We reached Karaikudi from Rameshwaram after a 3 hour drive and decided to stay the night there. Well-rested, we were checking out when we noticed a huge framed photograph of what seemed like a very ornate structure. On asking the disinterested receptionist, he said it was a palace at Athankudi. Our interest piqued, we decided to check it out. The last time I had visited Karaikudi was for a friend’s wedding 10 years ago. I had been charmed by the peacocks walking around, the humongous but elegant mansions with even up to 64 rooms in a house and the ornate exteriors of the homes. This visit didn’t disappoint- it was just as I recalled it.
The Chettiar community was one of sea-faring traders who dealt in salt and rice and were extremely prosperous during the time of the Cholas. However after a tsunami that destroyed their sea-side town, they moved further inland and settled in the present day region of Chettinadu.
We managed to find the palace after asking around since the board over it was in Tamil and the surrounding homes were almost comparably impressive from the outside. The keepers seemed quite surprised to have visitors. We were instantly besotted with the place
. It had what we loved in older, grander south Indian homes- 2 quadrangles with streaming sunlight surrounded by rooms, pillared corridors all around them. The courtyards for us made it classic Chettinad Architecture.
Additionally it had the most delightful use of tiles of different patterns and colors that were seemingly put together with a lot of thought to design. The top of each door in the palace had depictions of a story I wish I was familiar with. The ceilings closely competed with the artistry and brilliance of colors in the rest of the space.
Yet another area had light streaming in from windows with stained glass in varied colors. With 0 other tourists stopping by, it was the perfect wonderland for us to pretend to live in while walking by its corridors and admiring all its hues.
Note : One could visit the Athankudi tile making factories around for a view into how the beautiful tiles are handmade one at a time with patterned moulds placed over glass. Also there are other mansions that offer a guided tours and homestays within these gorgeous spaces that we’d recommend you opt for if you have both the time and the money to spend. Also more information here on other places to visit and an overview of Karaikudi.
Just behind this is the temple dedicated to Lord Sunderesawarar (Shiva) and his consort Meenakshi (Parvati). The temple celilings have images of the 64 exploits or stories of Shiva in relation to his devotees or other miracles.
Just outside the temple is a small temple tank too.
We had to finally make our way back to lovely Bangalore, now rich with memories of the colours of Athankudi, the magnificence of the Tanjavur temple and the stories of Gangaikondacholapuram, and the desolate beauty of Dhanushkodi.