The Chettinad way of Life

On November 28, 2016

Chettinad is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, about 85km away from the famed temple town of Madurai. A trip to this rural destination reveals the heritage mansion homes of the Chettiars who were shrewd business men that traded in almost everything ranging from common salt to gems with countries like Burma, Singapore and Malaysia. Much of their incomes went into building grand mansions that were built during the 19nth and 20th century. However, by the mid-twentieth century, most of the Chettiars moved to the capital Chennai for better prospects and left their intricately designed mansions to be managed by caretakers; these days the mansions only come to life when the Chettiars visit their traditional homes during festivals and hosting weddings.

About 11,000 of these palatial homes are still surviving as of today, which is just half of what there were a hundred years ago. The better-maintained homes are now open to tourists to marvel at the amazing works of craftsmanship used in building the beautifully sculptured teak pillars from Burma, marble tiles from Italy, ceiling tiles from Spain and intricate wood carvings on the doors. A mixture of egg whites and lime were used to coat the walls for that gleaming effect which is still evident today, even after a century of creation. These mansions are so big that their entrances maybe on one street and their exits on another parallel street! They usually have large central verandahs that open out onto another verandah and another… rooms open off these verandahs, and there can be up to a 100 rooms per mansion. Some of these mansions have been converted into heritage hotels, and Chidambra Vilas is one such hotel, where you can enjoy the ambiance and grandeur of those long-gone days. They even provide cultural displays for their guests to get a feel of the local culture.

Upon your visit to Chettinad, empty streets during summer afternoons might lead you to think you have reached a ghost town, but it’s just the way of life there. You will be captivated to see crumbling buildings next to beautiful mansions, dusty streets next to lush green fields, scenes that keep you expectant of what would come next!

The crafts of Chettinad include intricate wood carving, colorful hand-made Athangudi tiles, traditional hand-woven Kandango saris, palm leaf baskets and gold jewellery. A trip into town would enable you watch the artisans at their work.

Chettinad can be easily reached by road and rail and the nearest airports are in Madurai and Tiruchirappalli.