An Indian Courtyard

Hello ! Hello ! Hello !
Yes, I know I had disappeared for a while. But the thing with being in India is that your day is completely occupied. From arranging for the TV mechanic to arrive to fix the TV , to getting the gardener to do some planting in a garden where most things have happened accidentally, to making a trip to a nearby market for vegetables at the cheapest prices(with current vegetable prices its a wonder that I am buying vegetables at all !)- my day simply flies. Does this happen with you as well ? Or is it just I that is, perhaps, badly organized ?

So you see why I couldn’t write a post.

All this while I have had these nice pictures sitting in a folder, waiting to be put up! Pictures of an Indian aangan or courtyard-and activities that go on in it.

I have always loved courtyards in bungalows and traditional homes and the way in which they are the centres of activity- everyday activities as well as special ones like weddings.

The one in Ujjwala Agarwal’s home could not have been more perfect- both in appearance as well as in the way it is used. I had been to this lovely home a few times with my sister Uttora. It is a single storied bungalow located in a leafy area of Allahabad. Every time we visited we either sat in the courtyard itself-as we did for a Diwali party- or we sat, cosily chatting, in one of the verandahs facing the courtyard.

The interesting part was that, as Ujjwala sat with us, chatting or treating us to fabulous home made snacks, she had an eye on what was going on around the courtyard and gently kept calling out instructions once in a while. This, Ujjwala said, was the most important thing about a courtyard.
In homes where you have servants(there are fewer and fewer everyday, though) you need to be in a place from where you can supervise their activities-and courtyards were designed this way- an open area in the middle with verandahs and rooms built around.

Ujjwala’s husband’s family- is an interesting one. They own a well known publishing house, Kitab Mahal, that publishes books in Hindi. In 1938, her father-in-law, Srinivas Agarwal established this business on Zero Road (I have to find out why it is named that ! If you happen to know-do please inform me)in the old city of Allahabad .

Allahabad was,in the past, an important centre for book publishing with the famous Indian Press ( will write about their house soon), Leader press, Law Book Publishers, Kitab Mahal, etc, being established here. Delhi has replaced Allahabad now.

Ujjwala’s husband, Naresh Agarwal was 23 when his father died. Thereafter, his elder brother and he carried the business forward.
In 1957 Srinivas Agarwal bought the house they now live in. It was then already a hundred years old. It had been a club house built for the British. Over a period of time renovations were carried out by the Agarwal family to also include a courtyard. In India, the Agarwals are known for their business acumen and, the part I love, their pickle and snack making skills.

The morning of taking these pictures the aangan was a hub of activity. And my sister and I loved being a part of it !

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Pickles, an essential part of Indian food and made to family recipes in homes,and Ujjwala’s are fabulous, had been put out in jars, including the traditional white and brown ceramic barni, to cook in the sun. Lemon, chilli and a sour Indian berry, very popular for pickling, karonda, were being sunned in preparation to pickling-

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After marrying Naresh Agarwal- Ujjwala moved in, as is the norm in India, with her in-laws. Inspite of being traditional, she says, they were wonderful. In fact her mother-in-law, Suraj mukhi, was one of the most generous people Ujjwala has known. She would give away her jewellery, saris, utensils to anyone who needed them more than she. As a result very few of her personal effects remain with the family.

Coming back to the aangan, next to the pickles, papad (dried lentil/rice/potato thin biscuits-fried or grilled before serving),lentils and dried red chillies were being sunned-

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On another side, Ujjwala’s faithful old maid was seated on a peedha(a low stool)winnowing lentils in a traditional tray called soop-
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On yet another verandah a servant was ironing clothes-

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I loved this old model of an iron-

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An elevated pedestal in most aangans houses a tulsi(sacred basil)plant. The tulsi plant is worshipped in India and its leaves and seeds, beautifully flavoured, are commonly used as a home remedy to treat coughs, colds and other ailments.

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It was morning and Ujjwala, freshly bathed, in a crisp orange cotton sari, was beginning her day by worshipping her tulsi-

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The tulsi draped with cloth and offered fresh flowers, water and light from an oil lamp-things simple, natural and traditional-the best way to be-

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A niche in the pedestal houses the oil lamp-beautiful in its simplicity-

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A puja(prayer)room, an essential part of a lot of Indian homes, opening into one of the verandahs with Ujjwala performing simple rituals of prayer-
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A closer look at the shrine-

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Then she steps out to check her pickles-

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I had to take a shot of this fabulous mango chutney-we had it later.It was delicious !

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Then we sat on the part of the verandah from where Ujjwala presides over her household and had a most fabulous breakfast- and got to taste all those gorgeous pickles-

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What a beautiful view we had of the aangan ! It was as if life had stood still. Activity was happening almost in slow motion in little sections of the same common area.
And we were watching it all from a distance, well seated and well fed. It was pure contentment !

Thank you, Ujjwala for letting us be a part of your routine . Thank you for sharing .

For other posts on more beautiful homes click here.

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Hope you have a good, relaxed weekend !

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About Adity

Hello ! You are either already a friend or will become one--through this medium! I am an artist and jewellery maker, a wife and mother to two lovely children. Beautiful homes, food, nature and wonderful things happening around me make me ecstatic. That is why I started to write this blog-- to share with you all of these things. After all what good is any experience if not shared !
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19 Responses to An Indian Courtyard

  1. shikha chaki says:

    You really have to be very lucky to live in a house and to have an angan would really be the cherry on the top. Such a lovely angan.It was such a pleasure enjoying it through your eyes,Adity.Loved it.

  2. kavita mitter says:

    Good to have your blog back Adity! Loved Ujjwala’s aangan – courtyards formed such an important part of homes in the old days – open yet private. Such a shame they aren’t a part of architects plans any longer – I guess that just reflects the time we live in. Thank you Ujjwala for sharing your beautiful aangan with us and Adity I envy you that breakfast!!!

    • Thanks so much, Kavita ! I know what you mean .But not sure if people even consider the option of having an aangan. It is ideal for the Indian weather. Sanskriti school and Delhi’s India habitat centre are 2 places I know that have included the concept of courtyards- brilliant !
      My sister Uttora, while renovating their old house, chose to keep their aangan-small but so useful and pleasant.
      Trouble is builders are building European style-extremely stupid- but seems people like it- like you say-a reflection of our times !

  3. Vandana andLadlie Tandon says:

    A beautiful traditional Indian Aangan which is becoming rare by the day.Very well done piece.Ujjwala and Naresh are excellent hosts.
    MunMun

  4. chetna says:

    thanks immensely for drawing our attention to the simple, yet lasting, pleasures of life.

  5. What a wonderful story! I felt like I was there with you. And the photo’s were charming.

  6. Amita Sathe says:

    hi Adity! I think this one would go down really well with people interested in architecture and culture…..it is such a lovely peek into a space that is so private and shielded from the outside, yet open to everyone on the inside…..here’s an idea (unsolicited and probably unwanted) . you could compare the Indian aangan with a courtyard in a hutong….

    • Certainly not unwanted, Amita. I love your suggestion ! I have not been to China since our posting there. But given the large scale remodelling of cities that have taken place there-are there any traditional houses with courtyards or bing fangs that remain ? I remember going to Wu Xiao Ling’s traditional house in Beijing for a farewell dinner that our then ambassador, Mr Venkateswaran browbeat him into ! Unforgettable ! Both the house AND the 16 course dinner !

  7. Uttora Ratna says:

    As usual -very comforting and chicken soup for tired souls-both your blog and the ‘aangan’.
    It brings back a rush of memories for me too. Mom in the aangan or ‘oothon’ (as we say in bengali), arguing with Ganga,the fisherman,who insisted that that the hilsa was from Gwalondo(???), Naun,Sadri and the rest of the team washing wheat,pulses and spreading them out to dry,the guava tree at the back which sheltered you little ones playing house …. it continued till the next gen. They are too many to be written as a comment. Adity,a lovely piece and for Ujjwala, a huge thanks for being a wonderful hostess always.

    • I am told that the strongest memories are those upto 12 years of age. I suppose that is why we all have this nostalgia-everything seemed so beautiful -and they were. Always nice to have all the good times provided to you(by parents and elders) rather than be the creator of the same !

  8. Amrita says:

    Oh, to eat some of those pickles….and Adity, sometime you must visit my personal re-creation and version of the Agarwal aangan here in Berkeley, CA.

  9. Gauri Saxena says:

    The post is as simple and charming as Ujjawala herself. I also have very pleasant memories of the aangan in the house I lived in from class 5 till a little after postgraduation. The entire day during the winter holidays was spent in the aangan…soaking in the sun, listening to the cricket commentary, munching guavas and peanuts. And during summer we would sleep in the aangan. After the floor had been sprayed with water, it was lovely sitting on the charpoys in the evening, gazing at the kites, and later, at the stars. Plonking on the moon-cooled sheets after dinner was sheer bliss. We would go to sleep listening to Vividh Bharti on the transistor.

    • Where did you live in that period, Gauri ? What you and Uttora describe were so typical of life at that time. We used to sleep on our terrace-and don’t forget the white cotton mosquito nets on the charpais- making each a small private chamber .

  10. Mastybug says:

    Au fait on Shrine. Hi, new to this blog post. This is Great article posted here…. Indian traditional model. You are lucky to have this home hope you conserve regularly. Thanks for sharing this to us.

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