About chettinad homes
Chettiars were rich traders and money lenders. They brought back materials from their travels to Burma, Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. Their naattukottai (country) homes reflect opulence. The huge mansions were built from Burmese teak and decorated with colourful Italian and Japanese ceramic tiles in the entrance areas, black and white marble floors and handmade Athangudi tiles over glass surfaces super-imposed on a concrete base. Pillars provided structural support, being fashioned out of wood or Polish granite in the thinnais (entrances). Doors were carved, opening out into the vallavu (courtyard). The magnificence was enhanced by imposing European style facades, with the interior boasting of elaborately carved woodwork and decorated verandahs. Traditional Tamilian architecture of sloped and tiled roofs, painted ceilings and door brackets is still intact in these homes. However, they lacked plumbing and waste removal systems. Typically, houses had bathrooms only at the far ends.
The sights of Kanadukathan
The facilities provided by the Chettinad Court hotel included a village tour by bullockcart. The heritage village had a well planned grid system, like the city of Chandigarh designed by the French architect Le Corbusier, with the streets parallel or meeting at right angles. The ride started from the hotel at about 10:30 a.m. and took us to the Chettinad Mansion – sister concern of Chettinad Court – and Museum, past many private houses, water ponds and a saree weaving centre. We could see Raja Vilas (Rajah’s House), the residence of M. Ct. M. Chidambaram from outside only as the bullock cart undulated along the unpaved roads, with the bulls with long horns trundling along. The cart had a curved, long concave roof covered in blue tarpaulin cloth with matching cushions on five seats, three on one side and two on the other, like squares on a checker board. This was a new experience for us, unlike riding in any other vehicle. In my childhood in Dehradun I had ridden on a tonga and ekka, but this was very different, unique.
Our driver, Peria Karrupa (the bulls had not been given names – they were simply 1 and 2), stopped at the Sri Mahalakshmi Handloom Weaving Centre (SMHWC) on K. M. Street. It was owned and operated by a couple, Krishnaveni and Venkatraman. They showed us the large skeins of yarn of different colours used to weave the multi-coloured saris with distinct patterns and styles. The cloth is ideal for hot weather and can be easily washed, dried and re-used even without being ironed. Priyanka Gandhi favours the saris made at the SMHWC, as her photographs displayed in the showroom were ample evidence. The Centre makes dhotis for gents also. The saris were of the same type which had been cut and used as table cloths in the restaurant of CC. There was a feature in the February issue of Traveller magazine about the centre, as well as articles in newspapers.
On the way back, the cart passed under the M. Ct. M. Chidambaram arch on the road of the same name, he having been a prominent citizen of Chettinad. We alighted at the hotel for lunch and a siesta. In the evening we again summoned Mariappan’s auto-rickshaw to take us for a second (and third – since there was not much rush, we went in for another round !) darshan of Karpag Vinayak.
On the third and last day of the tour we visited the Solai Andavar (short for Sivamyam Arulmigu Shri Cholai Yaandavar) temple about 3 km from the CC hotel on the way to Chettinad railway station. There were temples dedicated to other deities on the sides – Adai Kalangkaath Ayynar and Spat Kannimargal (the seveneyed deities). In the courtyard along the walls were rows of statues of cattle and horses made from mud and painted to look lifelike. They must have been crafted years ago, but were in excellent condition. Entry to the temple was restricted for women, as at Sabarimalai Ayyappan temple in Kerala – only pre-puberty and post-menopause ladies were permitted.
We had a typical thaali lunch of Chettinad cuisine at the Narayn Vilas restaurant. We also asked them to pack some items (chapatti-kurma and curd rice) in the evening, which I collected before departing for Karaikudi to catch the Rameswaram Express or our return journey to Chennai.
About Chettinad cuisine
Chettinad cuisine is the cuisine of a community called the Nattukotai Chettiars, or Nagarathars as they call themselves, from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. Chettinad cuisine is perhaps the most renowned fare in the Tamil Nadu repertoire. It uses a variety of spices and the dishes are made with fresh ground masalas. Chettiars also use a variety of sun- dried meats and salted vegetables, reflecting the dry environment of the region. Most of the dishes are eaten with rice and rice based accompaniments such as dosais, appams, idiyappams, adais and idlis. The Chettiars through their mercantile contacts with Burma, learnt to prepare a type of rice pudding made with sticky red rice.
Chettinad cuisine offers a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Some of the popular vegetarian dishes include idiyappam, paniyaram, vellai paniyaram, karuppatti paniyaram, paal paniyaram, kuzhi paniyaram, kozhakattai, masala paniyaram, adikoozh, kandharappam, seeyam, masala seeyam, kavuni arisi and athirasam. In Chettinad food, major spices used include anasipoo (star aniseed), kalpasi (a lichen), puli (tamarind), milagai (chillies), sombu (fennel seed), pattai (cinnamon), lavangam (cloves), bay leaf, karu milagu (peppercorn), jeeragam (cumin seeds), and venthayam (fenugreek).