Situated in the Shivaganga district of Tamil Nadu, Chettinad is a region famous for huge mansions. The Nattukotai Chettiars, a trading community built these mansions during the19th and the first part of 20th century. These Palatial houses are numbered in thousands!! But the situation had changed a lot in the last few decades. The newer generation is not able to maintain these “huge houses” due to increased cost. Few have moved to big cities leaving the houses under caretakers. In some cases, it is only used for family functions. A lot of property has changed hands leading to demolition of the houses for monetary gains. Few of the houses are also converted to hotels. Many of the houses are locked and left to ruin. While the area provides a glimpse of the great past, the future looks bleak.
Our place of stay in Chettinad was in the town of Karaikudi. It took us about 9 hours (including breaks) from Bengaluru. While the roads were good, the toll booths and the omnipresent barricades on the road (they seem to be popular in Tamil Nadu) significantly reduced the speed. If you are interested, you can also take short detours in Namakkal, Trichy and Sri Rangam.
Thousand window mansion
Our journey started with the visit to thousand window mansion in Karaikudi. I think the name “thousand window” comes due to the large number of windows in the house and the actual number may be lesser. But the mansion is unmaintained and is in ruins. Though the mansion was closed, the gates were opened allowing us to enter into the compound. As the name suggested, the mansion had lot of windows. We spent some time peeping into the house!! There were signs of some care takers staying in that mansion but it was empty during our visit.
Mansions of Kanadukathan
Kanadukathan is a small village near Karaikudi. It is a beautiful village with neatly laid roads in perpendicular fashion dotted with mansions on either sides. I would say that it is the heart of Chettinad. In spite of so many mansions, the village is very silent and less people seen on the streets!! It is probably because most of the mansions are empty. It is possible to enter into few of the mansions in this village.
The house looked very huge but old from outside. The caretakers invited us to look into the house (for a fee). The main part that attracted us was the carvings on the main door. Carved out of wood, it was very intricate. The main hall, kitchen area and verandah were huge.
Almost all rooms in the house were locked. When asked the caretakers about getting inside the room, he said that there was only dust. It was very odd to see such a huge house without any people.
The back side of the house opened into another street. You can imagine the size of the house!!
One of the very few houses which allows visitors. The main hall was huge but could not capture as photography was not allowed in the hall!! Usually, the hall is the grand part of the house in Chettinad. The roof for its entire length of 50 feet was intricately carved by Burma teak.Overall planning looked very similar to AVR house.
We were allowed to climb the stairs and explore part of the terrance which provided a bird’s eye view of the village. Lot of mansions could be seen. Most of them were locked and were left to decay. The painting on the outer side of the houses also reveals the state of the house. The locked houses were all discoloured!!
The biggest house in the village. It is also beautifully painted. But entry is not allowed into the house. It is good to spend some time looking at the grandeur of the mansion.
A bullock cart in Kanadukathan, catering to tourists.
A handloom weaving center in Kanadukathan. You can view the saree weaving here and buy sarees.
Athangudi is a place famous for producing Chettinad tiles used in Chettinad homes. The “Palace” here gives a clear picture of the opulence of Chettiars in those days. While the hall in CVRM house was stunning, it is completely another class in Athangudi Palace. You will surely be spellbound looking at its beauty. The ceiling is beautifully carved and painted and you end up watching it until your neck pains!!
The side hall next to the main is of another style!!
Look at the painting on top of the room doom. There are hundreds of such paintings!!
Visit to Athangudi is not complete without a visit to the tile factory. Don’t imagine things by the name “factory”. It is just a small shed to prepare tiles. The tiles are prepared manually with the locally available sand. One of the worked demonstrated the process of making the tiles.
I believe the demand for these tiles is less these days due to the manual process.
Chettinad cuisine is one of the most renowned fare in Tamil Nadu. For a South Indian, it is one of the variant from the numerous options. The Chettiar cuisine is well known for non vegetarian style but there were quite some options for vegetarians. Many hotels in the area serve Chettinad cuisine with the prices ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 1200.
For anyone interested in history, Chettinad is a place to visit. The area is to during summer months and most visit it during the winter months. There are lot of stay options in Chettinad ranging from the Palatial mansions to the normal hotels. Karaikudi is a main town in the area which has many hotels while Kanadukathan is a small village with less options but is a beautiful place. All places are within 20 km from Karaikudi. Chettinad is not just famous for mansions but also for temples and fort. More information about them in the next posts.