On the Rameshwaram road, barely a kilometer from the Devakottai bus terminus, towards Rameshwaram, one can hardly miss this huge majestic mansion that’s standing on the roadside. Officially named RM.M.ST.House, this mansion, as so many other mansions you come across in Devakottai is the testimony of the rich cultural heritage of Chettinad and Nattukottai or Nagarathar Chettiars.
Chettinad and Devakottai
Devakottai, is one of the biggest towns of the Chettiar community. Chettiars originally from Kaveripoompattinam, migrated to Karaikudi and nearby areas of present Sivaganga district. Later this region came to known as Chettinad region and Karaikudi became the capital of Chettinad, the homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars. The Chettiars were a prosperous banking and business community, having very rich cultural heritage, known for their philanthropy; building temples and schools, and maintaining them throughout India and Asia.
About joint families and mansions
Nattukottai Chettiars had businesses all over the World especially places like Rangoon, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and many other South East nations. Mainly agents used to run the businesses in these countries and Chettiars used to visit once in a while. For the business reasons when the male members of the families used to roam around in different part of the World, people in Chettinad communities used to live as joint families and Chettinad houses are signs of successful joint families. Being a joint family also gave security to all the members and the wealth. Because of this none of the buildings are owned by a single family or a member.
Now as the time and lifestyle changed what used to be an advantage in olden times has become a disadvantage now. 90 percent of the buildings have been either neglected or destroyed as a result of no consensus among the family members, who are now in different part of the World.
Maintaining these mansions, having wide courtyards and spacious rooms have become nearly impossible. Disputes among various family members and not much income to support the renovation work have also fueled the destruction of these wonderful mansions
The mansion was built by Mr.Vairavan Chettairs, along with two of his cousins. He was a banker, like most of the Nattukottai Chettiars. It took around 3 years to build the mansion and he spent around 2 lakhs. The Chettinad houses are built on a rectangular traversal plot that stretches across two streets, with the front door opening into the first street and the back into the second. A typical Chettinad house will have Mugappu(the entrance of the house), The door leads into Valavu, the living area of the house. The first thing you notice is the Naduvasal, huge open air courtyard. The centre courtyard supply ample light and air and leaving the rest of the house in deep and cool shadow.
You see pillared Nadai (corridors) running on each side that lead into Valavu veedu( individual rooms), both ottai and Irattai Vidu. (Single and double rooms) connected by a single door, each meant for a married son. Then the four platforms that are called as Pattalai that are on each at four corners of the Valavu. These Pattalai are the living halls of each family. The RM.M.ST. House has 12 Irattai vidu.
When you walk through the Valavu using the corridor you will reach Irandankatu. Irandankatu is used for dining purpose and have store rooms in them for storing all kitchenware. The huge Irandankettu, now just a huge hall once had 8 rooms for storage purposes and 4 separate kitchens along with dining areas. It was almost a 30 member joint family.
Normally Chettinad mansions don’t have a bath attached bedrooms on the first floor, but this mansion has several bed rooms on the first floor with attached bathrooms, an ultra modern facility in those days, thanks to ideas from some English friends of Mr. Vairavan Chettiyar. In total there are almost 55 rooms in this mansion, in two floors.
Materials from whole over the World
The materials used for construction of the mansion have all been procured from different parts of the World. The entire walls were made of Lime, sand and polished with Egg yolk to give smooth texture and it is said that the eggs were imported from Rangoon (Burma). Also the wood used for construction i.e. Teak was all imported from Burma. They had a ship called Padma, wich used to ferry rice from south East Asian countries. The entire wood used for constructing the house and locks were tied to the ship and brought to Devakottai. The Tiles used were from Italy. The mirrors and glass chandeliers were brought from Belgium.
Renovation and beyond
Till 5 years back no one realized the damages happening to the mansion. None of the members bothered to have a look at what was happening on the second floor, once found that the decay has already been on full swing all the cousins decided to renovate the mansion. They pooled the money, spent around 60 lakhs for the much needed renovation work. The idea was to use the mansion for generating revenue.
Two ideas came for discussion. To convert the mansion to a Heritage house, which showcased the lifestyle and culture of Chettinad and the second option was to convert it into a Kalyanamandapam (wedding hall). At last it was decided to rent out the mansion for wedding.
In order to make it ready for renting it out, some more work to be completed. As the present members of the house are staying in different part of Tamil Nadu, renovation and maintenance is at slow pace. We spent almost half a day inside the mansion and at the end Bhaskaran becomes philosophical, any property or assets has its own journey, destiny and a lifecycle. But he is hopeful that one day everyone will realizes the greatness of their rich heritage. An age where an immense portion of the chettiar Mansions are being dismantled and sold in pieces, their families belongings are available in the local antique shops and being shipped across the world, the efforts taken by members of RM.M.ST. House is a welcome sign.
So when my uncle asked if we could travel to Baroda via road I got excited and readily agreed. We started planning, calculating the kms, check and book hotels, where to halt. Its a 3 days trip one way, close to 1700kms from kochi to Baroda, passing through 4 states (2 UT excluded). The vehicle was Mahindra Bolero.
In Kerala, the roads are bit narrow, compared to other states. Then the state is thickly populated. You can say entire state is like a town. You see people everywhere. Even in Highways, its difficult to drive in good speed.
Day 1: Our first stop
By the time we reached Vadakara, it was breakfast time, close to 10 AM. Found an Indian Coffee House near the bus station. Indian coffee house is always a nostalgia. I still remember visiting ICH at Cherthala, along with my Grandpa! My favourite at ICH is the cutlet.
Mahe, also known as Mayyazhi, is a small town at the mouth of the Mahé River and is surrounded on all sides by Kerala. The Kannur District surrounds Mahé on three sides and Kozhikode District from one side.Formerly part of French India, Mahe now forms a municipality in Mahe district, one of the four districts of the Union Territory of Puducherry. Mahe has got its own charm! Mayyazhi puzha, the small lanes! The police with round cap!
Day 1: As we cross the border! Kerala-Karnataka Border. By around 4 PM, we crossed Kerala and reached Mangalore in Karnataka. Even though, there is no much difference in the terrain, there is a huge difference in the quality of roads. The roads are broader and well maintained.
Murudeshwara! Our first stay!
By the time we reached Murudeshwara, it was already dusk. So we couldn’t enjoy the beautiful beach and the temple. Murudeshwara is a town in Bhatkal Taluk. Murdeshwar is another name of the Hindu god Shiva. The place is famous for the world’s second tallest Shiva statue and for the Murdeshwar Temple. Believe me the statue of Shiva at Murudeshwara is massive. Surrounded by sea in 3 sides, the view is breathtaking.
Day 2: We started off from Murudeshwara early morning. The travel through villages in Karnataka is quite memorable. The west coast is full of greenery and filled with magnificent beaches. Now we took a detour and travelled across the state via state highway. Reached a place called Yellapur at Breakfast time. Believe me, great innovations also happen at villages in India, you need to travel to believe it. In a small shop I found this interesting assortment of Handmade soaps with biodegradable packaging. Make In India, Truly.
Now the state highways are full of surprises. Most of the time they are cut across two villages. We encountered one bizarre traffic block at the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t identify the reason for the traffic block. There were no accidents or breakdown of vehicles. In minutes there were all kinds of vehicles, huge number of people dressed in colourful cloths.
Day 2: By the time we crossed Karnataka and entered Maharashtra, the entire landscape changed. One thing I liked was the colour of The public transport buses I found while passing Satara, Maharashtra. Roads were very wide.
Now when we travel in National highways, whats the most trickiest of decisions to take is decide on how to overtake these massive trucks with 10s of tyres and they move at some 15kms per hour. Imagine 3 of them moving parallel. How do you overtake them? By night we reached our second day halt, Pune!
Day 3: Pune to Baroda
Really enjoyed the Pune-Mumbai expressway, good, wide road, with lots of tunnels 🙂
On Third day, by evening we reached Baroda! When you travel, especially in India,you meet different cultures, people who speak different languages and the best part is you get to eat lot of varieties of food. This is amazing and is the best part of any travel.
Had a great fun travelling by road, experiencing new cultures, trying out some great food and of course meeting some wonderful people. Now we travel for this right 🙂
On Mount Road, Chennai, opposite to the iconic LIC building, is the main showroom of the Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development Corporation (TNHDC, www.tnhdcltd.com, www.poompuhar.org), popularly known by its brand name “Poompuhar”. TNHDC trains artisans to help improve their product quality and provides them social security by marketing their craftwork.
On the same compound is an interesting entrance you can hardly miss. The entrance is adorned by exquisite and intricately carved bronze idols. A huge statue of “Nataraja” welcomes you to the “Poompuhar Craft Cafe”, an innovative and interesting themed cafe conceptualized and executed by Dr.Santhosh Babu IAS, CMD of TNHDC, and his team.
The entrance, corridors that connects the cafe with the entrance and the walls are decorated with Bamboo. There are various artefacts and idols that add grace to the ambience. For the past 30 years, the place was used as a dump yard. Tremendous efforts have gone into converting the dilapidated go-down into what it is today.
Ms. Mital Surendira of Sanskrriti runs the cafe. “Here you will get the best traditional vegetarian Tamil cuisine that probably you won’t get anywhere else in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the creative genius of Ms.Mital Surendra, ” says Santhosh Babu. As the tagline says Poompuhar Craft Cafe serves the forgotten flavours from Grandma’s kitchen. You will get the most authentic healthy and tasty South Indian delicacies of yore that includes the Tamil Nadu Meals and snacks.
So if you are a foodie and appreciate tradition and artefacts, ‘Poompuhar Craft Cafe’ is place you must visit in Chennai.