Not until a few years ago, Rajasthan showed us how to truly promote and market heritage tourism. Its success story was soon emulated by other states including Tamil Nadu. Heritage has always been an attracting force in Tamil Nadu. Its countless temples, dance forms, cuisine, festivals have been unique and mesmerizing. And none other than Karaikudi holds the crown for heritage tourism in Tamil Nadu. In fact, this quaint little town is now declared to be a ‘Heritage Town’ by the Government of India.
Palatial homes, sumptuous cuisine, intricate wood carvings, are some of things that make this Chettinadu culture special. Much of Karaikudi’s history was established around the 18th century when the Chettiars- a trading community settled here. This community was into trade and commerce with many South East Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, etc. Emboldened by the wealth gathered through trade, these Chettiars built huge palatial homes that were adorned with artifacts and materials imported from far and wide. Intricate carvings on Burmese teak wood, Italian marbles, Belgium mirrors and lights, etc. are commonplace in most Chettiar homes.
But by the middle of the 20th century, most families moved away from Karaikudi to cities like Chennai and abroad in search of greener pastures. These homes were maintained by trusted caretakers who served them when these families came back for vacations. Today, only an estimated 11,000 of these remain- it is said that there were almost 20,0000 such homes in and around Chettinadu more than 100 years ago. Many of them are in disrepair and in dire need of restoration. And those that have been well maintained are now converted into heritage hotels giving curious visitors a glimpse of the Kongu culture.
Chidamabara Vilas is one of the many boutique hotels that offer an insight to curious heritage tourists about actual life in Chettinadu. Like the many homes that were refurbished, Chidamabara Vilas too was renovated by the Sangam Group of Hotels. The original home was built more than 100 years ago by a powerful Chettinadu family. Restorers who undertook the renovation project made sure than the authentic heritage of the house was preserved.
Besides the huge houses and priceless art and artefacts there are plenty of things to explore and experience in Karaikudi and adjoining places. Pudukottai for instance, is home to the Thirumayam fort, Chirhannavasal, and several temples that were built centuries ago. Just a few kilometers away from Karaikudi are the famous temples of Thanjavur, Madurai and Trichy. And for those who’d like to explore Chettinadu ever more, a visit to villages like Kanadukathan, Kadiapatti etc. are a must.
With its glorious past and well preserved culture, Karaikudi continues to be a torchbearer for heritage tourism in Tamil Nadu.