Chettinad Mansions and Conversations

I took bite of that Idli from my plate dipped in three different kinds of chutney that were served along and it was love at first bite.

Just a few hours before I was wondering whether I will be able to manage in this village, But when the local bus started from Karaikudi  I sat there admiring the misty landscapes, rustic mansions and the paddy fields from my bus window listening to Tamil songs playing on the bus Radio enjoying my ride with the locals.

There is a direct bus to Karaikudi from Bangalore, the hotel you’re staying in can arrange transport from Karaikudi or you can take a local bus.

As I admire this magnificent mansion in awe the local who came along to show me around explains about each portion and the way the house was traditionally used during family functions and marriages.

With a minimum of 50 rooms and big verandah tastefully decorated with Burma teak, antique furniture, historical Ravi Varma paintings, Italian tiles, Belgium glasses add richness to these grand mansions.

                   The famous Chettinad Palace which is closed for visitors belongs to Ramaswamy family of Chettinad Cement fame 

             Beautiful Athangudi Palace

Also Read: In Photos: Houses of Chettinad

The decorative woodwork, Athangudi tiles, and the houses are typically painted using a special recipe that involved eggs add distinctive local elements to the mansions. The wood carvings on the ceiling and on almost all the doors are a masterpiece by itself.

These more than 90 years old mansions are nothing less than a palace.

               One of the mansions in Kanadukathan

      The entry courtyard of the CVRM House also called Heritage House/Museum in Kanadukathan beautifully decorated with swing, one on each corner.

I specifically loved the way rainwater harvesting was implemented and I noticed this in almost all the mansions I visited.

These mansions are so enormous, their entrances are on one street and exits on a parallel street. Most Chettiar families moved to cities leaving the houses in the hands of caretakers. Few mansions are converted into heritage hotels, The Bangala, Visalam, Chettinad Mansion are few among them. The saddest part was to see few houses left out to ruin.

     
Side views of Mansions, just to give an idea of how big mansions are.

Of all the unique aspects of Chettinad, the most famous ambassador of this region has been its cuisine. The Chettinad cuisine has been influenced by the nature of the region, which is a dry, arid and hot region. At the same time, the Chettiars trace back their history to a life near the coastline, so their cuisine also has great seafood like prawns and crabs

  
  My lunch at Chettinad Narayana Villas.

The much-traveled Chettiars also brought back many influences from abroad and their cuisine was also used while entertaining the British guests during the time of the Raj.

Even the kitchen utensils and instruments are collectibles today, valued for their design, large size and vintage make.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post the food is absolutely amazing, though the place has limited eateries around you have to stick with the hotel you’re staying in, most of the hotel provide authentic Chettinad food cooked by the locals.
The Bangala, Vishalam are open for the nonresidents for a meal. Most upmarket hotels offer kitchen tours, cooking demonstrations, and classes.

    
  Lunch at “The Vadhiyar’s”

As I was wandering around the village, I came across this small shop which had amazing woodworks. Mr. Thyagarajan who owns this shop started to proudly present some of his creations. It takes them around two days to complete one piece of woodwork.
Mr. Thyagarajan who used to be Goldsmith has also created few masterpieces. As gold went out of reach for common people this goldsmith turned in to wood smith. They do export their work to other states, and they are pretty famous around the village.

   

     
  Beautiful wood carvings by Thyagarajan

While I was lost in these majestic mansions this weaving center caught my attention. I stopped outside, the owner welcomed me with a wide smile. As I entered this small house I saw two women busily weaving the sarees. I sat there watching them do their job and we talked about weaving, how they uniquely design each saree and how the recent cyclone destroyed their yield.

This handloom center with two workers thrive to deliver the best handloom sarees in the region, these sarees are also been shipped to major cities like Chennai. The cotton sarees woven here are famous for their quality, durability and unique design elements. As the sarees are made from pure cotton, along with giving a rich look to the people wearing it, the sarees are said to be good for health as well.

It takes around two days to weave one saree, as I look around their tressure of saree’s Mahalakshmi explains the different kinds and what their specialties.

Handloom center

    Worker weaving a saree.

After learning about these mansions, I was more interested in knowing how these handmade tiles are made which add an extra richness to the houses that’s when we visited Athangudi Tiles Factory. Athangudi handmade tiles which can be found only in this region adds an extra richness to the houses, Granite and other forms of tiles getting famous these days, even after decades Athangudi tiles factory still follow a traditional way of making tiles. As these tiles have sustainable designs and eco-friendly making, it clearly scores well over others.

There are around 30 employees working here and they produce around 200 tiles per day.
With over 200 years of experience, the factory still boasts as one of the best places where the local craft is its best form.

 

   
  A worker at Athangudi tiles factory demonstrating how tiles are made.

                                                                                Once the tiles are dried and ready for dispatch

The best thing about exploring this place was it never felt like a tripit wasn’t packed with tourists just one or two stopping by. It was just the locals doing their daily chore and passing that sweet smile as we cross by. It felt more like visiting my own place and stopping by all relatives house to say hi and the food is all to pamper you.

One of the reasons Chettiars built these huge mansions was to make sure the whole family lived together and now all I see is loneliness and it’s all around the village. It was saddening to see the owner of the famous CVRM/Heritage house living all by herself in that massive house while her Children’s are busy setting up their lives in big cities.

On the way back to Bangalore am left thinking how much of these will be left for the future generations to explore and learn the cultural values.

I stayed at Chettinad Narayana Villas, Its budget-friendly option in Kanadukathan. The staffs are friendly and the food is amazing.

Also Read: In Photos: Chettinad Houses

 

Comments

  1. Raghavendra Narayana says:

    Fantastic
    The effort taken to get all the minute details is really great
    Keep travelling and guiding ppl who love to travel

    1. Divya says:

      Thank you Raghavendra 🙂

  2. Malcom Piggie says:

    I cannot thank you enough for the post.Really looking forward to read more. Cool.

    1. Divya says:

      Thanks, Malcom. Am glad it helped you.

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