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 too...at 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.
The main entrance door from the narrow road
The long thinnai (seating area) on either sides ( left and right below
The belgium mirror and japanese tile encrusted Burma teak door leads to the huge living room below
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
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 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!!
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.