A Chettinadu sojourn - a less than 2 day trip to the Chettinadu region in Tamil Nadu

Tripoto
21st Jul 2019
Photo of A Chettinadu sojourn - a less than 2 day trip to the Chettinadu region in Tamil Nadu by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Chettinadu - a region in Central Tamil Nadu that is synonymous with Palatial mansions, exquisite cuisine, temples and ponds. This region comprises of the districts Pudukottai, Sivagangai. Karaikudi is the assumed capital. Chettiyars or the wealthy merchant caste were the ones to settle in this region and Chettinadu acquires its name from them (the land of chettiyars). A little bit of history is that, the Chettiyars expanded their trades to different parts of the world from South India like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar, etc during the Chozha reign and most of them settled in Poompuhar, the place where River Kaveri meets the sea. An unexpected tsunami forced them to migrate to some other place and if stories to be believed, the effects of tsunami was too frightening that they wanted to move to a place where there is no water at all!! Their mansions are also built in such a way that they are all atleast 5 feet above the ground level.

Day 1

Chidambara Vilas, Kadiapatti was where we put up. This is a century old mansion, converted into a heritage resort by Sangam group of hotels. As far as I can say, the original structure has not been tampered much. They have still retained the essential portions and the essence of the house, er.. palace. The mudhal kattu, rendam kattu, thinnai, muttram and samayal kattu, kinathadi (well) are all still very much intact. The rooms are all very modernized to facilitate all the necessities and comforts. The hospitality is great. They welcome you with a towel dipped in rosewater, so that you can wipe your face and hands and refresh yourselves as they complete the formalities for your stay. The rooms are spacious and comes with king size bed. The bathrooms have a bathtub and shower room too. Each and every piece of furniture is artistically procured to merge with the antique surrounding.

We had a sumptuous breakfast, which included a couple of chettinadu delicacies like kandharappam,  vella paniyaram, along with other south Indian staples like dosai, kuzhi paniyaram, kanjivaram idli and more. You can finish it off with hot filter coffee or tea.

After moving around the property for sometime, we started off to visiting other p(a)laces 😁. Please find below, the list for day 1.

Chidambara vilas

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Look at the symmetry, you can draw a straight line!!

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Grand hall

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The muttram

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Recreation room. Please note the Athangudi tiles

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Dining hall

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Pool area

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Look at the symmetry, you can draw a straight line!!

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Grand hall

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The muttram

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Recreation room. Please note the Athangudi tiles

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Dining hall

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Pool area

Photo of Chidambara Vilas, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

This magnificent mansion/palace/house is something that no Tamil movie watcher could have missed. It used to be featured in movies. The most popular movie where one can find this is 'Kandukondein Kandukondein'. Sadly, the owners no longer rents it for movie shoots nor is it open for public to tour the house. I am not very sure, but if you could reach the right person for right permission, you might be allowed to go in and see only what they like to show and that too only if the occupants are not staying there. I respect the privacy, as this still belongs to the owners and it is their ancestral property. I learnt that this palace has around 100 rooms!!

But I would still urge you to go there and see it from the outside. You can take a stroll through the wide  streets, which are so orderly and see a couple of Chettinadu houses from the outside and marvel the Chettinadu architecture. The weather was very pleasant when we went there and hence we were able to thoroughly enjoy the walk. Take a look at the expansive 'Urani', a pond like structure built at every village to store water from rains.

Kanadukathan palace

Photo of Kanadukathan Maharaja's Palace, Kanadukathan, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The Urani at Kanadukathan

Photo of Kanadukathan Maharaja's Palace, Kanadukathan, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The saree enthusiast in me did not let me go away from this place without paying a visit to the Handloom weaving place or the 'thari', that was just a stone's throw away from the palace. I had been wanting to visit a thari for a long time and finally I was able to do this during this trip. This weaving centre creates Chettinadu sarees and they also dye some of their yarns with natural colours from herbs like banana flower and a few more, the varieties that I dont remember very clearly. They call such sarees 'mooligai' sarees or herbal sarees. Because of the dyes being from natural sources, the colour options are very limited in these sarees.

The weaving centre and Chettinadu cotton sarees

Photo of Sree Mahalakshmi Handloom Weaving Centre, Kanadukathan, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Our next stop was Athangudi. The place very well known for the artistic, handmade tiles manufactured. There is one another palatial mansion here and the good news is, it is open for public. The entry fee is rs.50 per head. You will not be given any ticket or receipt for the same, though. It is a guided tour. You will be shown the hall, the muttram and the dining area. The other areas are restricted. A brief history of who built it, when and how long it took will be narrated. The marbles and granites were imported from Italy, the floor tiles were from Portugal, the wall tiles from China and the teak wood from Myanmar. It is interesting to note that, the tiles used in Athangudi palace were not the indigenous ones. From the patterns of the tiles, I surmise that the Athangudi tiles manufacturing started after this palace was built and inspired from the Portugal and Chinese ones used here.
The ceiling is something that should not be missed as also the paintings that are done on the window arches.

The rightful heirs of the property still visits the palace and like Kanadukathan,this is also not rented for movie shoots nowadays as the harsh lights do more harm to the paintings on the wall, but they do rent it for Chettiar weddings!!

Muttram @Athangudi palace

Photo of Athangudi Palace, Athangudi Road, Athangudi, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Thinnai @ Athangudi palace

Photo of Athangudi Palace, Athangudi Road, Athangudi, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The ceiling of Athangudi palace!!

Photo of Athangudi Palace, Athangudi Road, Athangudi, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The paintings depict different stories

Photo of Athangudi Palace, Athangudi Road, Athangudi, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Okay, this was just a random pick. I don't know why but I always end up visiting some museum or the other whenever or wherever I travel 🤷🏻‍♀️. This museum houses the artifacts used by Dr.Alagappa Chettiar, a philanthropist and educationist, whose name Karaikudi is synonymous with. There are also details about his early life and the educational institutions he had founded. Also, you can find more about the ancient Tamizh culture and also about Chettinadu culture. The museum is well maintained and the drive through this area is very good, majorly because the weather was great that day. This is not a must visit place, but if you have some time to spare, why not?

With that we came back to the resort, had an absolutely gorgeous Chettinadu lunch with so many varieties of dishes. The evening we just explored the resort more, taking lot of photos and trying to slow down and relax. Of course, the tour of the resort in itself was so engaging. With carnatic music playing mildly all around the resort, it felt like there is no rush at all.

Day 2

On Day 2, we covered a couple of popular temples in and around the region. We had the breakfast at the resort, a traditional vaazhai ilai breakfast (breakfast served on banana leaf) and packed and checked out of the resort as we had planned to head back to Trichy right after visiting the temples, that way we could save the time of coming back to the resort. The Chettinadu region has a great many number of temples that include some Divya Desams(sacred shrines of shri vaishnavite cult, where the presiding deities are praised(by composing paasurams-poems) by one or more of the 12 Azhwars) too. We had a lot of time but chose to cover a few and below is the list. I am not giving a lot of information here, because visiting temples are straight forward and Google maps can take you places, quite literally 😁

The Thirumayam temple was just 3 km from the resort. There are two temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva and a beautiful temple pond that is octagonal shaped.

Lord Vishnu temple- the presiding deity is Sathya murthy perumal, in reclining anantha shayanam. The sculpture is carved in a rock, and the temple is situated at the foot of a small hill. The sculpture is huge d the nuances are clearly visible. Even the flames that come out of Adi Shesha's breath are carved! Lord's consort is Ujjeevana thaayar. There are also other sannidhis(shrines) inside the temple for Garudan,  Hanuman, Vishwaksena, Sudarshana, Lakshmi Narasimha and Andal. Looks like the place is supposed to be referred as 'thirumeyyam'. 'Mei' means truth in Tamil and the lord Sathya murthy means form of truth! And it is a Divya desam too, the lord is praised by Thirumangai Azhwar.

Lord Siva temple - located adjacent to the Vishnu temple is lord Siva's temple. Lord Siva is referred as Sathya girishwarar, again reference to truth. The lord is in the form of huge lingam and there is a big Nandi too. The ambal is Venuvaneshwari, not sure if there are any bamboo forests around. One striking feature is that, the Lingothbhavar is carved in the wall opposite to the Lingam rather than at the wall to the backside of the lingam, such that the Shiva lingam faces the lingothbhavar. The carving is so wonderful that, one can see even the flames coming out, symbolizing Lord Shiva's agni swaroopam!

Sathyamurthy perumal temple, Thirumayam

Photo of Thirumayam Lord Vishnu Temple Hindu Temple, Thirumayam, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

Sathya girishwarar temple, Thirumayam

Photo of Thirumayam Lord Vishnu Temple Hindu Temple, Thirumayam, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The temple pond. This is the best I was able to capture this octagonal shaped pond!!

Photo of Thirumayam Lord Vishnu Temple Hindu Temple, Thirumayam, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

It is a temple dedicated to Lord Bhairava, built and maintained by Chettiyars. It was built in the 8th century. The presiding deity is Valaroli naathar and the ambal is Vadivudai Amman. Very well maintained temple with intricate works on the walls and ceilings, the Chettiyar signature. Please dont miss the frescoes on the ceiling! Also don't forget to take a look at the huge urani in front of the temple.

Vairavanpatti temple

Photo of Vairavan Kovil, Vairavanpatti, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The temple Urani @Vairavanpatti

Photo of Vairavan Kovil, Vairavanpatti, Tamil Nadu, India by Lavanya Gurumurthy

The very famous Pillayarpatti temple was our next stop. The large karpaga vinayagar is sure a pleasure to see. There are also shrines for Lord siva and Parvathi referred as Marudeesar (because of Marudha/Arjuna trees, and it is the sthala vriksham) and Vaada malar ambal (ashoka kusumambika, the flower that never withers). I wonder how beautiful the names of the gods and goddesses are!!

This is a Murugan temple - Shanmukha nathar temple. You have to climb a flight of stairs as the temple, as most other Murugan temples is located on top of a hillock. There is a cave temple dedicated to lord Siva too. Please don't miss to check that too.

The last stop for the day and the trip is the Thirumayam fort. We did not go up the fortress in the morning because that was anyway on our route back to Trichy. The temples and fort are all protected by ASI  and hence you have an entry fee of rs.25. The huge wall built centuries ago to protect the fort is still intact and formidable. It gives a nice vantage and there are still some canons kept there to remind us of how uncertain life was then.

Some notes/recommendations:
1. If you can (only if you can), please try to book a heritage resort. Yes, the cost is always on the higher side but this will be a one time experience. How many of us could get a chance to stay in a Chettinadu mansion really?! You can do your research and book the one that fits the budget of your trip.
2. We had our own vehicle and hence manoeuvring at our wish was not a problem. However, if you wish to use a public transport or hire taxi, make sure you choo the best route, so that you can avoid going back and forth.
3. We covered the regions in Pudukottai and Sivagangai districts and just touched Karaikudi. There are a few places that we tried to pack in but couldn't which includes Avudaiyar kovil,  thirukoshtiyur.

And that's the end! Thanks for reading it. I hope it might be helpful if you are planning for a trip to the Chettinadu region. 😃 Enjoy the move!!

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