A new resort in Karaikudi tries to revive the old Chettinad look and feel, finds Nirthya Rajan

Exquisite cuisine and lavish mansions are to Karaikudi what jackfruits and boathouses are to Kerala. A small town in Tamil Nadu, Karaikudi in the heart of the Chettinad belt is steeped in the tradition of the Chettiars, the primary inhabitants of the town. They built immense mansions with pillars, windows, doors, and floor tiles in the best wood and marble and tiles sourced from all over the world, and filled their homes with exquisite artefacts.

As life moved on, so did the Chettiars, abandoning their mansions and moving out in search of better opportunities. Their grand homes now lie neglected; their possessions auctioned off, and sometimes even the intricately carved pillars and doors sold to antique hunters. It’s a piece of history that is dying.

Conservation groups like the Revive Chettinad Society are working to prevent the total extinction of such mansions by focusing on tourism and on preservation of these homes for future generations. One way to protect these ancient homes is to convert them into resorts where tourists can stay and enjoy the grandeur, their money helping to preserve the buildings. A second way is to imitate the Chettinad style of building to create new structures, so that the old architecture, designs and material are not forgotten.

Thappa Gardens in Ariyakudi (3km from Karaikudi) is one such resort, which has created a typical Chettinad house to promote and sustain the architectural tradition. The property is spread across four acres, divided into three parts like any Chettinad house - the lobby, the courtyard and private area.

Traditional floor plan

The area from the gate to the lobby is called the ‘Mogappu’ or entrance, which displays a rich Chettinad building style. For example, the front door is one foot thick with a three-layered teak wood frame with intricate carving and circular door handles.

The entrance leads to the courtyard, called the ‘Kalyana Kottai. Designated as the lobby and illuminated by natural lighting, it is lined with 12 carved pillars and the flooring is black and white chess-board style Athangudi tiles. The lobby has traditional indoor games like ‘Pallanguzhi’, chess and ‘Paramapadam’ (snake and ladder), an important part of the Chettinad lifestyle.

The ‘Valavu’ area, where the bedrooms of the sons used to be, is the restaurant, with 16 pillars and red Athangudi tiles. The common areas are decorated with ruby red and sapphire lampshades, as well as antique fans, chandeliers and furniture. The cottages each have a ‘Thinnai’ and the furniture is of teak wood. Each cottage has a replica of the ‘Molman Kurichi’ (a recliner chair) and an old-fashioned ‘Almirah’.

Replicating is a way of preserving our cultural heritage, and that is what such resorts aim to do.

More In: Habitat | Features