fly in a selected course based mostly on verbal instructions and making ready them for flying competitions. Others concentrate on conservation efforts. Nonetheless others assemble chabutras.
Within the Kutch district of Gujarat, elegant birdhouses might be present in a lot of the villages and hamlets. Paid for by residents, the constructions are sometimes designed and constructed by masons who, although not skilled as designers, however are in a position to categorical the ethos of their communities.
The homes aren’t merely locations for the birds to remain. In addition they act as communal areas. Elder women and men sit beneath their shade. Youngsters play close by. Festivals are typically held round them.
I want to categorise the birdhouses as chook housing, since, as is true with people, the birds make use of a number of sorts of residential buildings. A few of the constructions are like sarais, or motels, a spot for the animals to make temporary stops earlier than touring onward. Others are multistory residence buildings with as many as 40 flooring.
If we analyze the chabutras from an architectural perspective, we would describe some as Indo-Saracenic, Brutalist, postmodern, modern.
A chabutra will also be related to the spiritual and cultural identities of its group. Many individuals construct the constructions as memorials to deceased family and friends members and consider that supplying them with meals is like feeding the souls of the departed. Some Hindus consider that providing meals on the construction is akin to feeding god.
It’s no shock, then, that enormous donations of birdseed are sometimes made at necessary social occasions: funerals, weddings, births. In some cities, contributing grain to communal chabutras may even function a sort of punishment, or mandated group service.
Whereas working to find and doc the chabutras in Kutch, I’ve visited a number of dozen villages throughout the district and spoken with numerous individuals who assist inventory and preserve the constructions. And whereas the historic wood birdhouses in some locations — Ahmedabad, for instance, Gujarat’s most populous metropolis — have been properly documented, comparable consideration hasn’t been paid to these in Kutch.
My purpose with this undertaking, which I’ve labored on for the final seven years, has been to assist compensate for the dearth of consideration paid to Kutch’s chabutras — notably within the wake of a devastating earthquake in 2001 that destroyed most of the celebrated stone specimens.
Whereas the earthquake turned many historic chabutras to rubble, it additionally paved the way in which for the brand new constructions we see right now.