Chettinad - A Grand Fusion of Art Deco & Tamil Tradition

Chettinad, adorned by its villages and 19th century mansions is an architectural marvel where trading and business flourished during the ancient days.

About 2 hours away from Madurai’s airport, this rural area in the North East of Tamil Nadu will not cease to amaze you. This is the perfect combination for those looking for architecture, nature walks & cycling tour, rural life, crafts, boutique stays and gastronomy. Nominated to the Unesco Heritage list, the area will enchant you and you would not have enough of a week end to truly enjoy all its richness.

In the 13th century already, a population from another region left a flooded area for this semi-arid region. At his peak, there were 96 villages where the Chettiars were settled, out of which 75 are still existing today. Being great trade people, in the 19thcentury, the inhabitants started a flourishing business with South East Asia and Sri Lanka. They were traveling extensively to trade for salt, gems, textile and jewellery and even became a powerful finance force in India.

In the beginning of 20th century, their wealth and travel savviness became so great that the architecture in the villages started to change with a unique style of architecture combining western and eastern sensibilities. The way of life is still the traditional joined family, so a traditional villa would comprise of a reception area, followed by a common area, collective kitchen, surrounded by individual rooms.

You can’t refrain from being astonished by those immense Art Deco facades, today often the refuge of monkey troops. The magnificence of the entry hall, or often referred as the wedding hall, will leave no less of an impression, with its ornaments of  beautiful Bruegen tiles or Baccarat immense chandeliers.

Families are keeping their heritage alive and with the rise of tourism in the region, have agreed to open the doors of their villas to the discerning traveller. Some even converted it into splendid boutique hotels, which promises an unforgettable experience in living the grand life. Some hoteliers have concocted guided tours to understand better this patrimony, even cycling tours, as this rural, hence quiet area provides a very pleasant environment to explore on 2 wheels. It would allow you to perceive the remarkable unity and efficiency of urban planning, including very interesting water management system and drainage patterns.

But the beauty of the region is not only in the incredible architectural impressions. The region offers unique traditions: Chettiars have Hindu and animist/shamanist Tamil influence. Instead of cremations, they apparently turn to graveyards in their funeral rites. They also have strict rules against menstruating women to enter their outdoor temples while allowing in same sacred places the sacrifice of roosters. They create beautiful terracotta offerings. Participating to the religious festivals either in March April for Mariamman temples or April to September for Ayannar shrines would provide with colourful unforgettable memories.

The crafts are worth the trip themselves: from the confection of the remarkable Chettiar tiles which many in India like to ornate their floor with, to the vibrant baskets, the unique saris in cotton and silk… It s possible to observe the technics and to shop around wonderful products of quality. And finally, who’s in for a feast? The Chettiar cuisine is very famous for its pepper chicken and Varuval. Given the climate in the region, the technic of preserving food through sun drying ensures you may have ample options of crunchy and healthy snacks to choose from. Now you may be surprised to see seafood on the menu as well: this comes as an heritage from their tradition of travel.

I hope you understood that you will have much to discover in such a fascinating destination. To plan ahead, you may contact your travel expert Le Magnifique Travel.

- Mrs. Maud Le Bars