Things to do in Chettinad
On June 29, 2017
Chettinad is that rustic region in Tamil Nadu that has a unique history dating back to the nineteenth century. Currently comprising of 73 villages and 2 towns located over an area of 1,550 sq km in the Sivaganga district of the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Though a visit would leave you a little speechless at the sight of sleepy, dusty streets and crumbling mansions interspersed with green patches of rice farms, a closer look inside yields an entirely different scenario with an amazing collection of items from numerous other countries; these would include countries as diverse as Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, Burma and Japan! The Chettiars of Tamil Nadu were a shrewd clan who made their fortunes in trading before switching to the banking and finance sector. They are the founders of the present-day private banking system in India and were essential to the economy of southern India.
Some of the unique features that were part of this clan are still in existence today and a trip to this hinterland yields an unforgettable experience. The best way would be to land in nearby Chennai or Madurai and take the road or rail connection to Karaikudi, the main Chettinad town, and book into a heritage hotel like the renovated 108-year-old luxurious Chettinad mansion, the Chidambara Vilas, located nearby. This hotel showcases the best features of a typical Chettiar’s mansion with its expansive courtyards, huge wooden pillars, exquisite hand-made tiles, beautiful panelling and magnificent architectural designing.
From here, you can start your journey into the Chettiar’s way of life; the first in your list should be the sampling of authentic Chettinad cuisine which is the world apart from any other Indian cuisine with its uniquely rich flavours. Strolling along the streets of this habitation is the best way to experience the culture at first hand. Among the numerous mansions seen in Devacottai, the second largest town here, the Periya Minor’s Veedu is the most famous with its Spanish roof tiles, Italian floor tiles and superbly carved teak pillars. The designing on the ceiling will take you back to the old churches in Italy.
The Kaviarasar Kannadasan Mani Mandapam is dedicated to the poet Kaviarasar Kannadasan and includes a library, auditorium and a museum with a stunning collection traditional attires, jewellery and artefacts like huge grain bins and copper vats.
A visit to the amazing hand-made Athangudi tile cottage industry is a must and very educational. Who knows, the craftsman might even make a terracotta tile especially for you! These tiles owe their uniqueness to the clay found here and are famous all over the world for their unique designs.
Shopping at the antique markets in Devakottai is a treasure hunter’s paradise as you can find things including intricately-designed furniture to carved front doors and enamel pottery from Czechoslovakia and mirrors from Belgium. Other things to shop for here are the famous glass bangles, wooden carvings and hand-woven baskets as well as the hand-made Kandaangi cotton saris in all colours of the rainbow; these saris are so unique and different from the regular factory-woven saris.
Of course, a visit isn’t complete without delving into the mythology of the numerous temples located here… The best time to visit this magnificent region is between October and January.