The Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu in the Sivagangai and Pudukottai districts is home to about 75 settlements comprising 2 small towns and 73 villages. They are famous for many things – especially their cuisine and their huge sprawling mansions. Most of them were built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the Nagarathar Chettiars were still having it good in their business ventures.
The Chettiars belong to a lineage of wealthy traders and financiers who roamed and settled in parts of South-east Asia in quest of their business interests. They were at the peak of their economic power till the early twentieth century and served as a vital component of the South Indian economy. They eventually lost their businesses and moved into the education sector.
During their financial reign, these Chettiars built amazing pieces of art as their family homes. The mansions usually had more than 60 bedrooms and would house over three generation of families. They filled them up with things of unbelievable beauty from numerous countries. Some of the specialities of their homes include the following:
Since they lived in a hot and arid climate, they designed their homes layouts very carefully. The towns and villages have a layout designed with plots aligned to the east-west axis such that they are always cool, airy and shady. A series of central courtyards throughout the length of the house ensure sufficient natural light. They are built of thick brick walls, lime plastering and multiple layers of terracotta roof tiling.
The interior walls were plastered with a special material made of lime, ground white seashells and egg white. Numerous layers of this concoction gave the walls a beautiful sheen and incomparable glimmer.
Chettinad homes boast of beautifully carved Burmese teak, marble or granite pillars in their central inner courtyards to show-off their wealth.
These are locally-sourced hand-made tiles that come in colourful designs unique to this area. They are used for cladding the floor, ceiling as well as interior and exterior walls. Made in a unique way using local clay, oxides, baby jell and synthetic cement, they represent a heritage artwork of a bygone era. These tiles are still very much in demand by businesses for their luxurious ambience.
These weighed heavily for the Chettiars and were made of intricately carved double-doors usually carved in exquisite details. The wood used was usually imported Burmese teak or neem wood.
However, the true beauty of a Chettinad mansion has to be seen to be believed. Why not pay a visit to Chidambaram Vilas hotel, a renovated Chettinad mansion, and enjoy the true luxury of heritage!