Tamil Nadu · Travel

Chettinad Mansions: Reflections of a Glorious Past

If Tamil Nadu travel is on your list, one place that must not be missed is the Chettinad region within the state. Also known as Chettinadu, this one is located in the central part of Tamil Nadu and is about 400 km from the capital city of Chennai. Situated mainly in the Sivaganga and part of the Pudukkottai districts of Tamil Nadu, the Chettinad region consists of about 70 villages. Chettinad is synonymous with being the home of the Nattukotai Chettiars. The latter were astute businessmen who were very successful in areas like banking and trade. With dealings across South Asia, these merchants travelled to countries like Burma, Ceylon and Malaysia as early in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.  They mainly traded in spices and gems and amassed huge amounts of wealth. And one way they spent the wealth they earned was by building opulent mansions and bungalows that are dotted across the region even today.

The front view of a mansion in Chettinad
The entrance to a mansion in Chettinad

Spanning thousands of square feet in area, there are hundreds of such sprawling mansions most of which are not only gigantic but also extremely glamorous. .  Built using the best of materials like Burma teak, Belgium mirrors and Italian marble, these houses had a perfect mix of traditional and contemporary elements.  From statement furniture pieces and crystal chandeliers to tiled couryards and ornately carved doors, these mansions are a picture of luxury and grandeur.

The interiors of a mansion in Chettinad

Most houses had elaborately decorated facades and often bore sculptures of Goddess Lakshmi in the front. These mansions are replete with stuccos, monkey tops, intricately carved columns and ornamental ceilings fitted with decorative tiles.

The front view of a mansion in Chettinad

Once a picture of magnificence, most of these mansions today are in varying stages of deterioration as most of the owners have migrated to other places leaving them with caretakers.  Given the high cost of maintenance, many of them are abandoned or just maintained in parts.

A part of a Chettinad Mansion today

The fact that many of them today have multiple owners spanning generations and are embroiled in battles of succession and inheritance adds to the complexity. A walk along the deserted lanes of towns like Kanadukathan and Karaikudi lead to many such mansions.

A partly maintained mansion due to differences in ownership

A few of these mansions are well maintained while some others have been converted to boutique hotels.  The Athangudi Palace is the epitome of grandeur and boasts of a harmonious fusion of European and Indian architecture.

Interiors of Athangudi Palace

The AVR house, Ramanathan Chettiar’s house, Visalam, built for his eldest daughter, Visalakshi, now converted to a heritage hotel as well as the Kanadukathan Palace are some of the well-maintained glorious structures in the region.

Pillars inside a mansion in Chettinad

Apart from mansion hopping there is plenty you can do in Chettinad. Read more about it in this article on ZeeZest. Natchiarkoil is an interesting town about 150 km from Chettinad where you can visit the famous Thirunarayur Nambi temple and also shop for their renowned lamps.

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