CHETTINAD – “ The Land of heritage”.
Tracing the era it is noted that the Chettinad, which currently lies in the parts of Sivagangai and Pudhukottai districts was formed by the community of Chettiars who migrated from the Kaveripoompattinam that belongs the district of Nagapattinam. It is said that the community of Chettiars are rich both economically and culturally. The term Chettiar refers to the social caste of mercantile bankers where “Chetti” is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shreshthi’ meaning wealth.
Chettinad is a collective settlement of 76 pockets which was once 96 pockets that lie in the arid region of Tamil Nadu spreading across 50 by 40 km with about 2 lakh population. The region is famous for its timber artifacts, jewelry, handmade tiles, cotton saris, cane baskets, finance, construction and its cuisine. In short, it is the land of craftsmanship for which their houses stand still as a matter of evidence.
The region is planned in grids with interesting roofscape where a cluster of steeply pitched tile roofs enclosing spacious courtyards that act as the heart of the house. The Chettinad had an active construction of dwellings during the period between 1850 – 1930. The Chettinad houses are designed in the flow of the daily routine (MUN VASSAL—- THOOTAM—-MUGAPPU—-MUDAL KATTU—-NADU VASSAL—-RENDAM KATTU—-MUNNAM KATTU—-ADUPANKARAI—-THOOTAM—-PINVASAL) of the community and also the facility for mass gatherings and dining that creates their cultural identity.
The houses have a unique construction technique that is of great architectural value that made it as a nominee of UNESCO in world heritage and cultural sites. ”ARCHITECTURE LIES IN DETAILS” and the spaces of this community stands for it. The walls have the egg plaster finish while the floor is tiled with handmade Athangudi tiles and the structure joineries are made with Burma teak. The structure looks royal and also adds up miniature works of gods and goddesses in wood at its doors. The structures are also noted for its copper ceilings, sunshades, terracotta sculptures, stone craft and may more handicrafts.
Apart from decors, the community has designed according to the terrains of the region. Apart from grid planning, they have constructed their drains with the flow which needs no external power. Tanks are strategically located to take advantage of the surface drain. Space and water body which is termed as “ooranie” before the temple acts as their main communal space for the festivals and functions.
The rich heritage of the region and its majestic structures are in need to be highly conserved in order to increase its life. The reason put forward is the lack of craftsman as the current generations widely moved their carriers to different cities which were the cause of the loss of art. In the Dec 2011, one-week skill training session was conducted for site supervisors regarding the finishing works. Other than lack of skilled craftsman the other main reason for the current state of the majestic structures is the current social situation – nuclear families that are migrated and gather only for functions and festivals and the house rather space belongs as parts to the spores which is hard to pull up everyone at the same time.
The analysis reports state that the reason behind the current state of the structure is not just because of the lack of craftsman or the money to be spent, it is all about the lack of persons to look after and renovate without any change in its iconic aspects. Many buildings are replaced with the new RCC structures which lost its identity. Few of them are demolished for the demand of teak by the antique sellers. Finally, the UNESCO has come up with the demands to meet the current situation in conserving these structures that are the identities of the community and the region. It has extended and agreed to bare 50 – 60% of the total expense in case the user is not able to bare the expenses for conserving the majestic structure only under the condition if the identity of the structure is the same and hasn’t been altered in the past century.
Photo Courtesy: Cravecookclick.com