Art and Architecture of a Chettinad Home

Chettinad has a rich cultural heritage and you must have heard of its most popular Chettinad dish - the Chicken Chettinad. Chettinad is a region in Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu state of India. Karaikudi is known as the capital of Chettinad.

Do you know that the region is equally famous for its lovely and specious homes? These houses are known for their magnificent art and architecture!


Right from entering the reception area of the house, you will be filled with awe when you actually find yourself standing inside a mansion! Yes, wide courtyards, Italian marble flooring, pillars made of Burma teak, imported furnishings, Belgian glass work, elaborate wooden ceiling, carved doorway, detailing of parapets and stone work. Well, next you would just want to pinch yourself to make sure you are not day dreaming!

Let us know about the significance behind the use of sculpture in these houses, the superstitions of its inhabitants and the general lifestyle of people residing in Chettinad.

Stained Glass in Chettinad Homes

About Men, Marriage and Mansions of Chettinad

The courtyard a Chettinad house is located in the centre of the house and is utilized for marriages and other ceremonies. It is also the place where the entire family meets for interaction. The houses are built in such a way that the entire house remains cool but well lighted during summers when it is very hot in Chettinad region. The roof of the house is terracotta tiled to block the heat while the house is built up of bricks and lime plaster walls. Other special features are the stone pillars and teak columns.

These houses may be two storeyed and consist of an outside verandah or 'thinnai'. There are separate halls where business work is conducted, food is preserved, prayer room, room for sleeping and for the women to socialize. The entire building is divided into portions or 'Kattu' --- ideal for a joint family. 'Pattalai' are living halls of each family, 'Moonamkattu' is the kitchen, 'Bhojan hall' or 'Panthi kattu' is the dining hall while 'Thottam' is the garden.

Ayyanar -God

Amazing features of a Chettinad Family

Well, there are certain amazing features of the people and the place --- Chettinad. Some of these features are mentioned below ---
  • The 'Aachi' is at the apex of the household. She controls the finances of the household.
  • As the Chettiars are superstitious with numbers, dishes have to be served to them in odd numbers --- seven or nine according to the meal.
  • Ayannar is the Tamil 'God of Everything' --- be it rains, well being of children, cattle or villages. He is made terracotta offerings.
  • Local tiles known as 'Athangudi tiles' are used for flooring and cladding the walls. These look beautiful with floral designs and are prepared using local soil, cement, baby jelly and synthetic oxides.
  • Decorative art of 'Kolam' can be seen on clean threshold of their houses. During festivals and functions, these are made more colourful and elaborate.


Call it a House or a Palace

The walls of Chettinad Nagarathars' buildings are coated with 'Chettinad plaster' which is composed of lime base, white sea shells (ground), liquid egg white etc. The houses in Chettinad are in clusters. The portico is tiled and the facade has stucco sculptures. The column is composed of mediums such as wood, stone, brick and iron. The window arches are beautifully decorated with paintings or stucco work. One/two corners or all four corners have staircases. High door frames with ornate wood work look elegant!

Stucco Work in Chettinad Homes

The homes in Chettinad are well sculptural work too! Such stucco work can be seen at the entrance tower, compound wall and the facade. The theme is mostly Gods and Goddesses --- Shiva Parvathi, Gaja Lakshmi, Meenakshi Sundareshwarar.

Gajalakshmi symbolizes protection and prosperity while Shiva Parvathi represents happy family life. These are portrayed by using stucco work as the medium.

The Chettinad Raja's Palace  in Chettinad was built in 1912. It depicts the architecture of Chettinad buildings at its best!

Wood and stone work seen in these houses are inspired by French and European architecture.The Chettiars started as traders and money lenders in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malasia, Vietnam, Burma and other South-East Asian countries. Thet became prosperous and after returning home, built massive houses. Now they have taken up many other professions or have become industrialists and entrepreneurs.

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