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

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Tamil Nadu | 22

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

Home Decor in the Karaikudi Antique Markets

Bronze statues found in Karaikudi's market
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
Life-sized tigers and metal antique furniture in one of the Karaikudi antique shops
Carved bronze sculptures in the Karaikudi antique market
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
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
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 Booking.com 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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22 Responses

  1. Jay Artale

    First thing we do when we go to a new destination is look out for markets and second hand shops. I agree with you .. in order to get to know a place, these are the places to head for. A shop like this, with relics from the past really gives you an insight into the history of a place, and it like a museum, except this one is a place where you can touch and feel the history. Even if you don’t buy anything, they’re still good to walk around. I think I’d be happy just to buy one of those locks though … not too big to carry around in my backpack.

    • Ami

      That is what I did…just walked around. Wish though now, that I had bought those locks!

  2. TheViewDeck

    Exactly, visiting markets is a great introduction to knowing the local culture. It is what makes traveling more exciting and more fun. Looking at those antique shops is like an open museum, an art show of cultures. Although I haven’t been to Karaikudi, my only experience with the local market in India is in Delhi and Agra.

    • Ami

      Trust me, having seen the other markets, this one tops the list. There is so much of authentic stuff here.

  3. Lisa

    I love visiting markets when I travel, so this antiques one appeals to me. Those old doors and locks are marvellous, I could take a lock home, a door, sadly no! I’ve also no mansion to keep a metal tiger but they’re fabulous. I enjoyed your tips on barganing, I’d give it my best shot!

    • Ami

      Thanks Lisa. I am now wondering why I did not buy that lock 😉 Lots of people loved it

  4. Linda (LD Holland)

    Markets are always a great place to find treasures. So cool that you can find treasures from the Chettinad Mansions on a visit to the Antique Market in Karaikudi. We normally do not bring home souvenirs. But that would not stop me from looking at the history in this spot. I can see why you would say it was a bit like walking in a museum. I am sure if you are a real collector and know the value of things, you could even get some amazing deals.

    • Ami

      Just window shopping here is worth your time. So much of history and culture is revealed when you wander through this tiny lane.

  5. Melissa

    I would love to visit a market like this. I think it would really help dive into the culture of the area. There are so many beautiful items there and the best part is they are authentic. If you are looking for something original this looks like the place to go. I would certainly want to buy something, the benches are making me wish I had a garden to put it in. I think I would have to stick to one of the smaller items though. The locks are pretty cool-such detail that went into them. I need to start visiting more spots like this one.

    • Ami

      I honestly, started redecorating my own home mentally. The place has that effect on you!

  6. Glenn

    Don’t you just love to visit antique shops and appreciate how beautiful the artworks and detailed they are? They are like an open museum for our eyes to feast on. Looking at it, the locks are really pretty and unique.

  7. Cecilia

    You have the perfect opening statement and I couldn’t agree more. Visiting markets (both antique and food markets) give a glimpse into the authentic culture of a region. Looking at those photos I think I would have wanted to buy everything. Those wooden pieces and furniture are so intricate and beautiful. Wish I could furnish my entire house with findings from the Karaikudi Market!

  8. Umiko

    We like window shopping at antique markets like Karaikudi. Used to be we came home with something in hand, but not anymore. The doorknobs are really interesting, but I know my husband will like the old phone.

  9. Sherianne Higgins

    I’m a huge fan of local markets. They are the best place to chat with locals, try foods and buy amazing souvenirs. I really like this set up along a single lane, clever and cute! It would be a lot of fun to purchase a few things and refurbish them myself when I got home, make for a great story and souvenir

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