The Antique Market in Karaikudi: Where Treasures seek a new home!

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Tamil Nadu | 28

I have always said this – “If you want to understand the local culture of a place, you must visit the local markets”. I absolutely insist on this for Karaikudi and the Chettinad region. In fact, let me rephrase this – “If you want to find the treasures that were a part of the opulent Chettinad Mansions, you must visit the Antique market in Karaikudi.” The best part of this journey, you don’t just get to see but actually buy them for your own abode!

Antique Market in Karaikudi

In the heart of Karaikudi town, hidden in a single lane, is the unique antique market of Chettinad. This is where you can find a plethora of treasures – from tiny European curios and lamps to elaborate Indian brass and bronze statues and the exquisite Burma teak-wood doors of the Chettinad mansions. The place is a great stop for anyone looking for the Karaikudi old furniture – the timeless charm of which will amplify your contemporary home. Even if you are not looking to buy, the Karaikudi antique markets will enthrall you with the tales behind its wares. As you read through this post, you will realize that the Antique market in Karaikudi is actually, a living museum of Chettinad.

About the Antique Market in Karaikudi

To explain what is special about the Karaikudi Antique Markets, I need to re-share the history of the Chettinad region. It started with the Nagarathar community or the Chettiars losing their original home base – Poompuhar to Tsunami. The mercantile community set up base in Karaikudi and the surrounding area. Their business prospered and led them to places beyond India. The stunning mansions of Chettinad including the Athangudi palace and the Kanadukathan palace stand as a symbol of the wealth accumulated by the respective Chettiar families.

The famous Kanadukathan Palace in Chettinad

During the frequent trade trips abroad, these families got back relics and decor for their lavish homes. It was not unusual to find Murano glasswork, Japanese and Chinese vases and European curios kept alongside the artistic Indian statues and sculptures. Over time, these families moved away from these ancestral homes. A lot of them chose to settle abroad – specifically in the South East Asian countries. A few of them locked up the homes owing to property disputes and then there were some, who lost their wealth and could not maintain their homes. Whatever the reason being, the rich decor of these homes found their way to the Karaikudi antique shops.

The wares of a Karaikudi home now available in the Karaikudi Antique Shops

The little Antique market lane of Karaikudi has been existing for over 40 years. So far, they have been popular with the people visiting Karaikudi. However, today, their fame has attracted tradesmen from Rajasthan and Maharashtra. These tradesmen buy goods from here, refurbish and resell those at higher prices in fancy boutiques. Naturally, for you, nothing is better than buying at source – the quirky antique market of Karaikudi.

How to reach the Karaikudi Antique Market?

Karaikudi is a small town in Tamil Nadu that can be reached in any of the following manner –

  • By Air – The nearest airport is Madurai or Trichy. Both these are equidistant at 100 km from Karaikudi
  • By Rail – Karaikudi has its own railway station with good connectivity to Chennai and the key towns of South India
  • By Road – One can drive down from Bangalore or Chennai to Karaikudi. It takes approximately 7 hours from either of these two places.
The temple pond of Muneeswara Kovil in Karaikudi as seen from the Antique market

Once in Karaikudi, head towards Muneesvaran Kovil. This is a huge temple in a busy market area. The antique market of Karaikudi is in one of the lanes that are behind the temple. A landmark to this is the lane that falls right opposite to the gate that leads into the temple tank and the parking area.

What to buy in the antique market of Karaikudi?

We kept circling around the temple, trying to find the Karaikudi antique market. It was hard to figure out as the locals don’t call it the antique market. Finally, after asking around, we zeroed into one particular area, behind the temple tank. It took one or two misses before we managed to enter the lane of treasures and Gosh! What a sight it was! From antique furniture to trinkets and coins, idols and curios and paintings of Raja Ravi Verma (I am told, these are originals), the antique market lane had everything.

Antique furniture in Karaikudi

Karaikudi old furniture in the antique market of Chettinad

Should you have a garden, you might consider buying some of the metal benches in the antique market. Complete with intricately carved figures, they promise a nice touch of Indian heritage to your space of green. There were beautiful tables, rocking chairs, and swings on display. Some of these shops even sold the famous Karakudi doors – complete with their Burma teak wood carvings. My personal favorites were the door knockers and the antique locks that came in a variety of themes.

Old Chettinad doors and pillars sold in the Karaikudi antique markets
Old locks sold in the antique market of Karaikudi

Home Decor in the Karaikudi Antique Markets

Bronze statues found in Karaikudi's market

One look at the varied collection of sculptures, and you would wonder if you were in a museum. The only other place where I have seen such ornamental pieces are those huge luxury galleries. Wooden pieces that can be installed on temple doors and bronze idols of Hindu deities are available in plenty. Some of these metal pieces double up as diyas or oil lamps while there are others that make great wall hangings

If you happen to own a mansion of your own, you would love their life-sized statues. The huge tigers would make a great addition to your porch. Hmmm – I can imagine a Bollywood scene here, where a lord sitting on his throne is stroking the metal creatures beside him 😉

Life-sized tigers and metal antique furniture in one of the Karaikudi antique shops
Carved bronze sculptures in the Karaikudi antique market

The stores of the antique market in Karaikudi will spoil with a choice of lamps and curios. You will find designs from Sweden, Austria, Japan, India and many more countries. The lamps are available in every possible size and shape. There are hanging lamps and fixed ones as well as the sturdy moveable shades of different colors. All you have to do is dig through the collection.

Paintings and Collector’s items in the Antique market of Chettinad

Tanjore paintings and other collectors' items from various Chettinad mansions on sale in the antique market

It is not impossible to find an original Raja Ravi Varma painting in this antique market. However, it sure is difficult to pick one of the many Tanjore paintings available here – there are just too many. These paintings were the pride of a Chettinad home and are now, available at very affordable rates in these antique shops.

If you are a coin collector, be sure to ask the shopkeeper for what he is selling. You might find a really rare and historic one out here. For collectors of historical pictures, there is plenty of black and white Chettiar homes and families available on sale. I also, recommend looking out for the old gramophones, telephones and radios. Some of them actually work even now and you might just find the right corner in your own home for these.

Old telephones that are still in a working condition

I personally, did not buy anything here – not because of its price (which is super reasonable) but for the fact, I fear my home is can never amplify its brilliance. However, I definitely enjoyed window shopping here. Actually, it was more like living the Chettinad age and glory. And thus, even if you are not a shopaholic like me, you need to get here. So, pin this up lest you forget.

Travel Tips

  • Remember to bargain hard.
  • Be careful when buying metal items. A lot of them have not been treated or cleaned. Insist on the storekeeper polishing and cleaning it up.

Booking resources

  • It is a good idea to stay in one of the heritage homes when in Karaikudi. Consider using for picking one of those up. 
  • You can buy your travel or home requirements by using this link of  Amazon

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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