Post -by Gautam Shah


Dwellings anywhere and any-time have two inevitable features —a Door and a Hearth. Both offer some sense of protection. The Door offers physical security whereas the hearth offers a metaphysical sense of family. A door denotes a domainthe home, and the hearth focusesthe family.


  • Classical Latin word FOCUS =fireplace, hearth; from uncertain or unknown; perhaps Indo-European base an unverified form bhok=to flame, burn from a source uncertain or unknown; perhaps Armenian bo =flame.
  • An abode with an open door or no door, but with smoke arising from it, is a sign of inhabitation. A house however, with a broken door is an abandoned entity. No one enters a place, with an open door, no door or a broken door, because it is in some ones possession. A person with a door (or gap) has the right of occupation and residence.


In very primitive dwellings a door and the hearth, both were circumstantial -identified by their primal position rather then their physical form. Doors without any physical form have been like skewed entry positions, such as: cliff faces, entwined passages, narrow or low height(crawling) passageways (like igloos of Eskimos), fall-down (pit houses of China) or climb-up (tree houses), etc., Such primal positions have strengthened the functions of doors. For many stone age cultures and in Harappan, Egyptian and Mesopotamia civilizations the ‘door’ was a gap that served the purpose of entry, exit and illumination. The ‘door gap with cover’ additionally provided privacy, security and control of environment.


Long houses had doors at both ends, and were covered with an animal hide to preserve interior warmth. Each long-house contains a number of booths along both sides of the central hallway, separated by wooden containers (akin to modern drawers). Each booth has its own individual hearth and fire. Usually an extended family occupied one long-house, and cooperated in obtaining food, building canoes, and other daily tasks.’ (Long-house Wikipedia).



The hearth has been the focus of the family. A place with fire provided illumination, warmth, protection against wild animals. It is a focus to surround for food, talk, communication and entertainment. Today in every house, the Kitchen -the place of hearth and the Door have a very intense relationship. The person in charge becomes the natural controller of the door -front or backyard door.


Hearth and Family


The first doors were plain gaps with additional facility of cover. A variety of covering materials like, hide, fabrics, woven matins, rubble heaps, sticks, wood logs and planks, metal casts, paper, grass and leaves, and stone slabs were used. These were dumped, heaped, hung or placed strategically. Stripes of hides, vines, ropes, animal guts, sticks, etc., were also used to support the cover materials. Such doors’ covers were assembled as and when required or hung to roll up or push aside.

Harappan streets were straight walled as house entrances were placed in side lanes. Houses had entry gaps from small passages or court yards. Even today in many warm -arid and humid climates, the door remains open for substantial part of day and also night. For security reasons if the opening has to be shut, the Jali or latticed door or a curtain is closed.

Idoorways - Lahore 1946

The word Shitomi (Japanese) for the door literally means ‘a small woven mat’ recalling the hanging curtain forms of doors in ancient buildings. Shitomi was used for protection against wind and rain. Windows filled with criss-cross lattices is called shitomimado.

  • ‘There are two basic types of Japanese door covers: 1 Hung from an overhead lintel, Uchinori nageshi , and 2 Lifted in or taken out of upper and lower tracks’. The former are sometimes attached at the top by hinges in such a way as to allow them to move left to right or vice versa.
  • Tsurijitomi (=lit. hanging shutters) is term for timber shutters or doors that generally have vertical and a horizontal lattice attached to the exterior surface and sometimes to the interior surface as well. The sliding type panel board shutter without a lattice is called Shitomibame. Shitomibame are also used on shops were either the set in or the sliding type, and served as protection from thieves.


Ancient openings were associated with the Sun. The Sun entered from the East and passed out from the West. The East was associated with life, joy and brightness, and the West with darkness, gloom and death. Intaglios Babylonian seals show Sun god passing through a double valved gate of the East, and beginning to climb the mountain of the sky. The Veda  (Indian ancient texts) says ‘the dawn shone with brilliance and opened for us the doors that are high and wide with their frames’. Even where four sides of a building have openings, it is the East door that is the great door or the gate of sunrise. The great Eastern door of the sun temple at Baalbek, ‘city of the sun,’ was 21′ w x 40′ h. Tombs in Egypt, Persia and Lycia have on West side a false door that was indicated like a real door. It is low and narrow, framed and decorated like the door of an ordinary house. Door of entrance marks the birth or new beginning, and the door of exit marks the death or end of the world.