The houses, which architecture evolved over two centuries, are veritable palaces, and one can see hundreds of them in each village. On the ground floor, the architecture is typically Tamil, while one can see Western influences on the higher floors. This reflects the Chettiar way of life, a combination of their vibrant traditions with the global economy. In order to build these palaces, materials and expertise from all over the world were used, only adding to the cultural glory of Chettinad.
Towns and Villages, Urban Landscape
Chettinad region, spreading over the districts of Sivagangai and Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu, is becoming increasingly part of the popular tourist destination thanks to the magnificent Raja’s palace in Kanadukathan and palatial homes scattered across the towns and villages of the Region. However, beyond these iconic elements, what makes the charm of the towns and villages of Chettinad is perhaps the beauty of an overall village landscape created by the harmony of architectural elements and urban planning.
Streets in grid pattern with compound walls running around the properties are aligned of with the street axis, the houses are set back from this alignment and built with common height which seems to be inspired by both the Tamil science of space organization, the Vastu Chastra and by the layout of the colonial cities.
The architecture is typically Tamil, with the outdoor and inners verandahs, with the central courtyard surrounded by small rooms on each side, with the women’s area comprised of a hall and kitchen courtyard. However, one can also see western influences on the front façade and higher floors, with features of classical architecture. Saratha Vilas is one of the best examples of Chettiar architecture.
Even if the façades of the mansions bear witness of personal extravaganza of rich merchants, the Chettinad villages stand out with their remarkable unity in architecture and urban planning
Landscape, Traditional Water Harvesting
Landscape: Chettinad is located in an area Northeast of Madurai, North of the River Vaigai and South of the River Vellar, on a semi-arid plain. The region of Chettinad is home to some of the most interesting water management systems and drainage patterns. Water management was devised by Chettiars to control the flow of water which was entirely dependent on rain water resources.
The oorani is a Tamil word for the surface water storage tank located in the villages and towns. In Chettinad, each village comprises a minimum of three water bodies in accordance with the storage needs of the villagers for drinking and bathing. The roofs typical of Chettinad architecture are designed to harvest water in the courtyards and divert it to the various different ponds through a water drainage network.
The erys are the traditional surface water storage reservoirs found in Tamil Nadu. Organized into a huge network over the ages, they have played a very important role for the ecosystem and for irrigation in areas with low-rainfall, such as Chettinad. Due to this climatic constraint, since settling in the region, the Chettiars have been particularly involved in sustainable water management for agriculture and therefore in shaping the landscape.