Heritage Tourism – Karaikudi, A Place of Finest Culture and Traditional Lineage
Karaikudi is the largest town in Chettinad region of Sivagangai district in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. The name Karaikudi originated from the plant’s name karai that abounds in the area, and kudi meaning settlement. It belongs to the collection of 80 towns and villages in the Chettinad belt that stretched from Ramnad district to Pudukottai state of then British India. The Chettinad or Chettinadu literally means Chettiars’ state. The Nagarathars, a Chettiar community, are the predominant people of the region flourishing in trade and commerce from many centuries. They are institutional in establishing in numerous educational institutions, financial services, temples, festivals, traditional ceremonies, and social welfare.
Karaikudi and its neighboring places have quite a number of historical significant buildings, and distinguished institutions and places. The Chettinadu mansions are sumptuous, spacious, and flamboyant with intricate carved structures.
Chettinadu mansions are built using bricks (known as ‘sengkal’), country made roof tiles (known as ‘naattu odu’) [preferably from ‘Manamadurai’, owing to the soil’s rich iron content], decorative floor tiles (preferably, the famed ‘Athangudi’ handmade terracotta tiles), limestone-mixture (known as ‘saanthu-kalavai’) for mortar, and stone blocks, wooden support-structures, decorative doorframes and intricate carved panels. The teakwood from Burma is the choice wood for woodworks and support structures. The household items range from artistically made wooden-furnitures, glasswares, ceramic wares, traditional wares, and to other exotic articles made around the world. These buildings and mansions popularly came to be known as “karai-veedu” (the house built with limestone-mixture).
These Mansions are built-in with arrangements for rainwater harvesting, to provide for clean drinking water. The rainwater is [fine cloth] filtered and funneled into large brassware; which then can be stored for weeks. The rainwater being free from [ground] impurities, and by storing it in brassware gets electrically charged, which neutralises [many of the] harmful microorganisms. This provides a clean, healthy, and sweet drinking water that rivals the modern-day processed drinking water.
Particularly, the Saanthu-kalavai, which is made from the mixture of finely ground Saanthu (limestone) powder – the raw material, Kadukkai (gallnut) – as accelerant, Egg’s white-yolk – for smooth finish, and Karuppatti (palm-jaggery) – as binder, that are mixed in prerequisite proportions with right amount of water. Sometimes Padaneer (unfermented palm tree sap) – as bonding agent, is also added. This provides a strong crack-resistant bond and gives a smooth finish. Many [significant] historical constructions still stand testimony to its strength and longevity spanning many centuries.
Nowadays these Chettnadu mansions are sought after place for film shootings; and are a well-known tourist attraction.
Chettiar Palace, also known as Chettiar Mansion is located at Kanadukathan in Chettinad region. It is a historic home of the Chettinad Raja, which has been converted into a heritage hotel. This mansion was constructed by S. A. Ramaswamy Chettiar and it took over 10 years from 1902 to complete its construction. The rooms of this mansion are embellished using Burmese teak wood and the furnishings of the palace have been imported from various European and East Asian countries. There is a huge dining hall in this palace that can accommodate around 250 people at a time. The open courtyard of this mansion has beautifully stone-carved pillars that add to the beauty of this heritage home.
The palace at Kanadukathan symbolises the exquisiteness of architectural marvels, woodwork and ancient lighting, besides the cultural ethos of the region. All homes have one to three `mittam’, or the inner pillared courtyard. Italian glossy tiles have been used on walls and ceilings. Burma teak, granite pillars, stained glass, artistic grills and such exquisite materials used in the buildings speak volumes of the quality and lifestyle of its owners and the skilled workforce. In these houses are numerous windows and very high ceilings. This mansion is available for stay, check out details below.
Athangudi is a village situated in Chettinad, which is popular for handmade terracotta tiles. These tiles are sun-dried and patterned beautifully for giving the desired texture. The colourful tiles here are mainly designed using sand, cement, belly jelly and synthetic oxides. These tiles are generally available in flora and fauna designs and are famous for their dark, white and earthy hues. All these tiles are designed in the Athangudi tile factory and are used mainly in the Chettiars ancestral houses. Athangudi village is located in the Kallal Taluk in the Sivaganga District and is just 24.8 km from this main district. Further, this village is 383 km from the state capital; Chennai.
Chettinad Museum is a heritage home, bringing alive to its visitors, the Chettinad style of living. This house converted into a museum is a must visit place in Chettinad. You can find here traditional jewellery and clothing, huge copper water vats and grain bins and various other everyday items that trace the Chettiar’s (a community of traders) way of life. It also tells you many characteristics of the Chettiars, like they would never eat out. There’s an all inclusive kitchen set on display in this museum to prove that point.
A visit to this place will surely transport you into a completely new world of tradition combined with opulence.
Kaviarsar Kannadhasan Mani Mandapam
Kaviarsar Kannadhasan Mani Mandapam was built for honouring poet laureate, Late Shri Kannadhasan. Poet Kannadhasan spent majority of his life with Nagarathars at this place, before he died in Nattarasankottai. After his death, the Nagarathar community built this mansion in his honour. The mandapam features an art gallery, museum and a library that are open for tourists and local public from morning till evening. The museum in this mandapam is known for its artefacts, traditional jewellery, grains bins, clothing and copper vats. The Kaviarsar Kannadhasan Mani Mandapam is around 110 years old and showcases the variations in the Indian art over the decades.
Karpagavinayagar Temple is located in Pillayarpatti of the Chettinad region. Pillayarpatti is named after the main deity Pillayar or Lord Ganesha and attracts lot of devotees.. This old rock cut temple is patronised by the Pillayarpatti Nagarathar community of Chettinad.
This temple is situated around 71 km away from Madurai and 12 km from Karaikudi. Buses are available on the Thirupathoor-Karaikudi state highway to reach to this temple, which is just 3 km from Kundrakkudi. The Karpaka Vinayakar in the temple is around 6 ft tall. Apart from the Desi Vinayakar Pillayar, there are also rock cut images of Lord Shiva, Marudankudi Eesar and Vaadaamalar Mangai in this temple. It is believed that this rock cut temple is over 1600 years old. There are over 15 inscriptions within the temple that tell about the age of this temple.
The temple trust maintains around 47 cottages (AC and non-AC cottages) where tourists can stay during their visit to the temple.
Timing: 6 am – 1 pm and 4 pm – 8:30 pm.
Check out famous Antiques market. Make sure to take a help of the locals to take you there. Chettinad Cotton Saris are another specialty.
Saffron Kitchen in Karaikudi offers a decent South Indian meal. Bangla or the Chettinad Mansion serves a good spread but can be pricey.
For those interested in indulging in a ravishing palatial experience in a 100 year old architectural marvel, Chettinad Mansion is available for stay.
Mr. A. Chandramouli, Chief Executive
TEL – 04565 273080
MOB – 94434 95598
Road: Easily accessible from Madurai, Trichy and Tanjore. Frequent State Transport buses are available.
Rail: Train connections to Karaikudi from Chennai, Rameswaram, Quilon, Nellai, Trichy, Nagoor and Mayilathurai.
Air: Nearest airports are at Madurai and Trichy.