February 3, 2018

Devakottai

It is easy to conduct heritage walks in the cities such as Chennai or Delhi. However, if one wants to conduct similar walks in a Chettinad town, I wonder if it is practically possible. Every house in this region has a story; every street has a historical information; every building has some heritage value. A lot of well known personalities belong to this region. And of course, there are so many interesting stories/facts associated with them. The palaces and mansions of the other regions look smaller and negligible when compared even to the most moderate Chettinad houses. Let me walk you through some important aspects of Chettinad architecture and the fascinating Chettinad town called Devakottai in this article.

Chettinad

The current Sivaganga district and few areas of Pudukkottai district in Tamil Nadu state of India are together called as Chettinad, the home of Nattukkottai Chettiars. Nattukkottai Chettiars or Nagarathars is a prosperous business community of Tamil Nadu. It is said that there were 96 Chettinad villages originally and only 74 villages (arguably) exist today. Devakottai is the second largest town of Chettinad region. It is located near Karaikudi. This town is the home for many Nagarathars, who are/were known for their enterprises and contributions to the society.

Devakottai

Devakottai, like any other Chettinad village, is famous for Chettinad cuisine, traditional and colorful weddings, arts & crafts and very importantly the extraordinary Chettinad mansions.

The streets of Devakottai are narrow, but the houses on those streets are unimaginably bigger similar to the generosity and hospitality of Nagarathars. These popular Chettinad mansions were built in 1900s when this community had their prime times thanks to their prosperous business in the South East Asean countries and other countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka.

Chettinad Architecture

The Chettinad architecture is unique in design. The mansions are known for the large halls, wooden pillars, intricate woodwork, Belgian glasswork and very importantly the courtyard called as Valavu or Muttram.

The houses have public reception area called as Mugappu. The bigger houses also have Thinnai as additional feature. It is a raised seating area. The interior courtyard, which is surrounded by pillared corriodors in all the sides, is called as Valavu.  Valavu does not have roof and this open-to-sky area is the most interesting part of the entire mansion. This place is the living area and it is used for conducting ceremonies. Typically, Valavu is the biggest portion of the entire mansion. Valavu, in some cases, have adjoining halls. The Valavu and the halls have series of double rooms called as Irattai Veedu. Depending upon the size of the mansion, the number of such double rooms would vary. These rooms are used for various purposes like Pooja rooms, store rooms and family rooms. All the houses typically have two floors and a spacious terrace. The garden at the rear side of the house is usually found. Some bigger houses even have their treasure rooms in the basement. All the houses have sloping clay tiled roofs. The much bigger Chettinad mansions even have entrance arch and elevated plinth. The facade would have few stucco sculptures.

The materials in these 100+ or 150+ years old mansions were brought from different countries. It is said that the teak from Burma, glass from Belgium, marble from Italy and crockery from Indonesia were used in these buildings. The walls of the houses are coated with several layers that comprises of the mixture of lime, liquid egg white and other materials. It is said that the usage of egg white would give a smooth polish to the walls.

The wooden ceilings are extensively carved and in the halls of some bigger houses the European style images and paintings are found. The doorways are decorative and the cornices across the house have intricate detailing. The colorful Belgian glasswork and the imported chandeliers  enhance the beauty of the mansion multi fold. The portraits of Hindu deities (mostly Tanjore paintings) and the portraits/photographs of the ancestors are typically found in large numbers all over the house.

There was a time when the joint families with 50-60 members used to live in every mansion. Nowadays, most of the youngsters live in the cities or in the foreign countries. Only old people who love this region and tradition alone continue to live in these houses. Some houses remain closed and only the caretaker or a watchman takes care of maintenance. It is really a sorry state of this region.

Places of interest

Almost all the Chettinad houses in Devakottai can be considered as the places of interest. However, it would not be ideal for me name the private houses or personalities in this article. Hence, I restrict myself with few places of interest that have heritage value in and around the town.


  • A public Thaneer Pandal building which was built in 1938 CE
  • Two arches with the British symbols on top. They were constructed in 1911 to commemorate the coronation celebrations of King George V in Delhi.
  • Few British period small Chettinad houses having the stucco images of lion and dragon (British symbols) at their entrance.
  • A century old big granary which is in dilapidated state now.
  • A small Samadhi temple without any image. It is being worshiped as a Shakti temple. A young Brahmin girl lost her life about a century ago, who is being worshiped by the villagers.
  • The neighboring Athangudi village and its tiles making factories - Athangudi tiles are unique and popular in this region; they are handmade over glass surfaces. 
  • The magnificent Athangudi Chettinad Palace. 
Happy travelling. 


















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