A quick look in to Chettinad

On September 12, 2016

A nexus of 73 villages and 2 towns spread over 1,550 km2 in the districts of Sivagangai and Pudukottai comprises the land of Chettinad, with its capital in Karaikudi. Claiming to have originated from the ancient kingdom of Chola that existed between the 10th to 12th centuries, the Chettiars, or Nagarathars were primarily Seafarers, well known for their trading expeditions overseas. Having lost their land and belongings in a tidal wave, they decided to move inland and are said to have been invited by a Pandyan king to help prosper his kingdom. A centrally located temple and the land of Chettinad were offered in exchange for their trading skills. The affluent and wealthy Nagarathars lived in a network of 96 villages surrounding the temple of which 73 remain.

The existing 73 villages are a testimony of the culturally advanced Chettiar community. The elaborately planned township takes care of all the basic need of its people. The town has defined roadways, market places, temples and reservoirs for water supply. The magnificent mansions in Chettinad are the finest examples of the blend of South East & European architecture combined with traditional Vastu. The ornate mansions are a showcase of fine interiors from across the world Burmese teak, Italian marble, crockery from Indonesia, cast iron and steel from UK and India, ceiling material from Britain, tiles from Bombay, Japan, and Europe, Mirrors from Belgium, Chandeliers from France and Italy. Satisfied by only the best, skilled workmen were employed from across India for woodcarving, frescoes, and egg-plastering. The layout, as well as the sheer size and the number of these unbelievable houses, are unique in India. It’s no surprise that Chettinad has been nominated by UNESCO for sites of historic and cultural value.

In spite all the opulent grandeur, life in Chettinad is laid back and relaxed bringing the visitor closer to the rhythm of village life. In the sweltering heat of the day, the town is practically deserted if not for the lone vehicle or animal passing the desolate streets dotted with beautifully renovated mansions. The prolific green fields are a welcome relief from the crumbling buildings and arid weather. Chettinad is a paradise for those looking to dwell in historic grandeur. Despite the fact that many of the wonderful houses have succumbed to time, over 10,000 mansions still remain. Most of the existing palatial residences are either locked up or have been refurbished into boutique hotels and resorts; a thriving business in this region.

The present generation of Chettiar community has moved to different cities of India and other countries to pursue jobs and business interests. Today, Nagarathars are employed as professionals across the globe – in more than 50 countries. However, they do not fail to return to their land and to their roots, when there is a family function. Chettiar mansions and family gatherings are a reminder of the successful joint families that existed in the older days.

Places of interest

Religious visit:

Chettiars are a religious community, with each member belonging to one of the clan temples in and around Karaikudi. Ilayathangudi temple, 19th century Vairavanpatti temple, the Soorakudi temple believed to possess supernatural powers, Velankudi temple, 12th century Iraniyur temple with the enchanting Nataraja, Pillaiyarpatti temple, Mathur temple, believed to have existed since 1500 yrs and the granite roofed Athmanathaswamy temple are all way beyond one’s usual expectation.

Other Attractions:

The Kanadukathan Village: Raja’s Palace. The Chettinad Raja’s Palace built in 1912, by Dr.Annamali Chettiyar, who also founded Indian Bank and the Annamalai University in Chidambaram. The palace has also featured in many Tamil movies. The Chettinad Museum is a home converted to showcase the typical Chettiar community lifestyle, complete with clothes, precious ornaments, utensils etc.

The Kandaangi and Chettinad cotton saree weaving centers are a delight to visit. Athangudi Tiles, the pride and joy of Athangudi Village, offers an enchanting display of beautiful and colorful handmade tiles manufactured in cottage industries. Wood carving is another intricate art worth seeing.

Muneeswaran Koil Street in Karaikudi Village is the place for all those with an unquenchable thirst for antiques. The street is bursting with antiquities of international origins. The Isai Payirichi Maiyam (School of music) in Koviloor village will soothe the soul of the musically inclined.
Bikes and bicycles are available for rent to explore the land and its many wonders. One could even hire a bullock cart to go back in time.

How to reach?

Chettinad is well connected by air, road, and rail. Madurai Airport and Tiruchirappalli International Airport are the nearest airports. A number of long distance trains from Chennai stop at Pudukkottai, Karaikudi, Kanadukaathan, Devakottai and Kallal stations. Buses are also frequent.