August 6, 2018

Chettinad Mansions- A Stroll Through Yesteryear’s Opulence



An eerie silence spreads over the deserted dusty alleys of Kanadukathan every evening as the sun sets. The grandiose mansions amidst the roof tiled houses stand tall and their looming silhouettes have many a story to tell of the Chettiar community, who lived and ruled the Chettinad region. From the flourishing times to the days when they had to sell their properties, Chettinad showcases the ostentatious lifestyle of Chettiars through their magnificent homes, some of which have been restored and a few that have been converted into heritage hotels. However, many of them have been either pulled down or are in a dilapidated state at present. The community presently lives in the shade of its rich bygone times and people have moved to various parts of the country and abroad since their decline in early 20th century.

Scattered over 75 villages including Karaikudi, Kanadukathan, Athangudi and Pallathur, Chettinad was ruled by Chettiars, the wealthy merchants who were traders and financiers during their prime. They were traders since the time of Chola empire in the  12th century and dealt with a wide range of items such as teak, silk and spices with far off lands such as Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, Indonesia et al. It is believed that they moved to this landlocked region covering the districts of Pudukottai and Shivaganga in Tamil Nadu when their homes along the coast was washed away by a cyclone. The community settled in Chettinad, built large palatial houses and travelled extensively for trading.

Referred as Nattukottais (land fortresses) locally, these gargantuan mansions are built over an acre with the front entrance opening on to one street and the back door to another one.  The multiple storeyed structures have grand entrance gates and sculptures of various Hindu mythological figures on its outer façade. The carved front doors open into entrance halls with a double ceiling height.  This further leads to a couple of sunlit courtyards with numerous rooms along the pillared pathways. Beyond the courtyards are the dining areas, women’s quarters and the kitchen.The architecture and designs were mostly influenced from their travels to various countries, and the interiors were adorned with things from world over. One would be surprised to find pillars made from Burmese teak, mirrors from Belgium, Japanese ceramic tiles and Italian marble inside these houses. The interiors are also embellished with magnificent art works, carvings, paintings and a whole lot of grandeur that would help you envisage the life and culture of the Chettairs during their hey days.

Raja's Mansion, Kanadukathan

Athangudi palace's external facade might not be impressive but the interiors are breathtakingly beautiful

The entrance of Athangudi Palace

Athangudi Palace

The magnificent interiors of Athangudi Palace

Athangudi Palace

The courtyard at Athangudi Palace

Athangudi Palace

Dining area of Athangudi Palace

Chettinad Mansion is a heritage hotel

Colourful pillars and courtyard of Chettinad Mansion

Aerial view of Kanadukathan village from the terrace of Chettinad Mansion

VRR House


Extensively carved entrance door of VRR House

VRR House

CVRM Heritage House

CVRM Heritage House

CVRM Heritage House

Belgian mirrors at CVRM Heritage House

A colourful mansion at Kanadukathan


The worn out facade of a mansion in Kanadukathan

Wonderful architecture

Mansions spread from one street to another

Bright and beautiful

A mansion in Kanadukathan

A dilapidated Chettiar house

A mansion in Kanadukathan

A mansion in Kanadukathan

Beautiful outer facade of a mansion in Kanadukathan

A dilapidated mansion in Kanadukathan

A road in Kanadukathan with the tall walls of Chettiar mansions on either side

Kanadukathan is the ideal village to explore these gorgeous mansions. The bylanes of Kanadukathan has numerous such houses that remains shut throughout the year except when the owner’s family visits. These houses are maintained by caretakers and there are a few such as VVR House and CVRM Heritage House that lets visitors in for a nominal entry fee. There are a couple of them like Chettinad Mansion which has been restored and converted into a heritage hotel. Of all the massive houses in Kanadukathan, Raja’s Palace, the mansion that belonged to the King of Chettinad definitely is the most magnificent one. Athangudi Palace in Athangudi village is probably the most extravagant palace in Chettinad and is a perfect specimen of Chettinad architecture. Aayiram Janal Veedu (House with thousand windows) in Karaikudi is another massive Chettiar house.

Navigator:

Located in central Tamil Nadu, Karaikudi is the biggest town in Chettinad region. Villages such as Kanadukathan and Athangudi are a short distance away from Karaikudi. The nearest rail head and airport are at Madurai, 80 Kms away. There are regular buses from Thanjavur and Madurai to Karaikudi.

Food and Accommodation:

Chettinad is known for its exquisite spicy cuisine which majorly constitutes of rice and meat dishes. Friends restaurant in Karaikudi serves good non vegetarian meals. In Kanadukathan, Ranga Villas is a small restaurant which serves lip smacking dosas for breakfast and dinner. Karaikudi has quite a few hotels catering to all budget ranges. Kanadukathan has a couple of luxurious heritage hotels. I stayed at Chettinad Packer, a backpacker hostel in Kanadukathan.

12 comments:

  1. This is so amazing.I have heard lot about chettinad but your captures are so lovely and all palaces and mansions are photographer's delight.Loved the post so much.

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  2. Beautiful pics. Are there good options for vegetarians?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Aravind. Yes, all the restaurants do serve vegetarian fare too.

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  3. Fabulous. What a splendid life it must have been!

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    Replies
    1. True that. All that we can do is envisage that while walking through those heritage structures.

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  4. Thanks for sharing the really nice information . we are also from mysore has a travel agent we can provide travel facility to your next trip

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