Rain or Shine – India’s Window Chajja Have You Covered

India's window chajja, shown on houses in the French quarter of Pondicherry

India’s window chajja help keep you cool in summer and dry in the rainy season. They are projections above windows, and range from simple concrete blocks, to striped plastic coverings to tiled mini-roofs to carved wooden masterpieces.

Chajja is also a glorious word in its own right! In Urdu it means “brim” and can also refer to the brim of a hat, while Hindi/English dictionaries use the meaning “balcony”.

Chajja window projections at the Blue Sea hotel, Kovalam
Hotel Blue Sea, Kovalam, Kerala

Chajja chat

Looking through my Indian photo albums (and please excuse the quality of some images – I’ve been finding examples of chajja lurking in dark corners of photos taken to highlight something else entirely), I see the former French colonial town of Pondicherry offers up a host of excellent examples. And while captioning the photos below, I was focusing on the tiled projection over the window in the town of Nagercoil, and realised there was a contemporary concrete version on the adjacent house.

Chajja incorporated into bBalconies in Pune
Chajja incorporated into balconies for an Art Deco building in Pune, western India

A chajja can either be part of the structure of the wall, in which case they are usually of brick, concrete or stone, or they can be added on after the building is completed, and then usually constructed from wood, metal or tiles on a frame. They can be angled or flat, plain or decorative. The traditional method of keeping sun out of a room in India was with overhanging eaves, sometimes with verandahs as well (“verandah” is a Bengali word). Shutters also keep the sun out, and have the advantage that they can be flung open on cooler winter days or when the sun has gone off that particular side of the house.

Chaji in Pondicherry
Chajja in Pondicherry

The chajja first appeared in colonial times, according to Indian architect Sathya Prakash Varanashi, writing in the Hindu newspaper. They take up less space than the extended eaves of roofs and verandahs, and were popular in urban environments – but have generally disappeared from contemporary architecture. However, Varanashi notes that they are being incorporated into new buildings in Bangalore. Interestingly, this is probably against the trend of making rooms as light as possible; but it is an ecologically sound development as it prevents the build-up of heat during the day and thus can save on air-conditioning costs.

Chajja window projections in Nagercoil, southern India
Traditional chajja on the left, modern on the right, in Nagercoil, southern India

In fact, when I discovered the term chajja, while trawling through websites on Indian architecture, the example that came directly to my mind was on a house on Pondicherry’s rue Suffren. I had spent part an afternoon sketching the house and street scene, and later at home developed it into an acrylic painting – so felt I knew every inch of this particular chajja very well.

I’m happy to now be able to put a name to this feature!

And here, just for the record, is the (um, still unfinished) painting!

Acrylic painting of house on rue Suffren in Pondicherry, India, by Ann Williams
House on the rue Suffren, Pondicherry, showing chajja on the left

For further information on chajjas and the use of architecture to deal with climate and weather, you can read more by Sathya Prakash Varanashi.

Chajja window projections at the BNR hotel in Puri, Odisha, India
Old chajja at the BNR Hotel in Puri, Odisha

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