The mansions of Chettinadu never said “Look at me” but they make us say “Look at them”. That’s the beauty of the Chettinadu architecture , an amalgamation of the best of Indo – European, which is now gaining traction among tourists and heritage lovers.
As a kid , I remember that one of my neighbor’s house used to be made of colorful , paisley patterned flooring tiles and I loved the ethnic touch it added to the home. Back then, they used to call it as Karaikudi tiles and now in the recent years I had the chance to visit Athangudi , the original birthplace of those tiles. Apart from the tiles, Athanagudi is famous for its huge mansions.
Athangudi is a tiny village in the Chettinadu region, famous for its tiles and the century old Palace , which the locals call “Periya Veedu”. Situated in the center of the village, in the middle of narrow lanes , the palace is jaw dropping for its grandeur and architecture. The family doesn’t live in the palace anymore, but occasionally use it for their family functions and that was how we missed entry when we went a few months back. This time we were lucky to enter by paying a entry fee of INR50 to the caretaker(no additional fee for cameras) .
The first sight of the Athangudi mansion will prove it to be of Indo – European architecture with goddess Gajalakshmi seated ,the foot soldiers & cavalry men and tinted glass panes.
All these mansions in Chettinadu are no different in the structure, i.e., they begin with a set of 5-6 stairs that keeps their mansion high raised , followed by a varanda and thinnai. The house then begins with the “mugappu” or the hall that is usually huge enough to host weddings and ceremonies and then comes the courtyard kitchen and other rooms.
Did you know why the houses of Chettinadu are high raised with 5-6 steps & a door ?
Centuries back, the Chettiyar clan lived in the ancient costal town of “Kaveri-pompattinam” / “Poompuhar” which was destroyed in a tsunami . While the men went abroad trading , the women and children who stayed back were washed away by the waves and the men were left with no family. So they decided to move to a dry land ,which receives scanty rainfall and far from flooding. They choose Sivaganagi and Pudhukottai districts to settle , which are usually called “Vanam Paartha bhoomi” in tamil , translating to “parched land”.
They also built their houses high and raised so that there can be absolutely no flooding by any chance.
The “mugappu” entrance ,the first jaw dropping factor in this palace , is made of huge teak wood with intricate carvings and studded with colorful tiles , mirrors . The Varanda or the thinnai of this palace is the grandest of the all the mansions I visited. It is decorated lavishly with tiles( both on the flooring and roof) and some archaic lamps . I visualized the”kanakku pillai” aka accountants sitting with drawer (read as – our modern age breakfast table) and their ledger books, old ladies with their beetle leaf box, mortar and pestle. This could have been a regular scene some 5- 6 decades back. Smiling to myself quietly I entered the palace hall. If there is one word to describe, I’d say – MAGNIFICIENCE!
Highlight of this reception hall is the grand pillars, ornamental ceilings , chandeliers and colored glass panes and patterned tiles. All these element’s richness varies from house to house, of course depending on the ability of the family.
The pillars of this hall at Athangudi palace were of a glazing black that went well with the chessboard pattered flooring tiles from Italy. I loved how the flooring was kept simple to let the grand roof embossed with the Athangudi tiles stand apart. I felt slightly dizzy looking at the colors and the richness of the roof. The walls along the huge window panes, had had some flowery tiles in turquoise(not native to athangudi) to contrast the monochromatic flooring. I was in awe at the way the architects had designed and played with colors and patterns , almost a century back . Who taught them engineering and interior designing?
I cannot do justice to narrate how beautiful the hall looked and I wanted more eyes to capture the beauty 360 degrees.
Did you know the villages of Chettinadu are mostly well planned with rain water harvesting ponds ,that serves as the source of water . Look out for a temple and its surrounding is sure to have a well maintained pond .
Have you read about the Chettinadu temple with terracotta guardians?
Now that I was dizzy after taking in such richness and needed some fresh air, I moved to the open to sky courtyard of the palace (quite like the other chettinadu houses). What first caught my attention was the brown pillars that gave the earthy tone and more brightness along with the sunlight. The hall adornes cool tones while the courtyard carries warm tones. How thoughtful those people were!!!The color play actually made the courtyard lit up naturally and the open space was netted with grills to prevent robbers from entering. 3 sides of this rectangular courtyard had doors locked . These doors were again made of good quality wood and mirrors , studded with tiles, but a little less grand than the entrance door. There was something interesting about this courtyard. The window panes ! They depicted a story through a sequence of murals all around and my guess is that to be of Thiyagarajar’s.
Did you know the legacy of “Chicken65”? Well, it was our Chettiyars who were sea farers marinated chicken pieces with spices and salt and dried it under the sun and the dried chicken is said to be fresh even after 65 days of sea travel.
These doors of the courtyard open to the dining hall of the palace. It is said that the palace hosted and served food for the villagers on occasions and the dining hall was huge enough to accommodate at least 50 people in a “pandhi”. Though this hall lacked grand decors, the stained glass at the end of the hall did all the magic .
Visually grasping in all the charm, I sat down on one side of the grand reception hall to take one more look at all the oozing exquisiteness . I let my mind wander about how the weddings and the “sashtiyapthapoortis” would have taken place. What would it have looked like on days of festivities and celebrations. I wished I witnessed the palace live ,with happy smiling faces in their traditional attire, accessories and the aroma of the spicy chettinadu food wafting through the palace.
Travel Tip – There are no stays in Athangudi and planning to stay in “Kanadukathan ” or Karaikudi would be ideal . This palace is 8 kms from kanadukathan and 10-12 kms from karaikudi. You can hire autos for a day’s sightseeing.
The palace is open all 7days between 9AM – 5 PM(except on days when the family visits and if there is a movie shoot )
Plan you visit between 3- 5 PM when the crowd usually dwindles .
Photo tips : Such a grand palace calls for some nice pictures and don’t you want to look the best in your pictures? So here’s a photo tip – dress in white or pastel solids/plains to contrast against the patterned walls and flooring.
Add these Pinterest images to you boards !