By: Ashwath Chelladurai, 15 years, Class 10th, Tamil Nadu, India
It was a fine morning, the dawning sun shone brightly. I did not know that the day would be filled with joy and many marvels. Yeah! My parents said that they were taking me and my sister on a surprise trip. It was a trip to the traditional city of Karaikudi, also known as ‘Chettinad’.
Chettinad is known for its culinary delicacies and its majestic palaces of the Natukottai Chettiar, a community of people. It is said that these Chettiars controlled a large part of the banking economy and business in India for decades. They are famous for their large bungalows and yummy cuisine. The palatial houses, the temples etc. make this place enchanting.
Our surprise one-day trip took us to a destination called ‘The Chettinad
Palace’. This is an impressive house built by Dr. Annamalai Chettiyar in 1912. This elegant colossal palace will make everyone awestruck because the whole building is a work of intricate craftsmanship. The grandiose building is adorned with lots of impeccably carved figures and wood carvings.
Chettinad palace is considered as one of the seven wonders of India due to its amazing amalgamation of art, architecture, and tradition. East Asian countries and European countries have played a major role in the construction of this place, since the raw materials, decorative pieces as well as furniture were brought from these countries. The rich and well-traveled Chettiars evolved a unique style combining western and eastern sensibilities. These resulted in an experience found nowhere else in the world.
Before we could enter the palace, the outer look itself astonished all of us because the house was built on 87,120 sq. feet land with 9 car sheds to park their chariots during those days. Another surprising thing is that the structure extended over the entire breadth of a street.
With amusement, we entered the palace. A lot of surprises were waiting for us. I gasped at the eclectic combinations of the house. The palace had a huge carved door with a handle made with green marble and the key to the main door was 1 foot in length. The Chettinad palaces boasted of its materials used for construction and decoration. The house was built with:
• Teak wood from Myanmar,
• Glasses from Belgium,
• Marbles from Germany and Italy,
• Tiles from Athangudi,
• Lights from London,
• Chandeliers from France and
• Rosewood carvings
• Ceramic dishes from China
Not only these, but they also used Victorian furniture, Anglo-Indian cutlery, intricately carved iron grill etc. They also used Gothic domes and arches to enhance the beauty of the house.
Apart from these, the Chettiars have also used some ancient Indian techniques to make their homes efficient. One of them is- they plastered their houses with the mixtures of lime, hard whole- a type of nut, eggshell and palm jaggery. This kept the house warm during winters and cool during summers. Also, the walls of the palace are 1.5 feet to 3 feet thick to ensure stability and chillness.
When I started hearing about the way they built their houses, I was startled and wondered how they were so rich and creative! I came to know that the courtyards and the verandas (known as thinnai in Tamil) in the front of the house are common to all of the rich houses of the Chettinad region. We also saw many courtyards in the palace. The maintenance man of the house said that one of the courtyards is to welcome guests and people. The next one is reserved for entertainment and hosting ceremonies and festivities. Another courtyard had several small rooms around it; they were meant for storage.
Along with this, there were a couple of large stone hand grinders. Then, we reached the kitchen, which had elven firewood ovens lined up in the room.
It took us a couple of hours to explore up to the kitchen. Further, we went into the dining hall. It was a huge hall where 250 people could be served at a time. On our way, we entered the meeting hall, where the Chettiars used to have their business, financial and family meetings. This hall was well decorated with several pairs of tusks. One of them was over 8 feet long and it was shipped from South Africa.
After gazing all through the ground floor, next, we moved on to the first floor. This floor had many rooms, most of them were bedrooms. It also had an adorable balcony. The balcony had ornamental pillars, arched windows with exquisite grillwork and dome on the top. Above the dome were friezes what looked like a peacock.
We finished having the tour of the famous Chettinad palace. We decided to start off from there. On our way, we had our lunch in one of the Chettinad hotels. The taste was in my mouth for a long time. I think this region can be considered as the land of master chefs. Their recipes are always kept as a top-secret.
While moving along the way to our city, we came across the village Athangudi. This village had its fame for the handcraft tiles, which are made to perfection for luxury homes. In this same place, there was another bungalow which has 64 rooms and 600 windows. Similar to this there was another house which has 1000 windows and that is what makes it famous.
After returning from this mesmerizing trip, I questioned myself, “everyone in the World has a house, but what makes these 100 years old houses more popular than others?”. I got my answer. It is the uniqueness which gives them their fame and immortality. The traditionally combined styles of architecture, the arts and artefacts from various parts of the globe makes them unique and interesting.
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be unique”
• Photo courtesy- Pinterest.