Heritage Chettinad houses in Karaikudi

Published 11 months ago


In the interiors of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, fabricates Karaikudi, a tiny town fraction of the Chettinad area. The area comprises of two main towns of Karaikudi and Devakottai and 75 townlet, dwelling to the Chettiars', a mercantile community engaged in maritime trade with south and southeast Asia for centuries. While Chettinad is mainly recognized for its delicious albeit exceptionally spicy cuisine, it is furthermore recognized for its grand mansions, exhibiting the prosperity of the Chettiars.

Where is Chettinad?

At a distance of 90kms from Madurai, in the Sivaganga area of Tamil Nadu, Chettinad is dwelling to the Nattukottai Chettiars (Nagarathar). They belong to a high-class banking and businessmen community. An amalgamation of conventional Indian architecture and a pinch of European influence derived in Chettinad house interiors. Though, the thought behind the layout of 19th-century interiors runs richer than that.

Constructed to assure ventilation, these exotic houses utilize an assortment of materials that ensure durability. The detailed architecture facilitates natural sunlight and ventilation, wonderful for the health of its dwellers. The decor ingrains culture and a bunch of colour with brassware and Tanjore paintings. Thus, these homes are recognized for their single-story palatial mansions with large courtyards, Athangudi tiles, rooms adorned with marble and teak wood, and conventional artifacts.

Story of Chettinad mansions

It is assessed that 11,000 Chettinad mansions still survive, roughly half the number that existed 100 years ago. They were constructed by men who once traded in everything from salt to jewels, with nations like Burma, Malaysia and Singapore. Much of their revenues went into constructing these imperial residences, which used to be called natukottai or local fort. However in the mid-20th century, most Chettiar families shifted to towns such as Chennai. Their palatial homes were left in the care of caretakers, who maintained them for rare occasions, such as weddings or Pongal, the Tamil harvest festival, when the family came to visit.

Chettinad is full of palatial houses so huge their entrances are on one street and exits on a parallel street. In a conventional Chettinad mansion, a comprehensive path directs to the front patio, named thinnai. Then shows up a huge veranda (courtyard) directing into an open area that was utilized for weddings and different festivities. A slender passage from there directs to the second veranda and then another. Along the verandas are the estate's residential and stock rooms, that sum over 100 in several homes. Some of the estates have long rooms that move parallel to the courtyard which can seat a thousand people.

Specialties of the Chettinad homes

Multipurpose courtyards

Chettinad homes

The Chettinad homes were designed around vast verandahs, at least two that unfolded into the rooms and different functional areas. These areas ascertained an excellent inside-outside connect that fetched in sufficient sun light, enabled cross-ventilation and kept the rooms cool against the summer heat. The courtyards were specially designated for fascinating guests and bringing the family together during celebrations and sacred rites. The vast middle courtyards are marked out by low corridors whose ceilings are held up by shafts, each of which has a huge iron hook established. These hooks were where newborns' hammocks were attached in the afternoons while the rest of the family slept.

Pitched Roofs

Pitched Roofs

Pitched (sloping) roofs are a notable characteristic of Chettinad mansions. These roofs not just delivered a vast volume of the enclosed area but furthermore ensured ecological sustainability as the slopes enabled the collection of water during monsoons for rainwater harvesting. In this indoor-outdoor area, the terracotta tiles on wooden trusses and the wooden pillars bestow an earthy allure that naturally combines with the dense green garden.

Carved Pillars

Carved Pillars

A conventional Chettiar home usually retained intricately carved pillars in wood, stone or granite to support the sloping ceilings, particularly around the courtyards. The structure of pillars was bestowed a bunch of significance, as an outcome, the upper and lower portions of the pillars were minutely explicit.

In the interiors, maximum houses have sculptures of a multi-coloured divinity, flanked by two detailed stone columns to provide a vintage look and impart an aura of piety. The raw effect established by the stone flooring, the coloured fresco behind the divinity and the lighting structures, all combine for a mesmerising look.

Abode of Luxury

The Chettiar house was representative of the strength and social reputation of the merchant. As an outcome, the mansion was influenced by elegant commodities and layout notions from the abundance of western and Asian cultures that the Chettiars were uncovered to during their journeys. The most iconic characteristic of Chettinad homes is the mere scale of amenity and the blend of such a broad variety of aesthetic influences which come together to establish one amalgamous and distinct structure of architecture.

A palace of a house

chettinad house

A Chettinad house' is perhaps a palace elsewhere and is an understatement for these edifices constructed over an area of 20,000 to 40,000 square feet. The whole extended family of the merchant used to dwell together in these houses. Story goes that they Chettiars constructed their homes on an upraised setting and put in an additional level to the homes to protect themselves in the circumstance of a flood, even though they were now a long way off from the sea. This opinion was due to the havoc endured to their native territory which was demolished by the sea.

Evolution and characteristics

Over the turn of the 19th century the Chettinad house had progressed to a huge layout multi courtyard edifice with several traditional rooms for different celebrations like the Mugappu, Valavu, Visiri, Bomma Kottagai and more. A trademark characteristic involved doors lined up in a straight line from the foyer to the rear of the house. The house frequently extended over the whole extent of the street. Distinct characteristics of the home comprised the numerous courtyards, the elevated platforms on the corners, the internal walls, and the rooms.

A brief history of Chettinad and Karaikudi

Chettinad is actually an area of Tamil Nadu approximately 90km from Madurai and 150 km from Tanjore. It comprises of an assortment of some 80 plus towns. And its major town, which can be regarded as its "capital" is Karaikudi. The "Natukottai Chettiars" inhabited these towns. They were wealthy merchants who traded all across India and overseas. And then, they invested their revenue in the construction of their houses. So elegant that some of these can be even called castles.

One can easily say that the Chettinad homes are comparable to the havelis of Rajasthan. Later, as the Natukotti Chettinars departed out of India, their heritage palaces were left behind. Few of these have been lying vacant for ages. And are gradually being reclaimed by nature. With trees growing all over them, paints subsided and walls deteriorating gradually. While there are others which are protected by guards. And yet others in which people are still dwelling.

History of Karaikudi and its mansions

Centuries ago, in the capital town of Cholas Poompuhar, dwelled rich families of merchants. The Chettiars traded in salt, rice and jewels were spread across the seas to comprise Ceylon, Burma and South East Asia encompassing Malaysia. Then, came a devastating Tsunami that washed away their wealthy homes. The whole neighborhood felt they had sufficient of the proximity to water and departed to a drier region. They arranged their new base in 96 towns. The region is presently popularly cited to as the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu.

The community of Chettiars named the Nagarathar received a new title after they settled in the towns around Karaikudi. They were soon named the Nattukottai Chettiars. Nattukottai implies "fort on land", a citation owing to their palatial mansions of Chettinad. The grander the house, the better was the family wealth.

The mercantile community proceeded to prosper and thrive in prestige. From businessmen, they became money lenders to not just the towns people around but to the Kings as well. In fact, their lending spread to encompass the British East India Company. Over time, as the business thrived, a bunch of them shifted overseas, primarily to South East Asia. They constructed their new residences there and slowly vacated their traditional Chettinad mansions in Karaikudi.

Where to locate heritage Chettinad houses in Karaikudi

The Chettinad Heritage houses are spread as gems all over the Chettinad area. Just going around randomly in the area, you are sure to stumble upon some of these. However there are a few batches that you shouldn't skip. These are

The Chettinad Heritage Town

Approximately 14km north of Karaikudi town fabricates the Chettinad Heritage Town. The street directing to the Chettinad Heritage town is in great condition. there are parallel and upright streets like the "crosses" and "mains" of a modern planned residential region. But some of the roads are slender, so, better to park your vehicle somewhere and then visit the entire region on foot.

 Chettinad Maharaja's Palace is not open to public to see from inside. The royal family lives here and they don't want any interference with their privacy. To watch it from outside is no less of a delight. And many elements are evident in the palace right from outside. Like a beautiful gate, heavy teak wood doors, tall boundary walls, beautifully decorated outer varandah, idols carved in the roof almost in the centre and much more. Opposite the palace is another beautiful heritage Mansion. And the other streets are also full of many such homes.

Architecture of a heritage Chettinad house

As you walk through the heritage houses in Karaikudi, you will soon begin comprehending their architecture. For, maximum of the heritage Chettinad houses in Karaikudi and around pursue the same theme.

Entrance to a heritage Chettinad house

The foyer of these houses is characterised by exceptionally high boundary walls. Often as elevated as 12- 20 ft. And in the middle of the boundary wall fabricates the major gate. Which is generally not very broad. And is constructed of iron gates with sophisticated design. In maximum of the houses, either right above the major entrance or on the ceiling in the centre, idols of deities are present. These are very similar to the ones at the entrance towers (gopuram) of the temples of South India. They beautifully decorate the front foyer

As you enter through the primary front door, you locate the outer patio or Verandah. A verandah is a significant and intrinsic portion of most ancient Indian homes. The veranda often have wooden or cemented pillars with gorgeous carvings or paintings, painted roofs, tiled floor comprising of Chettinad Tiles or occasionally even Italian Tiles.

The main Chettinad house interiors

And the front veranda leads to the primary entrance inside the mansion. Which is often a very huge and massive wooden door, intricately carved. And having tinted mirrors which were constantly imported from European nations like Belgium.

Other parts of the heritage Chettinad houses of Karaikudi

Various bedrooms stand on all sides of the central courtyard. Implying that often very large families dwelled in each of these heritage Chettinad Houses. Even the kitchen and dining areas are extremely big. Modest, yet huge. Some of the big houses have temples inside the house.

The Eco-friendly formation of a Karaikudi Mansion

The most admirable portion of a Karaikudi mansion was the fact that there is a quantity of light and wind. The open courtyards assured daylight and cross ventilation. Though, these open to sky spaces had another fascinating usage I.e rainwater harvesting. The sloping roofs secured that the water was directed to tiny tanks called Urani.

Travel Tips

  • The Mansions of Chettinad are the largely significant things to observe in Karaikudi. You have not been to the area if you have not fulfilled this. A few mansions like the VVR mansion allow you inside for a minor fee.
  • Mansion hopping is best committed on foot. Naturally, comfortable clothes and flat footwear will serve you well.
  • Most of the residents speak Tamil. They do understand Hindi and English but likely will answer back in their regional language.

It's a pleasure to stroll through these houses and feel their architecture. Some of the houses like the VRR Mansion near Chettinad Maharaja's Palace can lend you a tour of the inner of the house at a minimal entry fee of INR 30-50 per head. Actually, these mansions are unoccupied. But there is a caretaker assigned for the maintenance. The guard often is more than glad to give a tour to enthusiastic travelers. At a nominal cost. Apart from the mansions, the Chettinad region is full of temples and ponds. There are gorgeous ancient temples on every nook and corner.

Category: Art and Culture


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Mohammad Abdulla

11 months ago

Good content

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Mohammad Abdulla

11 months ago

Well written