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Chettinad is one of the last surviving unique cultural heritages of India that comprise of a cluster of 75 villages. The land of Nattukottai Chettiars - Chettinad is known for its sprawling mansions, beautiful temples and delectable cuisine of its own.
Lying in the Sivganga district of Tamil Nadu, Chettinad is famous for its cultural heritage and architecture. Its two largest towns are Karaikudi and Devakottai.
The Nagarathars or Chettiars originated in Kaveripoompattinam under the Chola empire. They were a trading community involved in trading salt, silks, teak, spices, timber and gemstones with the south-east Asian countries since the time of the Cholas. Along with Marwaris and Parsis, they established themselves as one of India’s great trading communities. Their prosperity in trade brought prosperity to the region and won proximity to the rulers who bestowed them land around Sivaganga.
However gradual changes in the power structure in south-east Asian countries at the turn of the century led to a down-turn of fortunes for the Chettiars. The once flourishing community gradually faded from the modern business structure of the region. Many people migrated to other countries looking for greener pastures leaving behind a rich, unique and still much alive heritage.
 Today Chettinad includes Karaikudi and 74 other villages. During the 19th and early 20th century, many Chettiars migrated to places like Ceylon, Burma and Malaysia. They became highly successful due to their business acumen and hard work. Prosperous traders, they built opulently decorated mansions in Chettinad during the early 20th century which were some of the finest in the country. These majestic mansions are treasures that embody the love of art and craft amongst the people of Nagarthar community.
Built to display their socio-economic stature, the aesthetics of Chettiar homes are characterized by sloping red-tiled roofs and elaborate rectangular structures with the main door and back door both falling in a straight line across many courtyards. The houses have hundreds of windows, pillars of Burmese teak carved with scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana and door frames with sculptures of the Goddess Laxmi. There are four courtyards, the first opens into a open space laced with corridors which house rooms for the family; the second has dining spaces; the third was for interaction of womenfolk and the last for wells and grinding stones for cooking. In Chettinad tradition of hospitality, the front door is usually kept open throughout the day, closed only when the family retires for the night.
The walls are of brick plastered with an age old secret recipe of egg yolk, lime and roots. They are washable and have an excellent smooth texture. There are carvings depicting scenes from the British era, Victorian women and Hindu deities. Images of Gods, Goddesses, fauna and flora are made in stucco work.
 Shiva–Parvati and Gaja-Lakshmi are the most favoured in stucco art in houses, as they represent happy married life and prosperity. The courtyards are bright with sunlight, while the rooms are always under shade to maintain coolness. Tiles on the floor are mostly local Athangudi tiles. Kerala woodwork, Belgian glasses, Victorian and anglo-Indian touch on domes and arches merge to create a unique architectural fusion.
Temples: All the important events in the life of Chettiars revolve around the temples. These temples show the strong belief of Chettinad people in their dieties. Most of the temples were built during the time of Cholas. There are nine main temples with the name ‘kovil’ attached to them like the Nemam kovil, Irani kovil.
The Chettinad region is a treasure cove of palatial mansions, grand temples and is be best explored by walking around the towns and villages.
Cehttinad Houses
Chettinad Houses: The small towns of Karaikudi, Pallathur, Athangudi, Kothamangalam and Devkottai have the most lavishly built houses in Chettinad. Chettinad Mansion: Chettinad Palace at Kanadukathan was constructed by S.A Rm Ramaswamy Chettiar. It was constructed between 1902 – 1912 and consists of around 126 rooms. It covers a sprawling 3700 m2. Courts, halls and even a ceremonial wedding hall are a part of this palatial house. The elaborate structure and grand architecture leaves a traveller mesmerised. Devakottai: One of the largest towns in Chettinad, it is famous for its lanes of Chettinar houses out of which Periya Minor’s Veedu deserves special mention. It has carved pillars, Italian tiles and a Spanish tiled roof.
The Nagarathar community has been the trustee of most temples in the Chettinad region. Their knowledge of stucco work and architecture was used in temples across the region. The main temples which fall under the auspices of the Nagarthars are Vairavan Kovil, Nemam Kovil, Pillayarpatti Kovil, Illayathakudi Kovil, Irani Kovil, Soorakudi Kovil, and Iluppakuddi Kovil. The Meenakshi Sundareswara Temple: Located in Karaikudi, this temple was constructed in 1872. Also called Sivan Temple, this temple has 108 statues of Ganapathy. Karaikudi also houses the Muthu Mariamman and Koppudaiamman temples. Kunnakudi Murugan Temple: Located on a hill 14 km from Karaikudi, Kunnakudi is a beautiful temple. Its presiding deity is the six-faced Shanmugar mounted on a peacock with Valli and Devayaini. It is a rock cut temple which also has shrines of other deities like Vinayakar, Meenakshi Sundareswarar, Dakshinamurthy, Nataraja, Chandreswarar and Navagrihas. Alankar Mandapa has the festive image of Shanmugar. At the foot of the hill here is a cave temple of Shiva, with three caves dating back to 8th century CE. There is a Shivalingam in one of the caves. Sculptures of the four-armed Vishnu holding a conch and discus, Brahma, Durga and Vinayaka are also displayed in the caves, as well as an exquisite sculpture of Nataraja. Karpaka Vinayakar Temple: One of the oldest cave temples in Tamil Nadu, Karpaka Vinayakar is a rock cut statue of Lord Ganesha. This statue is six feet tall and carved on dark stone. Thiruvisaar is a Shivalingam sculpted out of stone. The temple is around 1600 years old according to Stalapuranam and so are the deities of Vinayaka and Thiruvisar. The Pillayarpatti Nagarathar community takes care of this ancient shrine. Ilayathangudi: Boasting one of the biggest temple pools or ‘Oorani’ and exquisite sculptures, this is supposed to be the resting place of the Gods. Vairavanpatti Temple: This temple is a Dravidian architecture marvel. It has 23 bronze statues and amazing wall paintings on Vairava Puranam, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Presiding deities here are Sivapurandevi and Aatkondanathar. It also has Vairava Theeram, a sacred spring. Iraniyur: This temple has fifty bronzes dating from the 12th - 20th century. A marvellous Nataraja dating back to the 12th century as well as beautiful Vijaynagar paintings are also displayed.
Thirumayam Fort
Built by Sethupathy Vijaya Raghunatha Thevar in 1687, this fort has a Bhairav temple on its outer wall. The fort was an armoury during British rule in world war II. Five smaller forts are located around the main fort. Inside the fort there are a shrine of Shiva and a shrine of Vishnu. The Shiva temple is on a rock and can be reached by one person at a time climbing a ladder. The Vishnu temple has an octagonal water pool.
Chettinad Museum:
This museum displays items of daily life as used by the Chettiars. There are traditional pieces of clothing, jewellery, water storing vats and bins on display.
Famous for Athangudi terracotta tiles, factories here display the method of tile making, patterning and sun drying. Used as floor tiles, they remain cool and comfortable to walk on even in the hottest weather.
The cave temple of Kunandar Kovil dedicated to Shiva was built in 7th century. A beautiful Nritta Mandapa and 100 pillar Mandapa are present here. Here the God Shiva is known as Parvatagirishwara. The main deities here are Valampuri Ganesha and Somskanda. Bronze sculptures of Shiva, Parvati and Skanda, Nataraja and Shivakami can be seen.
Antique items, Chettinad silk, cotton sarees and brassware are interesting buys from Chettinad.
Served on a banana leaf, Chettinad cuisine is famous for its spicy and aromatic preparations. Although very tasty vegetarian dishes are a part of Chettiar kitchens, it’s mostly the fish, chicken and mutton preparations made with whole spices like nutmeg, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaf, star anise, cloves, fennel, cardamom which are particularly popular and have established the cuisine in the mainstream.
Curries of sun-dried legumes and berries are also extremely tasty. Some of the regional specialities are Varuval, a dry dish with onions and spices, Pepper chicken, Poriyal and Kuzambu with coconut milk and spices. Paniyaram is a popular snack made with grounded rice and dal. All the main dishes are eaten with a selection of idli, rice, appam, idiappam and sambhar.
All varieties of nandu (crab) and yerra (prawn) from fries, minces to delicious curries are a gastronomic treat. Various poppadums, pickles along with dried, roasted or ground spice powders make this an elaborate, scrumptious and memorable meal.
Paal paniyaram is a special sweet kheer which is the perfect way of ending such a fulfilling meal.
Nearby places Train stations Airports
MADURAI 114 Km 01H 55m
Karaikkudi Junction 5 Km 00H 10m
Nearby major cities
Name Distance Duration
134 Km 02H 11m
145 Km 04H 10m
92 Km 01H 26m
99 Km 01H 42m
134 Km 02H 11m
145 Km 04H 10m
414 Km 06H 17m
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Best Seasons
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Season Min. Temp. Max. Temp.
Summer 24 °C 42 °C
Winter 20 °C 30 °C
Chettinad summers are hot and humidwith temperatures frequently crossing 40 C. December to February is the best months to visit Chennai.

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