ஞாயிறு, 16 அக்டோபர், 2016

பொன்னியின் செல்வன்



பொன்னியின் செல்வனை கடந்த சில  வருடங்களாகப் படிக்கவேண்டும் என்று நினைத்துக்கொண்டிருந்தேன்.  ஆயினும் தள்ளிப்போய்க்கொண்டேயிருந்தது. பலமுறை புத்தகத் திருவிழாக்களில் வாங்கவேண்டும் என்று கையிலெடுத்து பின்னர் வேண்டாம் என்று வைத்திருக்கிறேன்.  மலிவு விலைப்பதிப்பில் கூட வாங்கவேண்டாம் என்று விட்டுவிட்டேன்.  கிட்டத்தட்ட  20 வருடங்களாக நவீன தமிழலக்கிய வாசகன் என்பதால் பொன்னியின் செல்வனை வாசிக்கவே கூடாது என்று சங்கல்பம் எல்லாம் செய்துவைத்திருந்த காலங்கள் உண்டு. ஆயினும் கடந்த சில வருடங்களில் இவ்வெண்ணத்தில் மாற்றம் நிகழ்ந்து வந்தது. என்ன இருந்தாலும் வெகுஜன திமிழின் முதன்மையான வரலாற்றுப் புதினம் என்பதால் படித்துத்தான் பார்ப்போமே என்ற எண்ணம் கருக்கொண்டு வலுத்ததே  இம்மாற்றத்திற்குக் காரணம். ஆகவே சில மாதங்களுக்கு முன்பு என் திறன் செல்பேசியில் மிகச் சொற்ப விலைக்கு நாவலின் ஐந்து பாகங்களையும் தரவிறக்கி வைத்திருந்தேன். அதை கடந்த சரஸ்வதி பூஜை விடுமுறையில் படித்து முடித்தேன்.

இது கிட்டத்தட்ட 60 ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன்பு தொடர்கதையாக  வெகுசன வாசகர்களுக்காக எழுதபட்டது என்ற எண்ணத்துடனேயே படிக்கத் தொடங்கினேன். ஆயினும் வரலாற்றில் எப்பொழுதும் ஆர்வம் கொண்டவன் ஆதலால் விரைவிலேயே நாவல் என்னை உள்ளிழுத்துக்கொண்டது.   கிட்டத்தட்ட 2000 பக்கங்கள் கொண்ட மொத்த நாவலின் கதை நடைபெறும் காலமே வெறும் 10 மாதங்களுக்குள்தான். வந்தியத்தேவன் வீராணம் ஏரியின் கரையில் குதிரையில் ஆடிப்பெருக்கன்று பிரவேசிப்பதிலிருந்து நாவல் தொடங்குகிறது. பிற்காலச் சோழர்களில் இரண்டாம் பராந்தகர் என்ற சுந்தர சோழனின் இறுதிக்காலத்தில் நடப்பதாக புனையப்பட்ட கதை. அவரது  மூத்தமகன் ஆதித்த  கரிகாலன் சந்தேகத்திற்கிடமான முறையில் இறந்துபோவது, கரிகாலனின் சித்தப்பா மதுராந்தகன் எனும் உத்தம சோழன், பொன்னியின் செல்வன் என்ற அருண்மொழித்தேவர் அரசுரிமையை விட்டுக்கொடுத்ததால் (!?), இளவரசுப் பட்டம் ஏற்றுக்கொள்வது வரை உள்ள காலப்பகுதியே நாவலின் கதைக்களம். பிற்காலச் சோழ வரலாற்றில் இக்காலகட்டம் இன்னும் தெளிவில்லாதகவே உள்ளதாக வரலாற்றாசிரியர்கள் கருதுகிறார்கள். ஆகவே கல்கி இக்காலகட்டத்தையே தனது புனைவுக்கு எடுத்துக்கொண்டதில் அவரது மேதைமை உள்ளது. ஆயினும் அதை அவர் எவ்வளவு தூரம் படைப்பூக்கத்துடன் (வெகுஜன நோக்கில்) புனைவாக்கியிருக்கிறார் என்பதுதான் முக்கியம்.

நாவலின் முதல்பகுதி மிகுந்த சுவராசியமாக செல்கிறது. ஏற்கனவே சற்று அவநம்பிக்கையுடன் தொடங்கியதால் ஒருவேளை நவீன தமிழிலக்கியவாதிகள் பொன்னியின் செல்வனை இலக்கியமாக அங்கீகரிக்க மறுத்து தவறு செய்கிறார்களோ என்ற எண்ணம் கூட ஏற்பட்டது. அதற்கான தடயங்கள் சில முதல் பகுதியில் ஆங்காங்கே தென்பட்டன. பழுவேட்டரையரின் படைவீரர்கள் செய்யும் அழிச்சாட்டியங்களும், வேளக்காரப் படையினர் எளிய மக்களிடம் வம்புகள் புரிவதாக புனையப்பட்டுள்ள பகுதிகளும் இன்னும் சில இடங்களிலும் நவீன தமிழிலக்கியத்தின் தடங்களை ஆசிரியர் நினைவுறுத்துகிறார். ஆயினும் போகப்போக ஆசிரியரின் படைப்பூக்கம் வெறும் கேளிக்கை எழுத்தாகப் பல்லிளிக்கிறது. நாவலின் அய்ந்தாம் பாகம் மிகவும் அற்பத்தனமாக உள்ளது. ஒருவகையில் இன்றைய தொலைக்காட்சி நெடுந்தொடர்களின்  மூலவித்து பொன்னியின் செல்வன் நாவல் என்றால் அது மிகையில்லை. நாவலை எப்பாடுபட்டாகிலும் இழுக்கவேண்டும் என்ற ஆசிரியரின் எண்ணத்தால் அருவெறுப்பின் உச்சத்துக்கே செல்கிறார் கல்கி. சில நேரங்களில் சினிமா பார்க்க திரையரங்கு சென்று வேறுவழியில்லாமல் அவலமான சினிமாவின் கடைசி பாகம் வரை இருந்து பார்த்துவிட்டு வருவோமே அதுபோல் எப்படித்தான் இந்நாவலை முடிக்கிறார் கல்கி என்ற தவறான ஆர்வத்துடனே இந்நாவலை படித்து முடித்தேன்.

வெகுஜன வரலாற்று புனைவுகளுக்கும் ஒரு தரம் வேண்டும் அல்லவா. பொன்னியின் செல்வன் அத்தரத்தை பல இடங்களில் தவறவிடுகிறது. ஒருவேளை தொடர்கதையாக இல்லாமல் ஒரு முழுமையான நாவலாக கல்கி இதை எழுதியிருந்தால் அத்தரம் கூடிவந்திருக்கலாம். 

வியாழன், 15 செப்டம்பர், 2016

My travelogue on Chettinadu... Part 4 (Keezhadi and Madurai)




Part 4: Second day (04/09/2016) Afternoon

We reached Keezhadi around 1.30 PM. The excavation site is inside a large coconut grove. Keezhadi is a small village on the northern banks of river Vaigai. A small road from Silaiman took us to keezhadi. Silaiman is in the Sivaganga – Madurai road. Madurai city is just 10 Kms away from Silaiman. There are lot trenches dug by archeological survey of India (ASI). We could see lots of broken parts of terracotta pots piled up near the trenches. I took some of them as souvenirs. We saw the group of tents (camp) where the archeologists stay for the excavation work. One of the research scholars Mr. Vasanthakumar explained us about the structures excavated there. Carbon dating of the materials has not been done. Yet, he said, the site is believed to be a Sangam age habitation (300 BCE to 400 CE) or beyond based on other evidences, like the types of bricks and the Tamil Brahmi script which was found at the site. In a causal mode, he complained about the poor funding available for ASI work. He went on saying that they are not equipped with a surveyor and a photographer to document everything; carbon dating is also costly he said. The brick structures like small square rooms, the furnace like structures, the terracotta ring wells and the open and closed water ways indicate that there could be an ancient industrial habitat existed at Keezhadi. I wanted to take photos of the materials which were unearthed there; but, Vasantha kumar said that they were sent for the lab already. Their target was Madurai. Since it has continuously been inhabited for more than 2500 years, excavation work is not possible in Madurai. When we left Keezhadi around 3.30 PM, it was humid and was about to rain.




My colleagues dropped me at Silaiman and went back to Sivagangai. I took a town bus to reach Madurai from there. As the bus entered Madurai, it started raining. I got down at Mahal bus stop as I wanted to go to Thirumalai naicker mahal. The Thirumalai Naicker mahal is as old as Taj mahal. In fact, it is slightly older than Taj. The great Naicker king, Thirumalai, constructed it during early 17th century (1636 CE). Presently only one fourth of the structure is standing now. The intact structure is originally the durbar hall of King Thirumalai Naicker. Upon entering the mahal one would get astonished by looking at the massive pillars and the big open courtyard. Some of the pillars are very large than what we could imagine – 19 ft in circumference. In the present day real estate terms one can construct a small house with the space occupied by a pillar. First time, I felt my 18 mm wide angle lens is not enough to cover the entire mahal, such massive is the palace. Sadly, it is not maintained well. I could see a lot of cob webs and pigeon droppings everywhere. Moreover, our lay public also used the pillars to express their petty love feelings.




Finally, I had walked down the road to reach Meenatchi Amman temple and arrived at the Amman sannathi entrance. I have a special place for Madurai in my heart. My first 13 years of life was spent in Madurai and hence, lots of nostalgia attached with it. We often used to come to Meenatchi Amman temple when we had lived in Madurai. I can vividly remember sitting on the steps of the famous golden lotus tank, inside the temple, and dreaming. Sitting on the steps of the temple tank and looking at the magnificent temple towers was my favorite activity. In fact that place is the photographer’s delight too; one can easily identify Meenatchi Amman temple by these photographs. My mother used to come to this beautiful temple on every Friday for Durga pooja. I and my sisters used to accompany her whenever we got school holidays on Fridays. Even after we had relocated to Panagudi - my mother’s native place - for few more years we used to visit Madurai by travelling more than 200 kms, for Deepavali purchase.



Madurai is one of the very few historical cities in the world, which is being continuously inhabited since time immemorial. Moreover, Madurai was the epicenter of many happenings throughout the history of Tamilakam till the 18th century. It lost its importance to Chennai during the British era. However, with its one million plus population, Madurai is still an important nerve centre of Tamil Nadu. The city of Madurai may not appeal to a modern mindset. Some Tamil writers label Madurai as a macho city. One may get into a wrong opinion about this historical city by viewing some of the popular Tamil movies as they inadvertently wrongly portray Madurai. One has to have a post modern or a cultural mindset to appreciate Madurai. Varanasi is another city which can be compared with Madurai is this aspect.

After taking photos of the beautiful drawings on the Amman sannathi entrance doom, I had a dilemma of entering inside the temple or not. My train to Chennai was at 7.45 PM. It was already 5.30 PM. Two hours, at least, would need to cover inside of the temple; hence, I decided to take photographs from outside. Moreover, I was terribly tired as I didn’t have proper sleep for two nights and the continuous travels also added into. I could sense that I am aging too :-) 

First, I went inside the Pudhu Mandapam (New pavilion), which is opposite to the majestic Eastern tower to take photographs. Pudhu mandapam is also a contribution of King Thirumalai nayak for the Goddess Meenatchi. It has lots of fabulous sculptures; but, the temple administration has rented the space for small shops. During my childhood, I used to buy text books and the guides from the shops located here. After coming out of Pudhu mandapam, I leaned to the nearby lamp post and started zoom into the Eastern tower with my 300mm lens. I could see, in close range, lots of beautiful sculptures. The temple towers were in their natural colors thirty years before and now they are in bright colors. Some people don’t like the bright colors on the temple towers. They feel that the beauty of the tower and its exquisite sculptures are best appreciated in their natural color than with bright colors. I am not, however, able to judge on that now. To be frank, I seem to like the colored temple towers more. I started walking towards the southern tower and took more photographs of that tower too. One of the sculptures in the southern tower, which attracted me is a god with (Vishnu?!) many heads arranged in the shape of the tower. In fact one of my primary aims of buying a DSLR camera with a 300 mm telephoto lens is to take photographs of these majestic towers and their marvelous sculptures. I am happy that I started fulfilling my objectives.




I started experiencing severe headache. I deliberately needed a rest. So I started walking towards the railway station. I know this part of Madurai by heart. On the way to the station, I ate idlis in a medium size restaurant. I bought a crocin tablet too; eat halwa from the famous Prema vilas sweet shop, opposite to the railway station and bought some more for my house too. When I had entered the station it was around 7.30 PM. The train had come on time and I slept by around 8.00 PM and woke up around 4.30 AM only as the train was nearing Tambaram where I had to get down. I felt really happy about my trip, as I was able to go with my meticulous plans. I am not the kind of person who is known to stick to the plans. In this aspect, this trip, in recent times, was a successful one for me in terms of the planning and execution. History is always a fascinating subject for me. I am thinking of visiting each and every district of Tamil Nadu and document the history for my own understanding. I did not even know that a small district like Sivaganga has a rich history until I started planning for my trip. Still I could not cover few other historical places of importance in Sivaganga, like Piran malai - the place of ancient king Pari etc. In those two days I got a feeling that I had travelled through the cross section of the ancient, medieval and modern Sivaganga district. Experiencing the micro history of each region of Tamil Nadu and India is my desire. Travel is the only way one can achieve this. Each region in every part of the world has got its own history from ancient days. But unfortunately, our life time is not enough to cover all.

More photos Meenatchi Amman Temple can be seen here...

செவ்வாய், 13 செப்டம்பர், 2016

My travelogue on Chettinadu... Part 3



I got up at 4.30 AM and reached the Devakottai bus stand around 5.15 AM. The next bus to Sivaganga was around 5.45 AM only. There was lot crowd inside the bus stand owing to the marriage day. The bus to Sivaganga came fully loaded; however, I got into the bus. Around 6.30 AM it reached Kalayarkoil. The Kalayarkoil shiva temple can be easily spotted as soon as one gets out of the bus as it is very near to the bus stand. There are two colorful temple towers, which are very close to each other; the biggest of them is 150 ft tall. Both Thirukoshtiyur and Kalayarkoil temples are maintained by the Sivaganga royal family. It is a very ancient temple, praised by Nayanmars - the holy saints of Saivism. 


There are three sanctum sanctorums dedicated to Lord Shiva, a unique one. There is a separate sanctum for his wife; called Swarnavalli amman. The temple complex is huge. The magnificent high rise outer corridor with granite pillars and flooring and colourful ceiling is typical of any ancient Tamil Nadu temple. The temple has lot of openings with granite stones on the roof to let the sunlight inside. The peeping sunlight, through these intricate openings, makes a beautiful pattern. The modern skylights should feel shy in front of this ancient technique. Wherever the skylight openings are there, there is a dipping in the granite flooring with holes on the sides to navigate the rain water. So there must me some form of rain water harvesting system existed in the ancient temples. In addition to the skylights, there are lots of ventilator openings close to the ceiling which function as the escape route for hot air due to stack effect and thereby maintain the thermal comfort inside the temple. I have taken photographs of these structures which can be utilized for my classroom presentations on environmental ethics.




 There were two marriages happening inside the temple. Kalayarkoil is also associated with Maruthu pandiyar brothers who unsuccessfully fought with the invading British during the late 18th century. They put up a proclamation against the British on the walls of Sri Rangam temple. One can read the proclamation here. This was the first proclamation against the British - 56 years before the first Indian mutiny, called the sepoy mutiny in 1857. If they had won the war against the British, India’s history would have been different. But history has lots of “ifs”, that’s why it is interesting to learn. When I was leaving out of the Kalayarkoil temple, I saw the temple elephant trying to capture the hose pipe, which was used by its mahout to take bath. The mahout then put the hose inside the mouth of the elephant, which then cleverly used it to take bath with its magnificent trunk. The scene was so beautiful and hence I immediately captured it with my camera.


 When I came out of the temple, it was almost 7.30 AM and I had to reach Kalayarmangalam, a tiny village, where the marriage of my colleague’s (Dr. Kannan) daughter was to be held by 8.10 AM. As I already had well searched the location of the place by the use of Google maps, I had the confidence of reaching it before the function. My neighbor in Chennai, a 75 yrs old man, is actually from Kalayarkoil, had said that there are lots of taxis available in Kalayarkoil. But I could not locate anything in the vicinity. May be because of marriage day, they all would have been hired. Hence, I asked few of the locals near there, but they scared me saying that I should either go to Karaikudi or Sivaganga to reach that village. When I had reminded the street vegetable vendor that there is a route between Nattarasankottai and Okkur and on that route only the village is situated, he then told me that there is a town bus now, which goes inside Nattarasnkottai and I can get down there and take an auto to reach Kalayarmangalam. He also said it won’t take more than 15 minutes to reach Nattarasankottai.

But I could not locate any town bus there in the bus stand. Hence, I enquired with a flower vendor and he said there is no bus which can go inside Natarasankottai now. He pointed out the two buses which were standing in the bus stand, which are going to Sivaganga and told that I have to get down at Nattarasankottai vilakku and to take an auto to reach the actual village. The two buses, one government and a private, were standing idle without the drivers. So I was really worried whether I would reach the spot before the marriage function starts. However, as there were no alternatives available, I got into the private bus as the government bus was not in good mode. My BP got increased as the govt. bus started early. But within two minutes the private bus driver also came in. When the bus had started to move, I asked the conductor to give a ticket to Natarasankottai. But the conductor sensed it somehow and said if you want to go the village then get into the bus which is coming behind. I spotted the town bus and I immediately jumped from this moving bus. In another 20 minutes I was in Nattarasankottai.




Nattarasankottai is also a small village but with rich history. This is believed to be the first site of settlement of Nattukottai chettiyar’s in the Pandya Kingdom. I saw two autos standing. The auto driver I approached asked 250 rupees to take me to Kalayarmangalam. I knew it is barely few kilometers away and the fellow is asking too much. I said I will give two hundred rupees. He had agreed and when he turned the auto, I sighted a sign board which indicated Kambar koil. I asked him how far the temple is. He said 2 kms and asked another hundred rupees to go there. I bargained it for 250 rupees for both.

Kambar, the great poet of medieval Tamil (12th Century), recreated Valmiki Ramayana in Tamil and it is called Kamba Ramayana. The great modern Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi once said that Kamban, Ilango and Thiruvalluvar are the three poets who have no match for them as far as Tamil poetry is concerned. Bharathi put Kambar in the first order, which says the importance of Kambar in Tamil literature. Kambar Samadhi is a small shrine with a lot of greenery around. There is a watchman and a priest. The priest told that Kambar had attained Jeeva Samadhi here. Nattukottai chettiyars of this village are taking care of it and he is the hereditary priest of this temple. He said the government wants to take care of this monument, but the chettiyars are refusing it to hand over. He gave me the prasadham, the sand, and told if you put this prasadham in child’s mouth the child will learn easily. On the way I took photos of Nagarathar’s houses at Nattarasankottai. I saw the famous Kannathal temple also on the way to Kannan sir’s village. The village road was scenic. Close to around 8.30 AM, I reached Kalayarmangalam.

The marriage was taking place inside his traditional house, which looked small for Chettinadu’s standards. The house is full of his relatives, most of them came from faraway places, as hardly these people live in their villages. Only two or three houses in Kalyarmangalam are occupied by his relatives and all other houses are vacant. The actual marriage took place inside the pooja room where only five to six people can stand inside. After the thirumangalyam (Mangal sutra) was tied the newly married couples were brought to the hall where the other rituals were happening. There were two monitors to live telecast the happenings inside the house and people were watching it by sitting in the courtyards and corridors. I then called upon my other two colleagues who were supposed to come from Chennai that day morning. They said it would take another one hour for them to reach. 



I befriended with a slightly elder person who was explaining me the marriage process. Then I managed to enter inside the hall to take photographs. My colleagues could only come in around 10.30 AM. We were then taken inside the opposite house for refreshment, which belongs to Kannan sir’s brother in law who is an auditor in Chennai. We started discussing with him and soon we were joined by his co-brother, who is a HOD of ENT in Trichy government medical college. In the whole function, we were the only three people who were in modern dress, I mean with pant. All other people were in dhoti and easily we were identified as outsiders. It was a pleasant site to see most of his relatives came with their family and children and having a nice time in chatting together. Some of them came from foreign countries. Around 11.30 AM we were taken for the lunch. Needless to say the lunch was in Chettinadu style and yummy.


Kannan sir wanted us to come back for the reception in the evening around 5 PM in the bride groom’s place which is around 10 kms away. As I had already made up visiting Keezhadi, an excavation site, and Madurai, I said I am leaving now. As both of my colleagues did not have anything to do in between they agreed to accompany me up to Keezhadi. Keezhadi is a recent excavation site close to Madurai which revealed the Sangam age (300 BCE to 200 CE) habitation. I will write about it and my Madurai visit in the next and the last part of this travelogue series.

ஞாயிறு, 11 செப்டம்பர், 2016

My travelogue on Chettinadu... Part 2

Part 2: Day 1, (03/09/2016), afternoon

Selva, before leaving to Tirunelveli, had arranged one of his close friends, a physical education teacher called Mr. Veera Sekar, to take me to Chettinadu houses as I need a local person to access the houses. Selva had earlier told me that I can take rest for some time and would request Mr. Sekar to take me around 3.30 PM. When I was taking lunch, Selva called me that Mr. Sekar would come in another few minutes as Sekar felt that starting at 3.30 PM is too late to cover Chettinadu houses. But, I thought why one would need more than 3 hrs to see those houses. However, later I regretted having thought like that as even one day is not enough to cover these houses; such was the grandeur of those palatial mansions, which you would appreciate in my photographs. Before I had finished the lunch, Sekar came down. So around 2 PM, we started to Kanadukathan, a tiny village from where many industrialists and philanthropists came from. Let me say some history about the Nagarathar or Nattukottai Chettiyar community.

This is a small community of around a few lakhs people who played a crucial role in shaping the modern development of India in general and TN in particular in many aspects. They are basically a trading and business community. Their ancestral area of living is called Chettinadu which is now comprised of 74 villages in present day Sivaganga district. There are 9 clans in this community and each clan has a separate identity through their clan specific temples. This community has been involved in several businesses, notable among them are Finance (Cholamandalam fin), Sanitaryware (Parryware), Sugar (EID Parry), Cycles (TI cycles – Hercules and BSA), Petrochemcials (SPIC), Cinema (AVM Productions), Cement (Chettinadu cement), Coffee plantations, Logistics, Media and Publications (Kumudam, Vanathi, Palaniappa etc) and many other businesses. Indian overseas, bank, Indian bank and Bank of Madura were started by them and later taken over by government of India. Notable educational institutions established by this community are Annamalai, Alagappa and Chettinadu Universities, Thiagaraja Engineering as well as arts and science colleges across Tamil Nadu and many schools. Former Finance minister P. Chidambaram belongs to this community. The Chepauk cricket stadium is built by MA Chidamabram and whose name the stadium is called now. There are many other laurels, but, for the sake of time I have mentioned only a few.



According to their history, they were the leading community of traders in Gems during the early Chozha period around 200 BCE to 400 CE, in the erstwhile coastal city of Kaviripoompattinam, which is now underneath the sea. During the medieval period they had left the Chozha kingdom and settled in Pandya kingdom in the present day Chettinadu region. They claim that the main characters of Silapathikaram (One of the five epics of Tamils) – Kovalan and Kannagi belonged to their community. These show how wealthy they have been since time immemorial. The early British documents, in the 17thcentury, showed that they were involved in salt trading and were rich. During the 18th and 19th centuries they started doing businesses in Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China and Srilanka. Particularly their money lending business in Burma (Myanmar) was very popular and Burmese believed in them rather than the British banking system, such was the business ethics they possessed. During that period they started constructing palace like houses in Chettinadu with Burmese teakwood, Belgium glass, Italian marble and British iron. This is how Chettinadu became popular. The community is highly philanthropic in nature. They have donated freely to many temples and educational institutions. Major temples in India, particularly saivite temples like Kasi Viswanatha, Madurai Meenatchi, Chidambaram and many more were enriched by their donations. When India was under British rule, these people made sure that the day to day functions of the Hindu temples were not affected. They also did lot services to Tamil culture, music and drama. One person named AK Chettiyar, who was so moved by Gandhiji sold all his properties; bought a video camera in 1930s; learnt all the techniques of shooting with a camera and went along with Gandhiji, wherever he had gone (both within and outside India), with his own money and documented everything.




Now most of the chettiars have settled elsewhere and hence some of the houses are abandoned and made to crumble. The exquisite materials of the palatial mansions are being sold in Mumbai and Jodhpur markets. The streets are deserted. Only during the festival time or when there is a function in the family they come to Chettinadu. Some of them still keep the tradition of conducting their marriage functions in their ancestral houses. All the family members, wherever they are in the globe, should come together and celebrate it in a traditional way. Hence, most of the days this area is devoid of people. Only the manager and a watchman stay there. Now there are attempts to safeguard this area, for its cultural importance, with the help of UNESCO. There are plans to make this area as a tourist spot like Rajasthan. Some houses are being converted as five star heritage hotels. The second house I visited, the Chettinadu mansion, has been converted as a heritage hotel. One night stay here would cost 7,000 rupess!

Sekar took me to the street of Chettinadu palace, which belongs to M.A.M Ramasami’s family, whose grandfather established Annamalai University; I fell in love with the house at first sight. There were both Indians and foreigners trying to enter inside the house to take photographs, but the security was refusing to allow them. Hence, Sekar took me to his sister’s house which is a few streets away. Kanadukathan has full of palatial mansions. But the biggest one is the M.A.Ms and that’s why it is called a palace (Aranmanai). Sekar’s sister has been living in a rented house. While going there, Sekar described that his sister’s house has one big hall and a room. So I was causally imagining a big hall. As we entered inside the house only I realized that I had not imagined that much big hall. It was beyond my imagination. To surprise me further, Sekar said that this is not the main hall. This is only a bojana hall (Dining hall) and the main house is adjacent to that. After taking photographs we entered the main house. As the owener’s of the house has come, I insisted Sekar’s sister to get permission to enter inside the house, although she was telling they won’t object to it. They allowed me inside and also gave permission to take photographs.




Typically a Nagarathar’s house is built on a high plinth, usually five feet above from the street level. The basement upto the plinth level is constructed with Laterite stone (செம்பராங் கல்), a naturally available stone of that region. On top it, brick wall is constructed with lime mortar. While, outside of the wall has just plain lime plastering, the inner walls are plastered with lime mixed with egg white to get a shiny and smooth surface. Even modern day putty and white cement cannot be a match for this vernacular technique. All the houses have well planned rain water harvesting systems as Chettinadu’s annual rainfall is around 800 mm. Moreover, the houses have good ventilation, passive cooling mechanisms and diffusive natural lighting from the Sun etc. Modern day gold and platinum ratings of the so called eco architecture are no way a match for the indigenous technique of our traditional masons. 





Typical nagarathar house has a high narrow entrance which leads to the outer courtyard. A passage (நடைபாதை) leads to a high raised platform called “Thinnai” (திண்ணை) which is both sides of the main entrance. Main entrance is made up of fine quality Burma teak with exquisite carvings on top it. The doors of the main entrance opens to the main hall which often has a double height ceiling (20 ft height) so that the hall is always cool even during peak summer periods with ventilators on top of it for the hot air to escape. The floor is often made up of Italian marbles or Athangudi tiles, a locally handmade tile. Another door opens to the semi open area called inner courtyard where usually marriage functions are held which is surrounded by a corridor which contains lot of rooms for each individual of the house. The pillars and beams of the houses are often made up of Burma teak or British iron or polished granite. Depends upon the wealth of the family there may be more than 2 courtyards in a house besides a separate bojana hall. Usually the kitchen is in the second or third courtyard. A door in the kitchen area leads to the backyard which has a door, which opens to the next street. Courtyards play a crucial role in maintaining the thermal comfort of the house; it also gives diffuse lighting to the surrounding areas and aids in cross ventilation.

After thanking the house owners we started walking to seek permission to enter into the Chettinad palace. On the way to the palace, I clicked some more mansions from outside. Sekar’s sister knows the manager of the palace well and hence she volunteered to help me in getting permission to access the palace. On the way to the palace, the Chettinadu mansion is situated, which has been converted as a heritage hotel. She said she can take me inside that hotel too. After having made to wait for few minutes, we were granted permission. Some high profile guest had come which was the reason we were made to wait was the reason given to us. I didn’t mind all these things as I am fully immersed in the beauty of that mansion. After I had taken enough photos Sekar and his sister took me to the palace, the place where I was longing to see for several years. After some initial dialogues, the manager/accountant allowed us inside. The security also came along with us. True to its name the mansion is a palace. In the main hall I could see the portraits of recently demised M.A.M Ramasamy and his wife on one side and the other side his father, grandfather’s portraits are placed. Two pairs of elephant tusks are displayed on two sides of the hall. I remember I saw three courtyards. The last one where the Kitchen area is present is a huge one. The security did not allow us to enter into the bojana hall and first floor. After thanking the manager, security and Sekar’s sister, we both headed to Aathankudi.




Aathankudi, another village in Chettinadu region, seemed to be bigger than Kanadukathan. The house where Sekar took me is famous for cinema shooting. The accountant asked me 50 rupees (just 50 rupees) to enter into the house. This is a smaller house compared with the palace. But for our standards it is another palace. I took lot of photos here. Then we headed to an Aathankudi tiles manufacturing company. This is a cement tile manufactured in this village and hence called Aathankudi tiles. These are all hand made with cement mortar and glass. They will make different designs and in different colours according to our choice. Since, it was a holiday for the factory we could not see the manufacturing process, but, the owner kindly allow us inside. He even sent his manager to explain the process. There were artisans working on a wood carving. I took a photo of it. When we were just getting out of Aathankudi, I saw a beautiful shiva temple with a large temple tank which has half filled with rain water. I wanted to take photographs and so we stopped there. The tank has elaborate methods to capture rain water. In fact throughout the Chettinadu region I could see these kinds of temple tanks. Then we headed to Pallathur, another Chettinadu village. On the way to Pallathur, outside of Aathankudi, I saw lot of depleted Nagarathar houses getting crumbled.




Pallathur is relatively greener than Kanadukathan. Sekar said there are 3 to 4 Kanmais (Lake like water bodies) around this village and that’s why it is greener. He works in this village elementary school and hence many people on the way wished him. Pallathur is the ancestral village for another south Indian conglomerate, the Murugappa group. As it was getting dark, we did not stop anywhere, but I keep taking photos from the billion when Sekar was riding the motorbike. Then we went to Kottaiyur, the village where Alagappa University founder Dr. Alagappa Chettiyar lived. We took a photograph of his house. AK Chettiyar also belonged to this village. On returning to Karaikudi I saw Alagappa University and CECRI campuses. More than 1000s of acres of land was donated by Alagappa Chettiyar for the cause of education. 1950s, he met Nehru and donated 350 acres and 15 lakhs (remember in 1950s) for CECRI. Nehru praised him as the “socialist capitalist”. He established several schools, engineering colleges, arts and science colleges etc. He donated all his wealth he earned from his various ventures like, textile mills in Cochin, insurance business in Kolkatta, Shipping businesss in Mumbai and Coffee plantations in Coorg, rubber estates in Malaysia, for the cause of education. But unfortunately he died at the tender age of 47. I did know that Alagappa Chettiyar established the educational institutions, but the magnitude was not known to me until Sekar told this to me while riding his bike. I verified it through Google too.





Sekar took me to his sports academy where he along with few of his other friends are teaching hockey to school kids, free of cost inside the Alagappa University grounds. Two of his friends, both named Kumaran, were there and he introduced me to them. The kumaran with a beard is an architect who is interested in vernacular architecture and is building a museum for Alagappa Chettiyar. He also helps 15 poor children for their education. Sekar took me to the museum, which has a typical Chettinadu style architecture. There is a semi open amphitheatre inside which is surrounded by corridors. The museum is not fully inaugurated yet.




On the way to Selva’s house, Sekar took me to a restaurant named – New president hotel. It is a semi open restaurant with temporary roofs. Sekar told that the owner is an interesting person. Whatever, the customer says he will only bill for that; He won’t suspect the customer. Moreover, if the customer says no money to pay he would say OK. All his employees are paid Rupees 700 per day and given welfare measures too. It reminded me of Jeyamohan’s short story “Sottru kanakku” which told to Sekar. There are still a lot people like him in India. I was reluctant to eat full dinner, since Ganka kept calling me from her clinic that I should eat dinner at their house. But Sekar already ordered parrotta for each of us. I stopped eating parotta few years back. However, it was very tasty and then he told me to taste fried idiappam and then finally a garlic dosa; thus I ate a full dinner. When we reached Selva’s house, Ganka also came in by that time and after thanking them I left for Devakottai, another prominent town in Chettinadu area where my close friend Dr. Mariappan lives.

I along with Mariappan and 3 other friends stayed together during our five and half years of UG days. After about 45 minutes travel, I reached Devakottai around 9.30 PM. I and Mariappan went for a walk and on the way he showed me some of the big Chettinadu mansions. AV Meiyapan chettiyar, the founder of AVM studios belonged to Devakottai town. It was already 12 AM, by the time we slept and I had to get up 4.30 AM to catch the bus to Kalayarkoil, a historical place, from there I wanted to go to my colleague’s daughter marriage. Thus my first day travelogue is over.

More photos in Flickr