Chettinad houses – those beautiful, huge mansions you must’ve seen in movies. I got a chance to visit a few of them.
Hey y’all, howdy. December was an eventful month for me.
I tried the 10-day vipassana course in December last year but couldn’t sit through the whole program. So I jumped out midway and did what I love doing – went on a long drive.
After hours of driving, I landed in a heritage town near Karaikudi in the Chettinad region. Chettinad region, by the way, stretches from Madurai to Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu.
This region used to be inhabited by the ‘Natukottai Chettiars‘ – a community of wealthy merchants who traded all across India and overseas in the 19th century.
What is a Chettinad house?
The rich Chettiars built these palatial homes – called Chettinad houses – using solid teak from Burma, Italian marble, decorative ceramic tiles and Indian ivory.
Please watch this video to get an idea about the Chettinad houses:
But as times changed, and as the Chettiar influence abroad eroded, most families had to move out of the region to larger cities in search of fresh opportunities.
Many of these white elephant homes are now in a state of rot and decline, but the caretakers are happy to show visitors around the house for a sum of Rs 50 (per head).
What are the features of Chettinad house?
The mansions typically have a verandah running around a central courtyard, and the floors are made of vibrant Chettinad Tiles or Athangudi tiles.
You will find Several bedrooms on all sides of the central courtyard. The luxurious interiors follow the traditional architectural science of Vastu Shastra.
They have a separate dining area and kitchen.
One of the largest Chettinad houses in the region, named Visalam has now been restored by the CGH Earth hotel group. Check it out if you are in the area.
I visited a few Karaikudi Chettinad houses– they all looked more like museums now. I also saw the Chettinad palace from outside but couldn’t enter.
This region is also famous for the hand-crafted, eco-friendly, colourful floor tiles called Athangudi tiles. If you have architect friends, you can spend a whole afternoon talking about Athangudi tiles and Chettinad mansions with them.
The region is famous for its colourful palm leaf baskets and Karaikudi cotton sarees.
Well, I should say this trip helped me understand a lot more about the region. The only thing I knew about the place before this trip was the taste of Chettinad chicken curry.