Karaikudi, the largest city in the Sivaganga district and known as the capital of Chettinad, is the ancestral home of the Chettias. This community is known for its business acumen and willingness to take great risks in trading. The Chettiars were frequent travelers and started business in Burma, Malaysia and Singapore. The men went abroad and many families stayed in the 74 villages of Chettinad.
The Chettinad temples, built by Vaastu Shastras and Agamas, were sponsored by the wealthy trading community of the Chettias. The kovils are Illaiyathangudi, Mathoor, Vairavankoil, Nemamkoil, Illupaikudi, Surakuddi, Velangudi, Iraniyur and Pillaiyarpatti. Each temple has its own reservoir called Oorani, where water lilies are grown and used for sacred rituals.
Chettinad’s daily activities focus on temple festivals. Even the various clans of the Nagarathar community are identified after the Kovils. The connection of each clan (and temple) decides on marriage protocols within the community and marriage between members of the same temple is prohibited. The city has evolved around temples that span everything from culture and architecture to business.
Karaikudi is the name of a local plant called “Karai”. The streets of the city are lined with huge houses built by the wealthy community. Most of these ‘bangala’ (bungalows) are abandoned and do not take their lives when it’s family gatherings, ranging from birth to majority, marriage, sixtieth anniversary and death events.
The houses of the Chettiars Nattukottai or Nagarathar are huge and can accommodate many people. The houses are built between two streets, with the front door overlooking the first street and the back the second street. Starting from a central courtyard, tiny rooms with carved doors and burmese teak were imported into India by this trading community. The door frames are carved with Gajalakshmi, the goddess of wealth and you can see the kumbam (brass pot) with mango leaves on top. Scenes of Mahabharata and Ramayana are carved on its wood panels and walls.
Many bungalow entrances have a raised platform, the “Thinnai”, which was the meeting place for men and other visitors who came to the house on business. On one side are the warehouses and granaries of solid wood and on the other the billing room and further the fountain of men. Each room around the central courtyard was attributed to a bride who entered the family, where she kept all her belongings. The wealth of the head of household was demonstrated by the renovation, painting and embellishment of the main parts of the house. The huge teak columns of Burma, the decoration of walls and gables, wooden slats, murals, ornate balustrades and railings are visual delights.
Married community brought a dowry with them, which contain several numbers, 50 or 100 pieces per article needed a home, including utensils, kitchen appliances and furniture, bedding, money running and gold. Her traveling husband brought exotic plates and trinkets from their travels and all these things were kept in this small room. Objects were rarely used and should serve as a safety net. The accumulated items were used as inventory to start a business when the need arose.
The “Bangalas” were left until a few years ago. Recently, there have been efforts to revitalize these homes, and you can even stay in some of them.
Chettinad is famous for its spicy food, which is still prepared on the wood fire in the old houses. This gives the food a distinct quality. The paal paniyaram (pasta with sweet milk), the classic karakozhambu (hot and spicy curry) and a variety of poultry dishes, seafood and vegetarian dishes and a variety of tiffin is typical of this region.
Korvai Chettinad saris are unique in the use of colors. It has a striking pattern with bold stripes and stripes and a temple pattern. The art of basketry-Kottan-is also reborn in the region.
The Chettinad Museum, next to the Raja Palace, illustrates the lifestyle of the community. In the kitchen is the travel suitcase with its elaborate basket, which contains everything you need for cooking, worth a detour. Traditional jewelery and clothing, huge copper water tanks and grain silos illustrate the lifestyle of a community.
The famous Athangudi tiles were also reissued. You can see these handmade terracotta tiles that have been modeled and sun-dried in this village and the demand from urban customers is increasing. There is a local secret to make this tile.
Chettinad gypsum (currently called Madras gypsum) differs from the usual things in that it is clearly smooth and shiny. The plaster on the walls has been polished until you can see your face. There are several applications of gypsum with lime. After every half hour seven layers are applied. The worker waits for the plaster to give off water after 4 to 5 hours and rubs it with a pebble. Then the talcum powder is applied with a touch. This plaster is mainly found in several regions of the south.