Walking through the History of Chettinad

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Located in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu, Chettinad is famous for its unique architecture, rich art, culture and delicious cuisine. It is also known for its 9 temples.

The Natukottai Chettiar community prospered in the 19th century and displayed their wealth by building palatial complexes that boasts a perfect blend of Western and Eastern architectural styles.

Origin

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chettinad was a prosperous trading centre. It was dominated by the Nattukotai Chettiars (or Nagarathars) and was a centre of artisanship in woodworking, brass, silver and other materials.

During this time, the Chettiars established trade relations with Burma and Singapore. They were able to acquire considerable wealth and built magnificent houses in their village to display this success.

These palatial homes were constructed according to the rules of Vaastu Shastra and incorporated various influences from their travels. This particular architecture and ambience created a unique identity for the Chettinad community.

The main features of these palatial homes are the wide courtyards, spacious rooms, ornamented columns and furnishings embroidered with marble and Burma teak. The finest examples are found in Karaikuddi, Kanadukathan and Devakottai.

Another significant feature of these palatial homes is the elaborate food preparations. These are prepared by the womenfolk or aachis using stone grinders to pound spices, burn different firewood and chop vegetables with aruamanai (iron blade).

This cuisine is well-known for its variety of freshly ground spices used in non-vegetarian dishes such as rice and dosas. It uses a number of sun-dried meats and salted vegetables reflecting the dry climate of Chettinad.

As a result, this cuisine has a very distinct flavour. The dishes have a blend of western and eastern sensibilities. For example, Kavuni arisi (black sticky rice pudding) has a Burmese influence while Idiyappam (steamed string hoppers) has a Sri Lankan touch. These dishes are served with nannari sherbet to tone down the heat.

Settlement

The Chettinad settlement was established by the Chettiars, a wealthy trading community that traded in silk, gems, pearls, salt and spices. They were initially settled in Kaviripoom Pattinam during the second century and migrated inland to Chettinad under the protection of the Pandya kings.

As trade became increasingly lucrative and Chettiars began establishing themselves as traders and merchants, they built extravagant residences in their villages to showcase their wealth and status. This led to the development of a unique style of architecture, furniture and customs that combined western and eastern influences.

Many of the Chettinad mansions display Western architectural elements ranging from colonnades and cornices to balustrades, Gothic windows and stained glass. They also feature a variety of halls, verandahs and courtyards. These spaces provide airy living quarters and are often surrounded by kitchen areas, which is where the world-famous Chettinad cuisine came from.

These houses are a fascinating tourist attraction that helps visitors understand the simple yet classy life of the Chettinad traders. They are often decorated with murals depicting gods, goddesses, dancers and musicians.

The Chettinad mansions are also a source of knowledge about the local culture and history. Guides take visitors to vantage points and explain how the city evolved around the temples, affecting everything from architecture to business.

A visit to Chettinad is a must on any traveler’s list. It is a fascinating place to explore the culture and heritage of Tamil Nadu, while sampling some lip-smacking Chettinad cuisine and visiting some famous temples. Its awe-inspiring architecture is sure to make any trip to Chettinad an experience you will never forget.

Architecture

Chettinad architecture is an amalgamation of design and thought that creates a blend of architectural styles not seen elsewhere in India. The town’s grid-like streets, vast pavements and immense mansions reflect the fusion of Tamil traditions with Western design influences.

These homes are a treasure trove of history, art and culture that will transport you back in time. Some are in a state of disrepair, but many others are still in use. They boast a spell-binding blend of Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Indian influences.

The main entrance is often a huge and heavy wooden door with intricate carved designs and tinted mirrors. This leads to a large and spacious outer porch or verandah that opens into a front courtyard and inner courtyards.

Inside the house, there are rooms for conducting business on one or both ends, a series of double rooms opening to the main courtyard and an interior courtyard for rituals. There are also small courtyards behind for kitchen activities and women to socialize.

Typical Chettinad houses have pillars that are beautifully carved in wood, stone or granite. These pillars are used to support sloping roofs and are designed with minutely detailed upper and lower sections.

The walls of a typical Chettinad house are plastered with a compound called “vellai poochu” which is made from lime, powdered white seashells and egg white. It is a composite that is ideal for flooring, wall cladding and decorative purposes.

The architecture of the house is typical Tamil on the ground floor, with Western influences on the upper floors. There are cornices, multi-level balustrades, double columns and parapets. The house is well lit by windows and French doors that let in oodles of natural light, giving the space a fresh and airy feel.

Trade

A thriving trade community, Chettinad was the home of merchants and traders. Their trade brought in spices, salt, textiles and gems to Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Burma.

These affluent traders were also associated with banking and weaving industries. They used their wealth to construct lavish mansions in the region. The architecture of these houses can be seen throughout the area.

Despite their wealth, these people have maintained a strong sense of self-respect and remained committed to their traditions. They believe in the importance of family, religion, and culture.

The Chettiars are a mercantile Hindu community from Tamil Nadu, India. Their area of inhabitation is called Chettinad and it covers 76 villages in Pudukottai and Sivaganga districts.

Their ancestors came from coastal towns and were urban dwellers who formed a strong merchant community. They traded salt, spices, textiles and gems in the early stages of their lifecycle.

After establishing themselves in the local economy, they started trading overseas. They became famous and prosperous in the 19th century as they extended their trade to Southeast Asia.

As a result, their homes became the centre of social activity in the region and this is why they have a very strong connection to their homeland. They are a proud merchant caste.

During the 19th century, they became very rich due to their trading business and they were able to build huge palaces in their homes. These buildings are still a part of the city’s architectural landscape and they are considered to be a treasure.

Chettinad has a rich history and a fascinating culture. It is important to visit this city to experience the beauty and the richness of this region. Whether you are visiting for a temple tour or just to explore the history, this place is definitely worth a trip.

Migration

The history of Chettinad is linked to the migration of merchant communities that were displaced from their coastal villages by periodic cyclones and Tsunamis. They moved inland to dry lands and were able to build a flourishing community based on trade, banking, moneylending and farming.

These families were also involved in the trade of pearls, cotton and textiles. They expanded their influence across the Indian seas and the East India ports in the 18th century.

As a result, the residents of Chettinad developed a unique style combining Western and Eastern sensibilities. This is evident in the architecture of the homes, furniture and cuisine.

In addition to these, the region is also known for its unique tile making skills that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. These are often used for decoration and embellishment in houses throughout the country.

Moreover, the region is also famous for its hand-loomed fabrics that are used in clothing and home decor. Visitors can visit handloom factories and see the fascinating process of weaving these fabrics.

A trip to Chettinad can be a memorable experience for anyone visiting the state of Tamil Nadu. The city is a popular tourist destination, especially for people who love history and architecture.

The city is a major tourist attraction and is home to thousands of mansions that are filled with architectural wonders. These mansions are dubbed as the ‘Wedding Cake Houses’ of Chettinad because of their extravagant decoration and colorful embellishments.

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