One of the remarkable highlights of the Chettinad region (surrounding Karaikudi in southern Tamilnadu) is its stunning architecture.

Most of the typical Chettinad houses are literally palatial in terms of the vast space they’re erected in and the high standards of grandeur they’re built on.

Interestingly, hardly anyone lives in any of these. The reason could be the mass exodus the topographically ill-placed spot has triggered because of not being a city. It’s not even a neoteric one. So, these residential areas stand almost deserted.

The second and probably a more telling reason is the massiveness of these houses itself. They look simply untenable. Maintaining them even with a consistent 24-7 attention seems like an exhaustively humongous task.

Why such vast habitats then? Just doesn’t make sense.

Or so, it appeared!

Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, our content expert for the documentary feature we’re planning for Chettinad, hails from this region. This is his ‘home’.

Listening to the historian on the well-thought-out and practical aspects of the Chettinad architecture during our recce last week was so insightful that I was instantly reminded of Howard Roark, the architect conceived by Any Rand for her novel The Fountainhead.

Each and every element of architecture should have a definitive purpose justifying its existence there. Else, it becomes just a gimmicky prop marring the practical beauty of architecture.

Why such big houses then?

The prospering Chettiars traded with Burma, Srilanka, Malaysia and Laos in their heyday. The men were out and travelling almost all the time, bringing more riches home. Their families were alone while they were away. So, they built palatial houses that protected the families from within… acting so much as fortresses that even the windows were set not outside but inside, overlooking the courtyard set right in the center.

But, as time progressed with the British leaving India, the Chettiars lost their clout. Things took a U-turn, with families turning nuclear. This resulted in a major exodus, with the houses and the region left in the condition they currently are in.

Yet, the beauty of it all is still there for us to see. The houses look almost like historically significant monuments, reminding us of a rich past that’s worthy of being captured into a documentary.

Which is what we, at Monument Universe, are currently on. Getting geared up to recapture and replay the beauty of the region for all it contains!

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