Architecture Destinations - India Heritage

Chettinad Charms | Majestic Mansions & Spicy Menus!

Written by Poorna & Brinda

Chettinad. For a foodie, the name is synonymous with the Chettinad cuisine! For a connoisseur of art and heritage, it is the majestic mansions which beckon!

Chettinad is dry and arid region in South Tamil Nadu. There are many things – Magnificent mansions, Mouth watering menus, Rural milieu and of course Marvellous temples to explore here! We did a short trip in 2011 and again in 2015 to the hinterland of Tamil Nadu.  We thoroughly enjoyed.

The drive to Karaikkudi, the major town in Chettinad region was a breeze till Dindigul. Beyond that the two lane highway was a pleasure to drive under the canopy of road side tamarind trees. We were in Karaikkudi by afternoon for lunch.

As we entered the sleepy little town, we could see huge Chettinad mansions in at many places in the city. Searching for BANGALA – the hotel where we were staying – was not difficult. It is a local land mark. We were in time for a Chettinad lunch!

The credit for putting Karaikkudi and Chettinad on “must see” tourist destination should go to Mrs Meenakshi Meiyyappan who has painstaking restored the family owned heritage structure into a lovely boutique hotel. You should see her eye for detail and aesthetic sense that has gone into making this place what it is today. She has personally trained all the staff – who are with her for a long time – including the cooks who dish out mouth-watering menus.This was another reason why we chose to stay here!

Here is a quick tour of the hotel. The hotel has been renovated in the last few years and looks beautiful. Check out their website at the end of this post.

The Entrance foyer

The Lobby

The dining area. This has now been changed into a spacious one which we saw when we had lunch in 2015. See their website at the end of this post.

The Pool

The sit out on the first floor

Elegant rooms!

After lunch, we had a chat with Mrs Meiyyappan and finalised the activities. We are to go around the and see few mansions in the town. On the next day, we planned to visit the village of Kanadukathan which has the largest concentration of Chettinad mansions. We also wanted to visit the workshop of Attangudi tiles  – the colourful handmade cement tiles.

Shanthi came with us as a guide. Our first stop in exploring the Chettinad Mansions was AMA House. Built in 19th century, this is a fine example of grandeur of a Chettinad Mansion. Typically, these mansions are so huge that they are fort like and stretch between two streets, the front door opening onto one while the back door onto the other!

Woven as a series of open-air courtyards of varying sizes with rooms flanking them on all four sides, a Chettinad mansion transcends from a public to a private realm of functions as one move in from the main door.
Beginning with a big public veranda and courtyard meant to entertain the male visitors by the men in the house, the house graduates to a slightly smaller courtyard with rooms and storerooms around it. Every member in the family would get a room and his name would be carved on the door.
Many houses could accommodate up to 80 members of an extended family at a time. One of the other courtyards is meant for dining, which could seat about 250 people at a time. The women’s quarters and the kitchen with the servants’ rooms are at the very end.
Interestingly, the houses are an amalgamation of various things – Burmese teak columns, Spanish tiles, Italian marble floor and locally available Attangudi tiles. Artistically, one can see woodwork resembling the Kerala style, neoclassical, Victorian and Anglo-Indian styles.
The walls are of baked bricks, plastered over by a secret recipe of roots, yolk and lime that leaves them silken smooth and washable. On the exteriors, an array of themes from Hindu gods to British soldiers and Victorian women, adorn the surface as carvings, friezes and statues, interspersed with domes and arches.
Overall it is predominantly white on the outside, to ward off the heat and at times colourful as their interior counterparts at the detail level. However, all of these put together never reads crude or bizarre and surely conveys a sense of splendour.
Let us take you through a tour of AMA House.
The Veranda or public place – Look at the colourful Belgian tiles on the wall
Chettinad

The view from Veranda – The doors of the different halls are aligned in straight line with the gate. Since Chettiar men were always on travel for trade, this was necessary to help ladies of the house to watch from inner court yard anyone coming to house

Chettinad

The Grandeaur of main hall – This is the hall where all the major functions like Marraige is held. Notice the huge tusks of Elephant from Burma!

Chettinad

Chettinad

Chettinad

The Dining halls – Look at the colourful Attangudi tile work

Chettinad

Chettinad

The colourful grills of balcony – Note the colourful roof which is made of copper plating!!

Chettinad

Chettinad

Carvings on the doors which are made of Burma teak

Chettinad

The Inner Court yard – This place and rooms around it are used by ladies of the house. Since ladies never used to go out, it was necessary to provide light to them and hence the court yard. 

Chettinad

Tile marvel

Chettinad

Our second stop for the day was at the house of Mrs Meenakshi Meiyyappan. Beautifully maintained by her, this is again another example of how these mansions would have even in their hey days.

The Grand entrance 

Chettinad

The Main Hall – Notice the Czech chandelier and colourful roof

Chettinad

Antique Rose wood chairs inlaid with mother of pearls from Indonesia

Chettinad

Wood work on the door

Chettinad

Unfortunately, these outstanding mansions are vanishing by the day as the present owners are either not interested to maintain them or they are unable to do so due to their financial condition. Those who believe in family pride continue to live in these houses but are unable to maintain them.

Just look at this house in this pictiue – the one in the rear – which is bigger than the ones mentioned above but is badly maintained. The main door made of Burma teak in this house with intricate art work is worth anywhere around 60-70lakhs!!!

But the families who live in are poor and unable to maintain the house. Eventually many of these mansions have been sold to antique dealers who after pulling down the houses take away the artefacts from the house and return the plot.

Chettinad

The evening was spent in the lovely garden. The dinner was a feast of seven course meal!

Our next day’s plan was to visit the village of Attangudi and the village of Kanadukathan.

Attangudi is famous for its beautiful handmade cement tiles. A quick drive from Bangala brought us to the place where the trust run by Mrs Meiyyappan runs a tile unit. It is very interesting to see how these colourful tiles are made by hand. There are more than 20 factories manufacturing these tiles in this village which is a cottage industry. The local sand available suit tile making.

Here is a glimpse of the tile making process.

A mould is kept on a casing with glass base.

Chettinad

Colours are poured into the slots

Chettinad
Mould is removed immediately after pattern is achieved

Chettinad

Mixture of cement and sand is poured onto the mould and then removed for curing and drying.

Tiles are made from free hand design too. Colours are poured onto the glass


Design is drawn by hand

The tile is now cured for four days and dried in sun

The end product – Amazing array of Colourful tiles!!

Here is a beautiful video of how these tiles are made.

Making of Attangudi tiles

We drive to Kanadukathan. The broad roads are flanked by huge mansions of Chettiars. The whole village seems to have been lost in time and you will be transported to 19th century as you don’t see any modern houses here!!

What impress you most when you enter this village are numerous mansions of Chettiars. Some of them well maintained and some in decaying condition. The village tank in the middle adds to the charm of the place.

This is the place where the famous Chettinad Palace is located. What a mansion! Unfortunately, it was being renovated and getting ready for 80th birthday celebration of MAM Ramaswamy and no visitors were allowed. We had to be satisfied by taking pictures from outside.

Chettinad Palace

Entrance to the annex

Another view of palace

Entrance of Palace. Notice the intricate work on the Canopy!

Another beautiful mansion opposite palace

Broad roads flanked by mansions

A beautiful old mansion in village

We come to Visalam for Lunch. Visalam is a Chettinad mansion which has been restored by CGH Good Earth group and is run as boutique hotel. It is simple and not flashy like other mansions. We could see the intricate workmanship of Chettinad artisans in this place.

The verandah

The Living Room. Notice the wooden roof made of Burma teak

The Courtyard

After Lunch, Ramu, the hotel manager offers us to take to to his ancestral house in the village. A palatial mansion built in 19th century, it has gone on bad days. Take a look at these pictures below.

We return back to Bangala. In the evening we walk around the streets of Karakkudi exploring antiques. We pick some excellent pieces.

Next day, we depart after another round of yummy breakfast at Bangala. The drive to Bangalore is comfortable and we stop over in Salem for lunch.

Getting There
Road – Karaikkudi is well connected by road transport. The roads are excellent.
Train – Catch a train to either Trichy or Madurai and from there go by bus/train to Karaikkudi.
By Air – The nearest airport is Madurai and Trichy which are at a distance of 90 KMs. All hotels will arrange a taxi from airport.
Stay Options
Chettinad has now good options to stay.
The BANGALA – Our pick. Excellent hotel in a heritage and beautifully restored building. Immaculate eye for details and aesthetically great. Filter coffee and Chettinad cuisine to die for! http://www.thebangala.com/

VISALAM by CGH Earth Group – High end hotel. Food was OK, not great. http://cghearth.com/visalam

Chettinad Mansion – A heritage hotel. Looks nice. We haven’t been there. http://www.chettinadmansion.com/
Saratha Vilas – Outstanding restoration by two French architects. We were there in Dec 2015. A lovely place.  http://www.sarathavilas.com/
Chidambara Vilas – Another restored mansion in Pudukottai district. We haven’t been there. Looks fabulous!! http://www.chidambaravilas.com/
Travel Tips
a) Tamil nadu summers are long, hot and dry. The best season is winter from October till January. Rates gets hiked up during this time peaking during Christmas till Pongal.
b) Winter is also best season for enjoying the landsacpe which will be green!!
c) If you love antiques, Karaikkudi is the right place to pick some.
d) Eat Chettinad cuisine when you are in Chettinad. Don’t ask for roti and dal!!
e) One can make Karaikkudi as base to visit Madurai, Rameswaram and Trichy.
f) The hotesl will organise a trip to villages and it will be inetesrting to svsit them and interact with villagers.
h) Karaikkudi and surroundings have some lovely Chola temples. One can explore them.
i) Chettinad cotton sarres are simple and elsgant. Woemn would love to shop for some.
j) Make a vsist to village markets to get a feel of rural milieu.
k) Karaikudi can be made as a base to explore Rameshwaram (130 KMs), Trichy (90 KMs), Thanjavur (90 KMs) and Madurai (90 KMs) as day trips.
l) Connoisseurs who want to explore the Chettiand architecture may also visit Sivaganga, Devakottai, Pudukottai which have magnificent mansions.

 

Comments

comments

About the author

Poorna & Brinda

We are Brinda and Poorna from Bengaluru, the “Silicon city” or “Garden city” of India.

We travel together. We caught the travel bug 20 years back. On our honey moon, we traveled over the sea, in the train, by bus and in an aircraft! Our adventures probably started in that year. It continues, ever since.

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Comment