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Chettinad Palace.
Chicken Chettinad, a popular dish from the region.

Chettinad is a region of the Sivaganga district of southern Tamil Nadu state, India. Karaikudi is the principal town in Chettinad[citation needed], which includes Karaikudi and 74 (traditionally 96) other villages.[1] According to the 2011 census, the population in of Karaikudi was 106,793,[2] with an average literacy rate of 91%.[3] Chettinad is the home of the Nattukottai Chettiars (Nagarathar), a prosperous banking and business community. In the 19th and early 20th centuries many of this community migrated to South and Southeast Asia, particularly Ceylon and Burma. The people of Chettinad speak Tamil. Today there is a diaspora of Chettinad people who emigrate the USA, Singapore and Malaysia.

Chettinad is well known for its local cuisine, architecture, and religious temples.[4] "Chettinad" also means a social caste specialising in the preparation of food. Chettinads are considered master chefs, and Chettinad cuisine is one of the spiciest and the most aromatic in India. The dishes are pungent and usually topped with a hard boiled egg. Some well-known local dishes are Chicken Chettinad (Spicy Chicken Curry), Veg Chettinad (a vegetable curry) and dishes featuring seafood. In general, beef and pork dishes are not served.

Chettinad cuisine[edit]

Chettinad cuisine.

Chettinad is known for its culinary delicacies, and the local cooking is one of the many reasons why people visit the area. The cuisine is essentially spicy, and meals consist of cooked lentils, Brinjal curry, drumstick sambar, ghee for flavouring rice, and sweet meats like payasam and paal paniyaram. Kara kolambu is a highly regarded south Indian sambar. Aadi kummayam is a sweet delicacy, made from pulses.


A palatial house in Chettinad.

The Chettinad region is well known for its 18th century mansions, whose wide courtyards and spacious rooms are embellished with marble and teak. Construction materials, decorative items and furnishings were mostly imported from East Asian countries and Europe. The marble was brought from Italy, chandeliers and teak from Burma, crockery from Indonesia, crystals from Europe and wall-to-wall mirrors from Belgium. The wood- and stone-work was inspired by the great houses in France and other European countries.

Many of these mansions were built using a type of limestone know as karai veedu.[5]

Local legend has it that the mansion walls were polished with a paste made out of eggwhites to give them a smooth texture.


Originally built by early Tamil dynasties like the Cholas, the temples of Chettinad stand testimony to the spiritual beliefs of local peoples. Temples are built per Vaastu Shastras and Agamas as the Chettinad wealthy sponsored the buildings and the shilpis after the royal families declined. (Traditional houses were also built per ancient text on architecture called Vaastu Shastras). Each temple has its own tank called oorani where water lilies are grown and used for holy rituals. Even today much of Chettinad's daily activities are centred around the festivities of the temple. Among the many famous temples are: Vairavan Kovil, Iraniyur, Karpaga Vinayakar, Kundrakudi Murugan, Kottaiyur Sivan, and Kandanur Sivan temple. Each temple has its own unique deity.[6] Vinayagar Chathurthi is celebrated every year not for 10 days. During the year on the day when the two stars Shasti and Sadhayam mingles together Chettiars celebrate it. It is usually in the month of December. They name this as Pillaiyar Nonmbu. On this day, they sing songs of the deity Lord Vinayagar and then take a sweet named as Ellai.[7]

Local Crafts[edit]

The Chettinad Sari[edit]

This cotton sari also known as "kandaangi", is unique in the dramatic and spontaneous use of colour and pattern with bold checks, stripes and contrasting hues.[8] Its vibrance and weight are its distinguishing factors.At present, it is available in Karaikudi. Records and old photographs show the use of this sari by previous generations, before the advent of blouses and underskirts, worn rather differently from the regular sari.

Aathangudi tiles[edit]

Athangudi tiles, named after the place of manufacture in Chettinad, Tamil Nadu, come in a myriad of colours and patterns and are made by a unique process using local soil and glass plates.[9] These tiles are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Chettiar community, who effectively adapted many influences to their own brand of local craftsmanship. The designs and colours used in Athangudi Tiles are still those of a bygone era. However, of late, new designs and patterns are being incorporated.

The Athangudi tiles are hand-made. However, with a short shelf life and relatively slow manufacturing process, these tiles are not much in demand. The situation has led to the decline in the market.


CECRI entrance.

Karaikudi is also the location of a branch of the Central Electro Chemical Research Institute, one of a chain of forty national laboratories under the aegis of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi. The CSIR lab specializes in electro-chemical research and has been operational for more than fifty years. The campus is on over 300 scenic acres, filled with traditional and ornamental vegetation.[10] It has been awarded more than 750 patents and published more than 5,000 research articles[citation needed]in the areas of Electrochemical Science and Technology (battery, metal finishing, materials science, organic and inorganic electro-chemicals, corrosion prevention and paints). CECRI conducts four-year BTech course in chemical and electrochemical engineering and technology affiliated with Anna University, Chennai.


The nearest airports are Madurai Airport and Tiruchirappalli International Airport. The largest town in the area is Karaikudi. Trains that run from Chennai to Rameshwaram stop at Pudukkottai, Karaikudi, Kanadukaathan (Chettinad Station) and Kallal. There are frequent town buses from Karaikudi to chettinad.

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ According to Guy Trebay, "Houses of the Holy," (New York Times, 17 November 2010): "By the best available estimates, there are 74 Chettiar villages remaining of the 96 that once dotted a 600-square-mile region. The rest have been erased, lost either to neglect or to the avarice of antiques dealers who bought and razed them after first stripping out their irreplaceable materials." (Retrieved 28 Nov 2010 from NYT at
  2. ^ "About Karaikudi". Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  3. ^ "About Karaikudi". Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  4. ^ "Chettinad". Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  5. ^ "About Karaikudi". Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  6. ^ "Temple history". Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  7. ^ "Temple history". Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  8. ^ "A Legacy called Chettinad Saris". Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  9. ^ "Legacy of Athangudi tiles". Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  10. ^ "Campus Ambiance". Retrieved 2 October 2013. 

External links[edit]