The Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu represents opulence, grand living and architectural splendour beyond dreams. This region is made up of 74 towns of well-planned formal grid streets, water supply and drainage systems, and homes designed to withstand the inherent hot summers, even as far back as the eighteenth century. The Nattukottai Chettiars of Chettinad were globe-trotting traders and bankers who thrived during the colonial era. They lived lives lavish beyond belief and spent most of their money in building huge grandiose mansions to show off their wealth. A Chettiar’s mansion was supposed to represent his affluence level.
Their palatial homes could have 60 rooms or more and cover over an acre space! Such large homes were meant for joint family living and you could easily find three generations of family members living under one roof. These homes were designed in accordance with the reigning culture with a porch outside the house where men conducted their businesses. The front door usually opened into a series of courtyards, with each courtyard serving its own purpose. They were aligned in a straight line such that you could view the backdoor while standing at the front door! The courtyards were plastered in a unique glossy mix of lime and egg whites and are still gleaming till today. A series of pillars surround the courtyard and open out into numerous rooms for family members.
The first courtyard was meant for entertaining while the ones towards the back were for kitchen work. In spite of the grandeur, the Chettiars lived simplistically and used sparse furniture and ate off fresh banana leaves while seated cross-legged on the floor. The women of the house jointly cooked elaborate meals, with the Chettinad cuisine being famous all over the country.
Most of these looming mansions were built during the 1850s to 1950s. About 15,000 or more are known to exist within the Chettinad region which covers around 600 sq miles. Interestingly, these homes are adorned with goods bought through ships from all over the world. In a typical Chettiar mansion, you would find delicate glazed ceramic tiles from Birmingham, giant mahogany mirrors from Belgium, intricate chandeliers from Venice or even teak wood pillars from Burma!
The current-day situation is a little different though as maintaining these huge mansions are becoming a problem for most Chettiar families. You, however, can enjoy an authentic experience of living in a grandiose Chettinad mansion by checking into the Chidambara Vilas hotel with its heritage of 108 years of luxurious living.
Getting here is easy too, as Trichy airport is nearby and easy rail and road connectivity available.