The History of Chettinad

Chettinad is the name of a region located in the Sivagangai and Pudukottai districts of Tamil Nadu in South India. This area is synonymous with many things grand and outstanding. It has been the home of the prosperous Nattukottai Chettiars since around the 13nth century. This prosperous trading and banking community made the region popular for its famously architected opulent mansions, its local cuisine, it’s world-famous, handmade Aathangudi tiles as well as the Chettinad saris.

The Chettiars were basically wealthy traders dealing in silks, gems, pearls, spices and salt and were earlier settled in the coastal city of Kaviripoom Pattinam during the second century. The honesty and sincerity of this community endeared them to the Chola kings and they thrived here for many centuries. However, the time came when a rogue Chola king abducted one of their women. In protest, the entire community moved inland and settled down in present-day Chettinad, under the protection of the Pandyan kings.

They set up 96 villages with 9 major temples. Each family owed allegiance to one temple and couldn’t marry a member belonging to the same temple clan. All the Chettinad settlements have a unique south-north/east-west grid pattern to survive the arid heat as well as a well-developed water system. The Chettiars also built palatial monuments depicting their wealth. They brought home numerous items from their foreign travels and incorporated them into the huge mansions they built for their joint families.

They built over 30,000 mansions from 1850 to 1940 in Chettinad, which has been declared a World Heritage Site of recent by UNESCO. The Chettinad cuisine is also famous all over the country and has a history intertwined with the spices they traded in and the cuisines they enjoyed during their travels to other countries. The speciality in the Chettinad cuisine is that they use freshly roasted and stone-ground spices for every meal; this adds an irresistible edge to the local cuisine.

The great depression of the 20’s and 30’s in the last century led to the downfall of the glorious days of the Chettiar community, such that many of them migrated to the cities and abroad, leaving their beautiful mansions to caretakers. The current-day Chettinad consists of 73 villages and two towns – Karaikudi and Pudukottai, and a visit to this region can transport you back into the grand old days of opulent living and extravagant, colourful traditions and cuisine.

Stay over at the 108 year’s old Chidambara Vilas heritage hotel, feast on Chettinad cuisine and get to experience the magic of a bygone era first-hand.