Chettinad is a region composed of several villages in the Southern part of Tamil Nadu tucked comfortably between the cities of Madurai and Trichy—two of the busiest cities of the state. It is indeed true to say that time in Chettinad is very reluctant to pass. It is one of those rare places that take you back and forth in time when you move around the streets. Perhaps this time-jumping magic of Chettinad is due to the presence of large houses that remain closed, unexplored and gathering dust creating shades of sepia layers.
One of the most interesting elements to experience in Chettinad is the mansions one can find here. The magnificent architectural builds boasting of a confluence of several architectural styles—several artistic signatures integrate as one of the best things to experience in Chettinad. Of many magnificent builds, the largest and the best mansion to witness and be in sheer awe of is the Athangudi Periya Veedu.
The entrance to Periya Veedu—meaning big house, in Tamil—itself is a testimony of the definite better things to come. If you are not a fan of the dusty, brownish landscapes of the region, stepping into the spacious and chilly interiors of the mansion will bring you the comfort you might have long been craving for. Stepping into the Mugappu, you can witness the large, roomy corridors that stretch up to the back door. The back door opens at another parallel street, and it clearly shows how big these houses are.
The Mugappu of the mansion is itself really astonishing and its look is further enhanced by the wide, low seating space—known as Thinnai—which runs along the walls on either side of the main entrance to the mansion. By the looks of the same, space looks to be a perfect socializing space for people.
If you are thinking about the history of the Periya Veedu, like most Chettinad mansions, this too was built towards the early years of 20th century. It is a heartening thing to know that many such mansions across Chettinad are on the ruin as most of their owners have shifted to the nearby cities such as Madurai, Trichy and Coimbatore and other countries. Quite a few mansions have been leased by owners to be run as heritage hotels while many others, like the Periya Veedu, are run by lending it out as shooting locations.
Just across the Mugappu is the vast courtyard of the mansion which is mostly used by the women of the house to dry pickles and appalam. These courtyards have open tops to let the sunlight fall into the house.
The Periya Veedu is furnished exceptionally well as well; the diverse décor items one can witness in Periya Veedu—and other Chettinad Mansions, generally—are beyond stupefying. The Chettiars always got the best stuff; teak, chandeliers and glass from Burma, Belgium and Murano, respectively. By throwing exceptional architectural styles here are there, they form a distinct architectural masterpiece. The complex, yet detailed wooden work on the doors, walls, pillars and even on the ceiling is a wonder in itself. The carvings of the Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth, are prominent across the carvings on the house.
The vast, beautiful building, when you exit it on another street, will surely have surprised, intrigued and left you wanting for more.