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The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 2


After a road trip across Rajasthan, my daughter Rashmi takes another shot at blogging. This time she talks about a trip in to Chettinad in the state of Tamilnadu. This road trip, beginning from chennai is spread over 2 Nights and 3 Days. The route traverses through Chengalpattu, Tindivanam, Villupuram and Trichy over a duration of 7 hours. There are a number of clean and hygenic breakfast & lunch joints with toilet facilities on the highway. Hiring a comfortable SUV with an experienced driver-guide is important. The highways are wide and multi-laned with short stretches which may turn narrow. Experienced driver-guides maintain a steady speed with safety as a top priority. Part 1 of this blog explored the journey from Chennai to Kanadukathan, explorations within Visalam and its Gastronomic delights. In the second and concluding part, she explores the rich sights and sounds of Chettinad replete with audio visuals. Here she goes….

Good Morning! What better than going for a swim to kick start your day. I got up by 7a.m, went for a nice swim, had some simple yet delicious breakfast, and gave a kick-start to my day!

As soon as we finished our breakfast, we headed towards the reception, where we would meet our guide, who would take us in and around Karaikudi. Infact, the hotel itself provided us with a guide, who is a member if their staff. So basically, the guide wasn’t outsourced from some other hotel or company.

We started off our sightseeing by visiting the RAJAS’S PALACE- A huge, traditional Chettinad Mansion in Kanadukathan district. We got a glimpse of that mansion from it’s exteriors itself as we didn’t want to spend too much of time on the history of that place because we had many other interesting things to see and know about. The mansion had beautiful exteriors. It had been recently painted and beautified. There were these splendid carvings on the walls of the mansion of Gods and Goddesses, which added more glitter to the beauty of the mansion. Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy in their blog write, “The massive residence belonged to Chettinad’s most famous luminary Dr. S.Rm.M. Annamalai Chettiar, founder of the Indian Bank and Annamalai University. For his philanthropic efforts, he was made Diwan Bahadur, conferred with knighthood and given the hereditary title of Rajah of Chettinad by the King of England in 1929”.

The Raja's Palace front view

The Raja’s Palace in KanaduKathan, Chettinad

Next, we headed towards our guide’s house. The guide was pretty eager to show us his family’s house, so that we could get an idea of Chettinad architecture. It comprised of vintage Athangudi tiles, High Roofs, Vintage Clocks on the wall and, pillars connecting the ground of the house to the roof, and an open courtyard in the center , known as the “Mittam”, which is usally used for weddings and other family ceremonies.

A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or "Thoons", Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors

A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or “Thoons”, Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors

Once we thoroughly looked around the house and the guide, with complete interest, finished explaining the history to us, we headed towards a #Handloom and weaving centre where we we saw Cotton #sarees being made by manually made machines, with dyes and threads of various colours.

The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials like colored threads, Hand weaving instruments like Charkha and loom and finished products

The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials, Hand weaving instruments and finished products

We were told that it takes about one and a half to two days to complete one spree. Watch the accompanying video where the Weaver begins the process of weaving his magic

The process is quite long and tedious as it involves the shifting of threads, placement of the lever and other equipment, in order to get the right pattern on the spree. Watch in Part 2, the handloom process.

These sarees are sold to various cities in western India and North India, where there is a hughe crowd for all of these handmade stuff.

The next and most exciting place, which was the place where #Athangudi tiles are made.The preparation of Athangudi tiles is something that makes Chettinad famous.

Athangudi tile making workshop, Mud, coloring process, tile making and finished product

The Making of #Athangudi Tiles

Athangudi tiles are prepared in a unique process in which local soil, along with cement, baby jelly and synthetic oxides are used. The main colors that you shall find on these tiles are black, white, red, yellow, olive green and deep orange.

The tiles are cast from the locally available clay that is first burnt and then glazed. These tiles are special because they are sun-baked, which takes about a few days. But the whole process of getting the design on the tile and moulding it takes only about 3-5 minutes.

These tiles are used for flooring, wall cladding- in both interiors and exteriors. We were very happy to see the entire process of making a single Athangudi tile- from colour mixing to shaping and putting the glass. These tiles are exported to various countries, from where officials come and place orders.

Once we left from the Athangudi tile-making site, we headed toward a place where we got the real “sweetness” of Chettinad. We headed towards a house, where there was an “All Ladies” group preparing traditional Chettinad Sweets. such as “Adhirsam”, “Thenguzhal Murukku”, “Mahizhampoo Murukku”,”Mullu Murukku” and “Seepu Seedai”.

Women working the Bakshanam in a hot cauldron of coconut oil, finished Bakshanam

Ladies Self Help group in the business of making #Bakshanam. Time to sample Adhirsam, Thenguzhal, Mullu Murukku and Seepu Seedai

Made entirely of Rice Flour and using coconut oil, these snacks are prepared fresh everyday and are completely sold out by close.

Many of these groups also supply to stores across Tamilnadu where there is demand throughout the year. The best among all of them was the “Adhirsam”. I considered it as the ultimate sweet due to it’s taste, texture and flavor which included jaggrey, and coconut oil as well. So its pretty obvious that we can’t leave Chettinad whithout buying packets of these delicacies prepared by the lovely hand of these women, who do it passionately and carry on the family business with tons of confidence and courage.

Once we bought everything, we headed towards a vegetarian restaurant, where we quickly packed some lunch , which we would have once we headed back to the hotel. In between, we made a stop at a Saree Shop where we found a variety of cotton sarees, from simple and elegant to glittery and attractive. Since we all were starving, we quickly drove back to the hotel and reached by 2p.m and had some good lunch that we had packed on the way, and had a nap. The evening was quite free as we had completed most of the sightseeing during the day. So we decided that we would chill by the lawn in the evening, with a cup of tea and some of the snacks that we had bought earlier in the day. We didn’t really step out anywhere in the evening and had a light and simple dinner.

Phew! That was a long day… Good Night!

Getting there: Chennai is connected to all major cities across India and the world. From Chennai, chettinad is a 7 hour drive.

Re-imagining our Museums

Lobby of the Mumbai Museum

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

To help us realize the above statement, we have two wonderful assets in the form of the National Museum in New Delhi and the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Formerly The Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai. It was heartening to visit the flagship museums of our country. Yes, things are getting better with plenty of opportunities for innovation.

Clockwise from top Foyer of Mumbai museum, walkway to the Mumbai Museum and the Delhi National Museum

Clockwise from top Foyer of Mumbai museum, walkway to the Mumbai Museum and the Delhi National Museum

The teams at both the museums have started engaging visitors by including audio guides, brochures, guide books, audio visual shows and other theme based events like the International day Yoga. The counter staff are knowledgable about the exhibit areas,  conduct themselves very professionally and regularly seek suggestions from the visitors.

  • Both the museums begin their tours with an introduction to civilizations of the world. Busy charts, maps and a few artifacts crowd out entire floors. How relevant is it to showcase a bathing area, ritual pots and pans without an accompanying audio visual show talking about how people lived in those days? Digital enhances the visitor experience. The same can be made available through a museum website for people outside of these cities to get a virtual walk through
  • Our governments still own our museums; This strength should be used to rope in more Thematic content like the one organized during International Yoga day for example. With India’s excellent diplomatic relations with UN Member countries, a bi monthly showcase with one such country can help our fellow country men know the country and its people a lot better. This can be a physical exhibition plus a digital feature as well. How about a Japan month to start with? The Museum of Tribal arts and artifacts in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa is a brilliant theme based exhibition of Orissa’s Tribal roots. The staff in the museum are extremely knowledgable about their own and explain their culture with a truck load of passion


The Bhubaneshwar, Orissa museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, A must visit!

The Bhubaneshwar, Orissa museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, A must visit!

  • There are sections within museums which deserve to be re-imagined. The coinage gallery in the National museum for example. Who in current times will get excited with a dour exhibit which does not have any interactivity. How about a small game helping visitors understand how coinage has evolved in India
The Coinage gallery which one just breezes past for lack of interactivity. Cluttered Museum floor impeding smooth movement of Visitors

The Coinage gallery which one just breezes past for lack of interactivity. Cluttered Museum floor impeding smooth movement of Visitors

  • The stone and Bronze sculpture galleries detail the art across various empires of India . It will be wonderful to see some of India’s stolen and recovered sculptures being showcased. An interactive digital gallery which explains making of sculptures and explaining the significance of symbols can excite the visitor to delve deeper in to our country’s rich past
The Stone and Bronze sculpture sections in both the Museums across various epochs. Vishnu, Ganesh, Kuber, Durga and Buddha are common themes

The Stone and Bronze sculpture sections in both the Museums across various epochs. Vishnu, Ganesh, Kuber, Durga and Buddha are common themes

  • Both the museums take pride in the collections of their paintings, especially the miniatures and European art collection in Mumbai. I don’t understand western art. How can we help the average visitor understand and appreciate art? Can the website or a Kiosk help enhance the experience and get the visitor to better appreciate art? We have numerous art schools and am sure many of them would love to hand a summer project to their students in this area
  • The Mumbai museum has a well curated Textile section which i think is a real crowd puller. Similarly there is a lot to be explored across
    • Agricultural history and evolution of Irrigation in India
    • Maritime Trade history of India
    • India’s forces and a light and sound show – Army, Navy and Air Force
    • India’s space history and accomplishments
    • Indian Railways – Engine of growth for the country
    • Wars fought by India and where we were involved like the II world war
    • Using global visual archives to help the visitor understand India’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts across the world
    • India’s victories to keep its borders secure
A textile map of India, Prints of various states of India, Child dresses, Parsee Saree

The Textile Heritage of India showcased within the precincts of the Mumbai Museum

  • The Mumbai Museum has actively engaged children and adults with small craft workshops, making ones own pre-historic tile and printing on paper and cloth. This is a good beginning
  • Both the Museums have in-museum stores and have stocked up on a good collection of take aways that are reasonably priced and of good quality. Key chains with miniatures, Coffee table books, pen holders, bags and other interesting gifting ideas

At the same time, important to be mindful of the facilities  like being disable friendly, providing ample sitting areas, restrooms at every level, water fountains and cafes. Without these it is a bit cruel to expect the Old, children and the infirm to visit our Museum.

Safety is another aspect of our Museums which have made news for all the wrong reasons. A fire or a deluge can wipe out decades of painstaking curation efforts. It can be heart wrenching to lose precious artifacts. Digitizing them offers an option apart from mandatory safety mechanisms.

Museums tell stories and we and our children have and will grow up with stories, isn’t it?