Monday, October 31, 2016

The antique market of Karaikudi

Huge and bulky  wooden doorways, Solid wooden pillars with chiselled bases, stone pillars with wooden carved bases, Burmese Teak  pigeon holed almirahs with safe, Japanese tiled wooden seaters, wooden swings, easy chairs,  brass kitchen utensils, imported porcelain cook ware of yore, silver ware, old Tanjore and Ravi varma paintings, sepia toned family photos,  Japanese tiles, door knobs, Belgium mirrors and so many more from small horlicks bottle to major items like printing machine , which adorned the Chettinad homes many years ago find their way to the  antique market of Karaikudi, making itone of the largest antique market of the world.

Unable to maintain the rich mansions, the inheritors of many such mansions sell their property and their heirlooms to antique dealers which find their way to a non-descript dingy lane which anybody could easily dismiss on first sight.  Yes, there are no boards or indicators to this market which is right behind the famous Muniswaran koil of Karaikudi. We did have a tough time locating this place although it was just 2 kms from our place of stay. But, it really baffles me how foreigners sense  such places and buy such valued objects. 

The best direction to this market that a policeman gave  was the " oorani" and I inspite of being a tamilian did not know what a Oorani was.  Oorani is the other name for water tank (pond). Oorani again is a beautiful example of town planning for this place  many years ago. Since this land is arid, the chettiyars have designed tanks to harvest rains. Such high thinking, designing  and  planning at times when globalwarming or other fancy term like sustainability was unheard of!!

Finally, we did locate the market and again i will let a few pictures speak. Some of the items like the huge burmese work table with pigeon holes to place envelopes, letters and other work related things  reminded me of my Thatha's work table. It still adorns my mama's home. The wooden almirah with japanese tile is with my cousin. The oonjal (swing) is at my mom's place. Furnitures that are so earthy, warm  so welcoming and soulful that it can remind us  of  our paati thatha's home. 

In this whole trip, i did'nt manage much decent pictures as i was more in awe  and soaking the ambience, these pictures below don't do justice, they are just  like the tip of an iceberg.

                                           An old phone, One of the furntiture dealer took us to his warehouse some 2kms away from this market, they have much more stored in warehouses.
                    brass antiques, old paintings of Tanjore and Ravivarma
                                               A printing machine
                              That gramo phone still works....what else can you spot?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The handcrafted Athangudi tiles

Athangudi tiles are handcrafted tiles with earthy base colors. They come in exquisite designs and  are the highlight of chettinad culture. These tiles are one of a kind and are named after this small village Athangudi  where they are made. 

Made on  a square of glass as base( which is removed later), with colored oxide solution, these tiles are a work of art. It had been on my bucket list in recent times, ever since i saw a video on social media talking about the crafts extinction due to its low production and high pricing (40 rs/ tile when bought in bulk)  compared to the tiles that were mass produced. 

 So, My next stop after the Athangudi mansion was the cottage industry where these tiles were made.

After a brief stop over at the carpenters antique warehouse, we drove on the same lane to Ganapathy tile house which  was recommended by a person near the mansion. It was noon by now and the sun was scorching over head. when we entered into Ganpathy tile cottage industry. On one side was the asbestos sheeted storehouse of tiles & office and the other side was the tile making workshop with its raw materials stored. 

The moment we were close to the workshop, we were welcomed by a smiling couple. Without any prompting or asking for, he started demonstrating the making of tile,one design after the other and patiently answered all our questions. He even asked my daughter and son to make a tile. 

 The dexterity and agility with which his hands moved showed his expertise in the craft. That was Muthuraman who has been involved in the making for more than 35 years. Having started as a helper, between him and his wife, they churn out 200 tiles per day all handcrafted with no machines whatsoever involved. When asked if working with  bare hands on materials like Cement and oxides  did not affect his hands , he said during rainy season they do get blisters but they go on with their work.

A few years back this was a dying industry but now Muthuraman tells there are more than 120 tile making units in Athangudi now and there is more demand for this tiles than before.  They even export these to foreign countries now. A stack of packaged tiles were stored in the godown to be shipped to  Iran.

These tiles are durable and  it gains more sheen with passage of time and maintenance is also low in that,  all one needs is to rub the floor maybe couple of times in a year with coconut oil. Muthuraman suggested tying   coconut gratings in a muslin cloth  and rubbing over the tiles. More  about the tiles  through the pictures and video

                                                  The raw materials used cement

The raw materials used in the making Cement, sand and the solution of red oxide, blue oxide etc.,. These solutions are a mixture of the colored oxides, kola maavu( rangoli powder), white cement and water The base colors are 6, the above 4 colors, green and black. And from these 6 colors another 6 colors are built. So totally  athangudi tiles can have 12 colors.

                             The tools are designed metal stencils, frames and a glass sheet of tile size

Muthuraman at work

The tiles curing in water for 8-10 days with the glass, after which the glass finally slips out leaving the glossy tile alone. These tiles are not baked so do not require any fire, power or fuel. 


The cured tiles are then laid out in a room over a layer of husk where the husk absorbs the moisture and the tiles shine when the husk releases its oil.Each of them have a name based on the design or where it is much in demand. for instance the above black and white is called Lanka and a blue tile with white pattern in corner is called "Bangalore" since it is more in demand in Bangalore.

Below a video of the Athangudi tile  making.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The magnificient and rich Athangudi mansion

Alert : A  long photo post.

After bypassing interesting indicators like Chettinad mansion, Visalam ( mansions converted into boutique hotels) we were on our way to Athangudi to see the making of Athangudi tiles.

We got into the lane that had many boards of  Athangudi tile making....we drove past them not knowing which one to stop by....but finally the husband's eyes fell on an antique wood shop selling furniture. When we entered the  bylane to enquire about the furniture display, the person said it will take a while for the person to come and we could go around the "Athangudi periya veedu" ( Big Mansion) meanwhile pointing to a house exactly to whose side we stood.

The entrance was on the main road. Till then I did'nt realize we crossed past a mansion called 'Periya veedu' of Athangudi...yes, the exteriors of the building looked so worn out and the elevation was like any other house that I saw in the region .  I did'nt realize that  it is the celebrated Athangudi mansion which has acted in many Bollywood and Kollywood movies. 

We then paid an entry fee of 50 per head to the house keeper and when once past the steps of the entrance, the magnificience and splendour unfolded door after door. After a tour of the house, I came out with neck pain and jaw pain....yes folks, such a beautiful mansion, so well maintained interiors with lovely ceilings and artistic walls that I was open mouthed through out and craning my neck to see the high ceilinged mansion. My co-visitors at the place were foreigners who were all along looking awestruck every place, they said "beautiful" and clicked pictures even of the "attukal" and " ammikal" ( traditional stone grinders) in the kitchen side. 

Athangudi mansion like the rest of the 11,000 mansions in this region was built with materials sourced from South east Asia and other european countries where the chettiars went for occupation. The house is built with Italian marbles, Japanese tiles, Belgium mirrors, Burma teak columns and ceilings and the walls which were built in 1929 have remain untouched ( not even painted). The buildings are built with native architectural science and vastu shastra which is more about allowing light and air inside the house. The walls were built with bricks and  lime stone mixture ( santhu kalavai)  This mixture is made of limestone powder, kadukkai podi ( gall nut or haritiki in hindi), egg's white  ( such satin finish on the walls). and karupatti ( palm jaggery)  and a little padaneer( unfermented palm tree sap),  Such constructions provide strength and longevity to the building and these mansions are testimony to that. Here i must also mention that i had written long back how my husband's grandparents home in Lalgudi was also built with such mixture on walls. Instead of egg shells, sea shells were used for the sheen.

Rest, I will leave unworded...this will be a photo post from here on,I am not even collaging the pictures, it will rob the beauty of the place and would prefer if you clicked on  the pics to feel the grandeur. I have sequenced it the way i saw the house from entrance to exit

 The  main entrance door from the narrow  road

                             The lobby between the  path leading from entrance  to the steps of thinnai called "Mogappu"
 The long thinnai (seating area)  on either  sides ( left and right below

                          The man who built the house in 1929...such a simple man but such grand taste

 The belgium mirror and japanese tile encrusted Burma teak door leads to the huge living room below

                                The wooden engraved ceiling above and the Italian  tiled chess board patterned flooring below. The gold enamel paint over the wood has never been retouched and the gloss and sheen is of the original paint.
From this room the below door leads to another huge hall

around which rooms are built and the high ceiling is roof to  the second floor too

these pillared corridors on first floor have succh beautiful ceilings where japanese tiles are framed

and the windows have beautiful paintings from Indian mythology

                    The engraved details on the pillars holding the ceiling
                                                   a close up of the japanese tiles

and the above room leads to a place with open courtyard around which again more rooms are built..Apart from sunlight and air, when it rains, the place is designed for harvesting water

one of the passage from the above room leads to this huge dining hall...notice the famous chettinad stained glass windows below and don't miss the gloss of the walls due to egg whites.

 One of my favorites in this mansion is the native wooden rafter roofing of the dining hall.  The slats sit snugly on the rafter grooves like a jigsaw puzzle. The symmetry, design and precision ...what amazing native architectural skill!!

                        A side door from the dining hall leads to an open path way which has a corridor like below
                        The grinding stones are placed to the left side while the right side is the kitchen...
                   As I exit, i realized the house extends even beyond the car on the right side..the servant quarter etc.  Glad i saw this house because the rest of the celebrated mansions like Kanadakuthan mansion requires permission from the owner mutthiah chettiar, the chettinad mansion has been converted into a boutique hotel and the Karaikudi mansion ( aayiram jannal veedu" has occupantsand so we have no free access.

The caretaker of this mansion said, this house now belongs to four families and they are now scattered all around and they come here for weddings and other functions. Most of the rooms are locked and the house is maintained with the entrance fee collected. It indeed is an white elephant to maintain such property.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A mini temple trail around Karaikudi

view from the road

view from temple side

                                  above  the    entrance at the path leading to the main sanctum...could'nt catch the full view because of the asbestos sheet over head

12 kms from our hotel on dusty roads through villages led us to Pillayarpatti....a  Ganesh temple which had been on my wishlist for more than 10 years...and I have been just 90 kms away from this temple during my past many visits to our grand parents place at Trichy  but never got an opportunity to visit this temple. This time it was not even on  our itinerary when we started off from our they say "You will get there only when you are meant too and not one moment sooner..."

When our car  cruised from the main road into a bylane with temple arch, we were flanked by small shops selling pooja items, tiny souvenirs...what opened at the end of the road was a beautiful view of two temple towers and in the forefront was a clean temple tank fringed with coconut trees with the typical horizontal white and clay red made a divine  sight and was an indicator that this temple was well maintained and  I could already feel the energy of the place.  As we parked and walked to the main temple sanctum....we saw  a few people selling arugam pul ( grass) and paneer roja malai ( scented rose garlands)  but the best part was nobody forced it on us like in many temples.

Once inside the temple  when i queued up behind the devotees for my turn in the high ceilinged granite hall, I  was totally awe struck when I  looked up. Absolutely wonderful and colorful( technicolor...not earthy colors at all) mandalas and paintings from mythology adorned the ceiling. I was gaping for a long time at the  artistic ceiling as the sanctum was crowded. Here is where I saw the crowd in this region that too numbering may be around 50. And when my turn to see the mammoth idol of the Lord came....this was again the only temple so far where I heard the priest say "Niruthhi, nidanama  parungo"( Stop, stay a while and see)....Absolutely divine sight  under the golden glow   from the oil  lit tamps ( no electric lights in sanctum) which my eyes still behold, what I  felt as I stood there for more than 2 minutes is indescribable. The fragrance of the roja malai, the glow diffusing  from oil lamps, the aroma of the vibhuti(sacred ash), the arugum pul malai ( garland made from grass) with all these, I could feel the absorption of the enshrined energies. No wonder, they call ancient temples as energy centers and this temple built according to agama shastra (temple architecture) authenticated that theory.

Again all around the temple,there are mini sanctums like in many shiva temples and huge framed photos from Mythology adorn the main walls. The temple like I said so well maintained by the nagarathar trust  is one of the  9 temples managed in this region and this is a very ancient rock cut  temple dating back to 1091 and 1238. More about the temple history here.

We drove out of the temple after buying the famous pillyarpatti pillayar from one of the many shops . 

Our next stop was the Lakshmi kuberar koil just 2kms away.

                                               Lakshmi Kuberar temple


Throught out the route, we saw many famous temple indicators  like vairavan kovil, thamizhthai kovil, Ariyakudi etc...but it was'nt possible to go to every temple due to time constraint. 

Kuberar kovil fell on our way to Kunrakudi on the main road...and this was my first visit to Kuberar kovil...never been or heard of a kovil for Kubera( God of wealth). So, when the husband's co-driver my daughter negotiated on the muddy track ( no road)  to reach a white building called Lakshmi Kuberar Kovil, i was surprised for it's gopuram in no way looked like the regular temple gopuram and this temple is just 2 year old.

A white building  like  exterior and the entrance was flanked by two shops selling all knick knacks related to wealth like the happy man kubera and other feng shui type items. The temple was very unique in that it had two levels. Onthe ground level was a lotus structure  in the  sanctum which the priest said was the peetam and one had to climb stairs to reach the level above the lotus structure. Where Lord Kubera's idol was consecrated and above the idol of Kubera on the wall was the idol of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Another unique feature was the kubera vibhuti(sacred ash) which was green in color.

The temple also had a mini pond like a well in the ground level where coins were thrown. Again a well maintained temple where a few antique bharnis were sold (clay pickle jars).

After seeking Kubera's blessings, we now drove towards Kunrakudi which was just 2 kms away. While negotiating the muddy track to reach the main road, we saw a snake slithering across the road in front of our car. The daughter who was driving  immediately wanted to know from her paati (grand mom) sitting in the rear seat,  if it had any significance like a black cat crossing the road and the mil who does'nt believe such superstitions  jokingly said " No, drive ahead, it is an invitation from Lord Murugan to visit his abode"(Lord Murugan's vehicle is a peacock which clutches a snake in its claw)

Kunrakudi - The abode of Murugan with his consorts valli and Devasena is another 1000 year old temple situated on a 30 metre hillock with more or less 100 steps to reach the abode.The name Kunrakudi itself in tamil means a hill colony. Built by Maruda pandi, a king who ruled this area. When he was suffering from an ailment,the vibhuti prasadam from this temple is said to have cured him.

When we reached the foot hills, we had a tough time escaping from the mendicants who were dressed in orange. After passing through the soda and pooja offerings shop which doubled as shoe depository, we were greeted by the temple elephant which was trained to bless with its trunk on our head when we offer a coin. We then climbed the 100 odd steps which were carved out of the hill and reached the top where a divine sight of the 6 headed Lord( Arumugam) with his consorts beckoned to bless us. Yet another moment which sent us into a trance and yes the vision of the lord under the glowing diyas is embedded in my mind. The granite pillars and the ceiling had such a cooling effect even in that hot weather and the breeze from the windows drew me to them. The view from there was  rustic and had a oldworld charm . I could see red tiled roofs and old little houses from there and dried vegetation reminding of hay. It instantly reminded me of an aerial picture my husband clicked in the Italian town of Pisa. There is so much of unsung beauty in our countryside which can make beautiful picture postcards.

Forgot to click pictures here but enjoyed the beautiful views from the top and we walked down the steps only to run into an  orange robed mendicant who call themselves as siddhars or andis ( don't know what they are called) and start asking for alms after forcefully predicting a few things about us. 

That was the mini temple trail around Karaikudi which we completed by 11a.m in the many ancient temples to see  in this region... God willing, maybe another visit will help complete.

Our next stop was Athangudi, famous for handcrafted tiles.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Chettinad - a hidden jewel

If one is not from the south of Vindhyas, you have to constantly remind yourself that there are more things associated with Chettinad than the world famous delectable chettinad cuisine. 

To start with chettinad is famous for its architecturally magnificient mansions,   Ancient temples, burma teak furnitures, traditional bronze/brass vessels, the chettinad tiles, Kottanz( reed baskets),  kandangi sarees( handloom), their financial and business acumen  and above all their hospitality and simplicity.

All these are what made me add the chettinad region to my bucket list. 

Chettinad region which is a cluster of nearlly 72 villages is lesser known and not popular on tourist circuit compared to its 2 famous neighbouring  temple towns of Trichy and Madurai but i discovered there is so much to see and do and experience in this region.

Like I mentioned in the previous post, we reached   the hotel in karaikudi in a residential area @ 8 in the evening. The whole town enroute to the hotel and around resembled like a ghost town  although we were close to  the new bus stand. I thought being late in the evening and a holiday due to ayudha puja the town was calm . But, even the  next morning when we drove the countryside  to reach  Pillayarpattti i realized that this is the nature of the region.

 Yes, the relaxed life (but certainly not laid back or lazy)  of this region inspite of the closeness to all the activity of the town  is unique. Not much greenery and very dry, arid and hot even in October, There are treasures all around  in the  villages  for city souls as the place is time warped. We saw no traffic at any point not even in bus stand or the narrow dusty lanes,   we met civilized, helpful  and well dressed people in traditional attire of vellai veshti and vellai sattai ( sparkling white shirt and white dhoti) even in hotels and public places like shops,.

 The whole journey through the little villages where at every  2 km we found interesting indicators like Visalam, Chettinad mansion,( heritage homes), Kuberar kovil, Athangudi, kanadukuthan. etc... we saw interesting sights like houses of interest big and small showing signs of decay here and there. Most medium sized houses had 3d murals of Gods like gaja lakshmi, krishna, Ganesha etc above the wooden awnings  and the bamboo grilled facades covering the thinnai were held on the walls that  had the traditional temple wall painting  of  horizontal white alternating with Clay red. Although the mildew on most houses lent an aura,  the crumbling houses, broken bamboo meshes,the chipping walls  and the locks indicated that most homes were vacant for long time. The passing  scenes would have made beautiful pictures for posterity  and my new mobile had a DSLR quality but unfortunately could not jget out of the vehicle and dash to capture the passing moments.

The quaint charming sights  and the relaxed pace of life that the whole region threw all along could make one think that life here is  frozen back in time.......It was a time travel in this region.  Wonder why, this is not on tourism circuit?That said , sometimes i wish it remains unknown only then can it hold on to  its charm.

 Glad that this cluster of villages called Chettinad is nominated for world heritage list. Hope UNESCO declares soon, It  deserves the tag . 

The pictures below don't do justice but still managed to capture a few from moving vehicle and hence may not be in frame.

Pillayarpatti in my next post....

 The mural figurines adorning most homes big and small

                                                                        Ghost town??!!!

The traditional festoons made of coconut glade that adorned almost at all places for Ayudha pooja

                                          mil dewed walls and  sloping tiled roofs
                                             Most homes have such carved balustrades

Monday, October 17, 2016

Another bucket list travel:)

Another vacation overlap and this time we decided to make  it an annual visit to our family deity temple near Trichy. But like the saying goes " Man proposes, god disposes"....we could'nt make it to  our deity temple  as it is open only on Mondays and Fridays. Instead, we reversed our travel itinerary and  set out to check off some things from our "to do" list.

So on saraswati puja day, from chennai after brunch we started off to Karaikudi on NH 45. After a couple of tea breaks and a stop over at the husband's alma mater near Trichy, we reached  Karaikudi at 8.30 completing the journey in 8 hours. 

The next day morning began with an auspicious start  to Pillayarpatti, the abode of Karpaga vinayagar(  Lord Ganesh ) and then there was no hindrance or looking back on the travel....everything went as we had proposed and we went ticking off pillayarpatti, Athangudi mansion, Athangudi tile making process and  we even managed to see some places which were not on our itinerary and the tick off continued to the last day of my travel back to my city.

 Here are a few pictures,  although  I must confess I was not  comfortable handling the features of  my new phone and so could not click pictures at many places where I wanted to.

 A very smooth drive on NH 45

Pillayarpatti karpaga Vinayakar temple pond

                                               The  wooden ceiling at Athangudi mansion

                                               The hand crafted athangudi tile in the of its kind in the world.

Will record the  important travel detail after putting things in order of priority.