Method of study

To obtain a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the heritage values from the local community of Thiruvananthapuram, two categories of sample groups were identified — Brahmin and NonBrahmin community. The Non-Brahmin community comprises of residents of Thiruvananthapuram who have resided in the city for a minimum of 20 years with a sample size of 10. The Brahmin community participant group were residents from the settlement under study with a sample size 15. In-depth interviews were conducted with both groups of the local community, including 12 females and 13 male members in total, ranging in age from 21 to 84 years old. The participants from both groups were from different educational and occupational backgrounds including a student, engineer, a professor, a writer, retired government employees, and a priest from the temple among others. The interviews were conducted in the native language of Malayalam which were later translated and transcribed. A thematic analysis was carried out on each transcript to identify cross-cultural interpretations of significant values and concerns as described by the local community.

The main research questions investigated are as follows:

  • • How does the local community (the Brahmins and the non-Brahmin) value the cultural heritage of the Brahmin agraharams in Thiruvananthapuram?
  • • What are the various threats according to the local communities that is detrimental to the heritage values of the settlement?

The main themes identified from the transcripts of the interviews are categorized as Core Values and Threats. These core values and threats are a result of the articulation of the participants’ views based on their background, experience, genealogies, spiritual associations and world-view (Jones 2017). Core values refer to the key values the Brahmin community ascribe to the settlement and the threats refer to the risks and perils the settlement is currently subjected to according to the participants. The values are demonstrated differently from the conventional framework of grouping them as ‘spiritual’, ‘social’, ‘aesthetic’, and ‘historic’ to understand the underlying nuances. This would in turn cater to addressing the real needs of stakeholders including the local community (Duval et al. 2019) and thereby aid in management of the heritage.

Core values of the settlement by the Brahmin community

In this section, findings from the interviews with the Brahmin community is discussed in detail, as they have a stronger connection to the settlement and the temple that span over generations and for centuries.

Sense of community

One of the key values that the participants attribute to the settlement is its sense of community or ‘oneness’. The participants clearly exhibit a sense of pride in their settlement for its social cohesion and the capacity to stand out from other places in Thiruvananthapuram. They describe their settlement to be ‘one family’, with one of the participants stating:

The houses are not separated ... it’s all together ... like a family ... a typical street is like a family ... especially, we are separated only by a wall and sometimes we can hear the conversations taking place in the neighbouring house ... for example, if we want to talk to someone in the other house we could just do that from the kitchen and they would reply ... suppose when my mother is going out she could just shout out to the neighbours and tell them to keep an eye on our place in case of emergency.

Privacy is not a major concern for the residents of the agraharams and its layout does not give them any room for it. The close-knit nature of the community encourages compact arrangement of their dwellings which for the contemporary living standards of the nuclear family is unconceivable. A participant describes a typical Brahmin residence as:

The main entry area is called tliina, and when you enter inside, that area is called Rezhi, which is the main hall; and after that thalam where we wash our hands after meals and adjacent to the kitchen ... and then the toilet is situated outside ... never attached to the house; it will always be separated. Adjacent to the kitchen, there is a small room for the ladies to stay during periods ... they should remain in that room for those 4 days, they are given food over there, and not allowed inside for those 4 days ... and toilet is right outside ... we could probably compare it to a railway compartment.

The settlement bursts with group activities scaling through all generations and gender. Activities as simple as temple visits and evening chit-chats are performed in a group, engaging the community in a union. In the event of functions related to birth, marriage and death, or religious festivals, the whole community comes together engaging themselves in different responsibilities. The Women’s Wing organizes a ‘Food Mela’ every February, displaying signature Brahmin snacks to the public, an initiative to revive the Tamil Brahmin culinary traditions. The Tamil Brahmin community' prefers homogeneity in their living environment. Their pristine, deep-rooted lifestyle and vegetarianism perhaps make it difficult to acclimatize with non-Brahmin community or non-Hindus. For example, a participant states:

In my street 99 per cent of the residents are Brahmins and we prefer it that way ... even if it is for rent, we prefer the occupants to be Brahmins ...

This homogeneity' contributes to the distinctiveness and identity' of the settlement. This sense of cohesion contributes to two main benefits to its people: security and place attachment. The sense of security' would be the most important of the two, especially amidst the perils of contemporary' society'. Parents are comfortable living in a settlement where they know their children are safe at all times. One mother mentions:

I know most of the people living near us since childhood; so, there is a feeling of attachment and ‘freeness’ and that feeling has never changed over the year. I have a daughter who goes to school ... If at all I am not able to be at home when she arrives from school, I have no fear because I know I can ask my neighbours for help and they' will do the needed. The same goes when we are alone at home.

In case of an emergency', such as if one of the older members of the community' living alone falls seriously ill and is in need of immediate medical attention, the neighbours come together to help at any' time of the day. It is this sense safety’ that attracts and to some extend prevents the older members of the community front moving out of the settlement. When asked about a hypothetical scenario in which the government offers a luxurious apartment in another part of the city away from the settlement, 74 per cent of the participants respond that they would refuse the offer no matter how massive the incentive. This shows a significant sense of attachment to the place, which can also be attributed to the presence of the Padmanâbhaswâmy Temple.

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