We are staying in an excellent hotel – Visalam – a beautifully restored 1930s Chettiar mansion, built by a father for his daughter.
Today we explored the small towns and villages of the Chettinadu region.
Here is some blurb on Chettinadu:
A stay here provides a fascinating insight into rural life in South India, as well as an interesting contrast to the temple towns of Tamil Nadu. The region was once home to some of India’s wealthiest merchants, who built temples to their family gods and decorated their mansions with wonderful wood carvings. Although some of the houses now appear rather dilapidated, behind closed doors often lie vast courtyards and rooms adorned with brightly coloured carvings and huge teak pillars. The Chettiars are also renowned for their cuisine, which is wonderfully spicy and usually consists of cooked dhal, eggplant curry, drumstick sambar, ghee for flavouring rice, and sweets such as payasam (a kind of rice pudding) and paal paniyaram (deep-fried rice balls soaked in sweet milk). The Chettiars have also been active in re- establishing their traditional arts and crafts.
Legend has it that the Chettiars were pivotal in the Chola Empire, dominating coastal business as gem dealers, salt merchants and chandlers. However, the king apparently abducted a Chettiar girl for his wife and in retaliation the whole community migrated to the Pandya Kingdom in the 13th century. They initially settled in four villages about 25 kilometres west of Karaikudi, which eventually expanded to 96.
The community continued trading with Southeast Asian countries, which led to them becoming quite wealthy. With their wealth they built enormous mansions but, as the countries which they were trading secured independence, their businesses were affected and the number of villages shrank as many of the Chettiars moved away. However, their mansions were left behind, and today you can see and visit some them in the villages, Due to family disputes, opening times of the Palace vary, please check with your local guide.
Our day started with a tour of some temples in Tirumayam built during the Pallava period, two temples were constructed on the slope of a hill – Shiva and Vishnu temples – to foster harmony among the two philosophies. These are cave temples with a single compound wall. It is also noteworthy that the sanctum sanctorum is a cave shrine.
We visited the Athangudi tile workers who make very colourful tiles – this one was designed by me:
& stopped at a local market, in Pallathur, where Dad bought one of these:
We visited a temple for the popular pre-Hindu deity Ayyanar, where a donation of a terracotta horse may help your dreams to come true.
We went to see local ladies cooking snacks (with tasting) in Velangudi.
We visited one of the mansions in Chettinadu, CVCT twin house – built for two brothers, with Burmese teak pillars, brightly coloured floor tiles, jaggery and egg plastered walls.
This afternoon we joined a cooking demo for Chettinadu chicken masala, which was delicious – but I’m not sure where we will find kalpasi (a local fungus that looks like lichen).
Me enjoying a roadside chai:
That’s all for now!