culture

These Amazing Chettinad Facts shall Make You Fall in Love with the Place

BP World Research | Feb 17 2019
Image credits: beyond pink creatives

India and its culture are so alluring and incredible. Each state, cities and towns have great stories in its sleeves. From North to South and East to West India is an incredible wonder kaleidoscope that offers magnificent colours and designs for visual and cognitive delight.

The Intriguing Story of Chettinad  & Chettiars

The story of Chettinad, the land of Chettiars is as old as the 13th century. Chattiars who are distinctly known as ‘Nattukottai Chettiars’, is a trading community, moved from their older settlement to Karaikkudi region in the south-east part of Tamil Nadu when they were affected by a massive flood as per some historical inscription. Spread in two districts of Sivagangai and Pudukkottai, this powerful community built close to 100 towns that became famous as Chettinad. They earned special respect from the ruling dynasty, the Cholas, for their honesty, business-acumen and socio-economic commitment.

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Image credits: Flickr

Very enterprising Chettiars were mostly traders who also did major banking business in India and in many parts of Asia. They expanded their business across south-east Asia and moved to many countries to facilitate trade. Later because of the political and social dynamics and instabilities, they had to settle back in India or needed to move to more stable other places.

Many of India’s banks or their history, if we study in details, have the fingerprints of Chettiars in it. Some examples to this are Bank of Chettinad, Indian Overseas Bank, ICICI Bank and Indian Bank. Smart business people that they were, Chettiars were also known for their philanthropy.

Chettinadu is not just famous for Chettiars and their settlement but also for many things very traditional to the Chettiars and the then ruling culture of the Chola Dynasty.

1. Mind-blowing and Intricate Chettinad Temple Jewelry

This very intricate jewelry with very distinct artwork said to have originated during the 9th century when Cholas were ruling the Tamil Nadu region. These beautiful jewelry used primarily as décor for the deities in the temples. The rulers of South India, especially the Tamil Nadu area had a great love for crafts and craftsmanship. The culture and social structure had great bondage with the temples that again are great monuments of cultures!

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Most ruling royal dynasties housed great artisans and craftsmen to produce temple jewelry high on artistic values. This jewellery was used by royals and people who were in high social positions. During festivals, temples received this jewelry as offerings and thus they earned the name ‘temple jewellery’. Even today, this jewellery has got its original craftsmanship retained and preserved without being influenced by any other culture or jewellery craft forms existed earlier or developed later.

Temple jewelry have the images carved of Hindu gods on it. The common images carved in the jewellery included Gauri-Shankar, Ganesha and Lakshmi. Another unique feature is that this jewelry mostly used a certain kind of red stones to make it. These red stones are called ‘kempu stones’. Special and pure gold, silver and precious gems were used for making temple jewellery.

Temple jewellery such as bangles, necklace and earpieces were used by women to adorn themselves during special occasions such as Kallyanam(weddings), Valaikappu(baby shower) and other festivals. However, there are certain specific jewellery types that were used only by dancers during their performances. They included anklets, waist chains, armlets and hair decorations.

Though there is a great leap in the world of fashion lately, most traditional jewellery is mindfully appreciated by young women. This is particularly true for temple jewellery that has a unique place in the Chettinad culture.

2. Exotic and Mouth Watering Chettinad Cuisines

The Chettiyar story cannot be told without mentioning their cuisines and culinary culture as they are both tightly interwoven. Chettinad Cuisines are famous the world over and Indian restaurants across the world showcase some of the other Chettinad food.

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The menu normally is non-vegetarian intense in Chettinad homes. Traditionally they use regionally available as well as sourced spices to use in the dishes. The trading and commerce background of Chettiyas made it easy for them to source spices from different regions and countries. Spices commonly used in their kitchen include melagai( chilleis), sombu(fennel seed), anasipoo(star aniseed), venthayam(fenugreek), pattai(cinnamon), puli(tamarind) apart from black pepper. Spices are ground fresh to make each dish that makes the food rich in the aroma - an outstanding quality of Chettinad food.

Traditionally, Chettiyas gave a lot of importance to food and their kitchens were mostly larger than any other traditional Indian homes. Along with vegetarian food, Chettinadu cuisines have an intense list of non-vegetarian dishes as well. Most of their dishes are outstandingly spicy as they add green chillies and black pepper in lavishly.

They also used different and colourful kitchen utensils that were enamel coated. It’s said that these utensils were imported from Sweden during the olden times. Though these utensils are not used for cooking today, they used to be an essential part of the Chettinad cooking regime in the past.

3. Chettinad Saris from the Traditional Looms

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Image credits: Flickr

Chettinad weaving has a long history and primarily Devanga Chettys are involved in the weaving craft in this area. Chettinad handloom sarees are traditional cotton that comes in vibrant colours and earthy hues. Mostly the colour of the saree’s body and the border would be contrasting. Checks and stripes are the common patterns that would be seen on these sarees. Traditional Chettinad sarees are woven thick.


4. Amazing Chettinad Architecture

Nattukottai Chettiyars got their name from the ornate and palatial bungalow they owned. This rich community used their money to build large houses to showcase their wealth. How rich was a Chettiyar was assessed by looking at the size and intricacy of his house?

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Business had given them great connections with many countries and that has given them opportunities to bring home the finer and luxurious things of life. Chettinadettind homes boast of crystals from Europe and Marble from Italy.

The architecture is outstanding and ruled by the climatic factors. As the terrain and geography was hot most of the time during the year, the roofs were made of terracotta tiles that would regulate the temperature. Stone and marble floor in the interior area also allowed the environment to be cooler. The sloppy roof was designed to collect rainwater, as water was always precious.

Distinguishable are the pillars inside each house that are made off wood, granite or iron. The plastering of walls was done in several layers were the mixture included lime and even egg white to give a smooth and strong texture to the walls.  Athangudi tiles which are handmade and colorful local tiles adorn the floors of Chettinad houses.

The front door of each house opened to wide courtyards with visible pillars and corridors around. Beautiful as they are, Chettinad homes surely tell the magnificent story of the bygone glory of this great community.


5. The Aesthetic Athangudi Tiles

Multicolored and artistic, Athangudi tiles are the traditional craft of the place named Athangudi in Sivagangai district that was home to Nattukottai Chettiays. These tiles are hand made by artistic and talented craftsmen using natural colours. The local soil is the main component that is mixed with a few other materials to make the basic ingredient.

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Image credits: Flickr

Today synthetic colours are also used in making these tiles. There is a huge demand for these tiles even today, especially those who love to recreate history in their homes.