Chitra and M. Ganapathy’s resort Kadambavanam, near Madurai, has evolved into a hub of Tamil heritage

Projects do not drive the passion. It is the other way round where passions drive amazing projects. This is exactly what happened with architect M. Ganapathy and his cost accountant wife Chitra Ganapathy. They have given shape to a unique endogenous tourism model where people can experience traditional and true Tamil living.

Called Kadambavanam, the Temple of Tamil Traditions, the retreat is situated 22 kms from Madurai on the Natham Highway. It is a place where domestic and international tourists can soak in Tamil culture and the Tamil diaspora can reconnect with their roots. Kadambavanam, according to legend, once covered the entire Madura region before giving way to the ancient city of Madurai.

Chitra and Ganapathy come from conservative backgrounds and have a very traditional upbringing. Chitra’s father, Dr.Nambi Arooran, was the grandson of the great Tamil Scholar Maraimalai Adigal considered the ‘Father of the pure Tamil movement’. Her mother Dr.Sarada Nambi Arooran, is a renowned Tamil scholar too. Ganapathy’s maternal grandfather Shri.S.S. Subbiah Pillai was instrumental in consecrating “Pazha muthir solai”, the sixth holy abode of Lord Muruga in Madurai.

More than a decade ago Ganapathy bought 22 acres of land nestling between the Sirumalai and Alagarmalai range. It was a green carpet stretched to the horizon, scalloped by wild fields and hills and strangely calm. “I instantly knew I had to do something different here,” says Ganapathy. But at best the couple could only think of building a weekend retreat cottage for the family. But soon one thing led to another and ideas began to take shape in their heads.

Both Chitra and Ganapathy feel very strongly about the culturally rich Tamil heritage. So they thought they would do something to nourish that. “Initially we were hesitant,” says Chitra, “because neither of us is from the tourism industry and nor are we rich.” But despite the hurdles, they decided they would establish a kind of cultural prototype in Tamil Nadu.

Tourists rarely gain any insight into Tamil traditions when they come on a temple-hopping visit to the State, they say and people do not realise the value and privilege of being a Tamilian. For three years the couple toyed with the idea of how to revive, preserve and showcase Tamil culture.

Initially the small weekend cottage would be lent to friends. But then Ganapathy decided to build some more. Gradually, the idea of an ethnic resort was born and 15 cottages were built surrounded by mango, coconut, tamarind and 40 other varieties of trees.

While Ganapathy focussed on landscaping and designing the property, Chitra launched herself into marketing. “But the response was lukewarm,” she says. They spent lot of money attending travel marts and networking with travel agents but it did not fetch the desired results. “That is when we realised the need for some value-addition,” says Chitra. The idea of a cultural centre emerged because an important part of the Tamilian way of living is their performing arts. The couple thought of Kadambavanam as a place where forgotten traditions could be revitalised. Says Ganapathy, “This project was never meant to be commercial, What is important to us is to rediscover the treasures of our culture.”

Today, Kadambavanam serves up eco, rural, culinary and spiritual tourism, arts and crafts and native history and literature to its guests. “We are not here just for show. We have built an ambience that takes guests back in time,” says Ganapathy. “They hear lots of stories that generate interest in exploring further. It is an end-to-end package packed with lots of activities, stories and cultural programmes,” he adds.

Chitra and Ganapathy are also involving the local community in their social entrepreneurship model. “The feedback is good now,” they say, “We feel happy that we are being talked about in wider circles.”

What kadambavanam offers:

Visitors to Kadambavanam are welcomed at the entrance by a huge statue of the village guardian Lord Aiyanar riding a white horse. Every door step is decorated with kolam.

The cultural centre is a twin campus with a picturesque 500 seater auditorium, an elaborate temple complex, games pavilion, puppetry theatre and an ethnic Tamil kitchen. Regular cultural shows of classical and folk arts of Tamil Nadu are held in the evenings followed by a sumptuous Tamil ethnic dinner. The aesthetic architecture has a rustic charm stamped on it.

Dance and music programmes begin with the beating of the traditional murasu (an ancient drum used to call the attention of people to important announcements). There are different shows each day from Bharatanatyam to Carnatic music, Tamil martial arts, rustic puppetry shows, killijyotishyam and traditional games such as kittipul, pandi (hopscotch), golli gundu (marbles), and pallankuzhi.

Guests can do yoga and meditation, undertake village and nature walks, hill trekking and bicycle trips. Visit jasmine farms or stay put for cookery demos.

The ethnic resort has 15 air conditioned cottages that combine rustic charm with all modern comforts; ‘ Adisil’ ,a 120 seater semi-open, multi-level eatery at an elevation of 100 feet offers a fabulous view of the surroundings; Madhuvanam’ ,the bar ; ’Peravai’ , the banquet hall with a theatre style seating capacity of 110 persons ; ‘Sittravai’ , the board room with a seating capacity of 45 persons; ‘Vetaveli’ , the maidan that can host up to 2,000 guests; ‘Pulveli’ ,a scenic lawn that can cater to around 300 guests and; ‘Thadagam’, the State’s third largest swimming pool spread over 8,500 sq.ft.

Is catching up as a fancy destination for weddings, receptions and film shooting and also corporate meetings and school camps.

Future vision of Kadambavanam:

- Nature cure spa offering detox therapies and rejuvenation packages.

- Library with a large and good collection of books appealing to all age groups

- Audio visual hall for screening select Tamil movies

- Arts school offering ‘crash courses’ on classical and folk arts and crash courses in Tamil language.

- Crafts bazaar where artisans will make and sell their wares directly

- ‘Living museum’ showcasing many interesting aspects of a bygone lifestyle

- Fifteen more air conditioned cottages coming up

What they say:

“We based our project on statistics and are hopeful. If 60 per cent of FTAs come to Kadambavanam, it will ensure the project’s survival.” - Chitra

“People just don’t come and get inside the air conditioned comforts of a building here. Rather they hear stories, see beyond and understand.” – M. Ganapathy