The wealthy zamindar pointed his fingers towards the hero saying - "You, a mere farmer - cannot marry my beautiful daughter. His suitor - Sir James, can provide 10 times more comfort than your simple hut." .
Totally filmy, right? Well, this was the scene that ran through my head as I stepped into the exquisite Athangudi Palace in Karaikudi.
I know a lot of you have been following my series on the Mansions of Chettinad. You have seen the simple splendor of VVR mansion and then the majestic yet contemporary Raja’s palace in Kandukathan. Now, you will see an incredibly ornate Karaikudi mansion – the palace of Athangudi.
The Athangudi Palace is incredibly grand. And it displays the best of the typical features of a Chettiar home. The open courtyards, elaborate verandah (thinnai) and a gorgeous amalgamation of European and Indian architecture. The stunning mansion has been a location for many Indian films. So, don’t blame me for imagining the opening scene of this post. Best say nothing more and lead you to this lovely tour of the Athangudi Palace in Karaikudi.
About Athangudi Village
Technically – Athangudi is not in Karaikudi. It is a small village at a short distance from Karaikudi. The entire region, including Karaikudi, is called Chettinad. region. However, for all tourist and practical purposes, it is often included as a part of Karaikudi. The Attangudi village is not just known for this elaborate Chettinad bungalow. It is in fact, famous for the Athangudi tiles factory So, before we head over for our Athangudi Palace tour, let’s just have a quick stopover to understand what is the fuss about these Athangudi Tiles.
A quick detour to the Athangudi Tiles Factory
It was a Sunday when I visited the Athangudi village and owing to that, the tile factory was closed. I would have loved to visit the birthplace of those gorgeous floral floor plates that I had witnessed in the Chettiar homes. However, I did the next best thing to visiting the factory – talking to the locals of Athangudi. The friendly folks took out some time to explain the hard work that went into those colorful pieces.
What amazed me was that none of these tiles are made in a bulk. Each one of them is handcrafted. A glass mould is lined with a stencil of the chosen design. This is covered with a mixture of cement and oxides. These oxides are decided based on the colors desired in the tile. Hence, in a single piece, one might have multiple colored mixtures. The entire plate is covered with Athangudi sand but not before removing the stenciled frame. The mould is then curated for 10 days or until the glass plate slips out. Rice husks are used to dry the mix and ta-da! You have one Athangudi tile ready.
It is its manner of making and ingredients use that render these tiles eco friendly. The flip side to this is that the process is quite slow and hence, the demand low. However, there are a few eco-friendly hotels and builders abroad who have found value in these tiles and have made them the pride of their construction.
With that as the detour, you are now well-prepped to appreciate the inner beauty of Athangudi Palace . 🙂
The architecture of Athangudi Palace
There was very little information that I could gather from the original owner and builder of Athangudi Palace. The only thing I know is his name – Sri MAM Ramaswamy Athangudi. As I understand, his extended family still owns the place and visits it on special occasions. The rest of the time, the palace is open to visitors for a minor fee of INR 50 per person. Besides this, the palace is rented out to various filmmakers as a shoot location.
The palace is a beautiful fusion of European and Asian architecture. Starting from the entrance to its interiors, you will find a heavy trace of the British influence. It is clear that this Chettiar family had a strong tie with them. Japanese tiles blend beautifully with the Athangudi ones while classy Italian marble enhances the colors of these two. The Belgian glass windows create a kaleidoscope of colors on the floor and around the Burma teakwood pillars and doors. It is this whole medley of decor that makes the palace grand and very different from other Chettiar houses that I had been seeing. Lavish and ornate would describe the Athangudi palace perfectly.
The Thinnai of Athangudi Mansion
The British soldiers on either side of Gajalaxmi’s carving at the entrance were the first sign of the Indo-European touch in the Athangudi palace. Those foot soldiers got me back to the various Portuguese symbols that are found in the heritage homes of Fontainhas in Goa. What came next was the typical feature of a Chettinad home.
The outer verandah or the Thinnai is a space that is always decorated to impress. In every Chettiar home, this space is used to not just receive guests but conduct business too. The wealthy landlords and his team worked on the raised platform. Trust me when I say, all the thinnais in Chettinad beat the modern meetings rooms of our offices by a huge score! And the one in Athangudi palace, was the grandest of the three mansions that I had seen.
The central Burma teak wood door was flanked by peacocks in a floral setting – all created using Japanese and Athangudi tiles. While I stared at the aesthetic entrance in awe, the owners in the black and white pictures, stared down at me in pride of their abode.
The thinnai stretched at either end and continued to impress me from its top to bottom. And I mean that literally. Over my head was a wooden ceiling that was lined with Athangudi tiles while under my feet was either Italian marble in its checked pattern or a different design of Athangudi tiles.
The Burma teak wood pillars with the carved plinths were enhanced by the colored light that came from the Belgian glass windows. There was so much detail here that I could feel a frenzy building up within me. I was lost! I just had this nagging feeling that I was missing out on something!
The Indo-European reception hall of Athangudi Palace
Mugappu or the reception hall sent me into a complete tizzy! I wish I had eyes all around my head to capture the details. Here is why I felt so –
- At one end, it was the floor under my feet – the cool Italian marble
- Over my head was the Athangudi ceiling with its tall chandeliers.
- On either side of me, were tall pillars with carved plinths that resembled the European lamps.
- The ground floor had colors oozing out of the Belgian glass windows at its far end
- The upper floor had these vibrant variegated grills around equally colorful pillars.
- Adding a small European touch were the murals of Cherubs over the arches and the floral paintings between the pillars.
- he touch of this western culture continued with actual sculptures of the cherubs on the uppermost floor.
And that wasn’t all. I still feel I missed plenty! Sigh! You just need more eyes …don’t you?
One of the courtyards of Athangudi Palace
Quite like all Karaikudi homes, the Athangudi Palace had its share of courtyards. The Valavu is where the family spent most of their time. The tiled extravaganza of the Mugappu and the Thinnai continued through to the open to sky courtyard of Athangudi palace. In addition to these tiles, were two more interesting features. The first was the Burma Teak windows of the rooms. They had these painted panes on them. I loved the way they contrasted against the netted grills. In fact, they and the brown pillars lit up the tiles on the walls and the floors.
The 2nd interesting feature of this Valavu were the paintings on top of the same wooden windows. They were not some random pictures of a Brahmin and soldiers. They, in fact, followed a sequence and told an entire story. I realized this halfway along the corridor and actually went back to the start to figure the walled comic strip. I recall it as a Brahmin who got punished wrongfully and had the divine Gods visiting him in his dream. I am not sure if this story was related to the family or if it was a cultural tale – but either way, it was a fascinating find.
The dining room in Athangudi Periya Veedu
Periya Veedu means “The Big House”. The dining room of this home definitely did justice to its adjective. It was almost 50 feet long and very colorful – thanks to all that stained glass. One end opened into the reception hall of Athangudi Periya Veedu and the other into the kitchen courtyard. In those days, it was common for the family to be served while seated on the ground. In my mind’s eye, I could see how they would all be enjoying the spicy, tangy Chettinad fare served by the numerous house help of the palace. While you continue to be fascinated by the sheer size of the hall, you mustn’t miss the painted pillars here.
I remained frenzied and went back to the hall to capture the unseen details. Sure I found a few but I know that I still missed some corners. I guess, with exquisite details like these, I will always have that feeling. I wonder if you are sensing it too? Pin this and let me know, will ya?
How to reach Athangudi Palace in Karaikudi?
- If you are looking to fly, then you can either choose Madurai or Trichy or Tiruchirapalli. Both these are equidistant at 100 km from Karaikudi, Cabs are easily available from these two airports to get you to Karaikudi.
- Railway is a good option as Karaikudi has its own railway station.
- Karaikudi also, makes a good road trip from Chennai or Bangalore. It is a 7-hour drive from either of these places.
- Athangudi Palace is around 12 km from Karaikudi. You can hire an auto or cab from Karaikudi to get here and back.
- It is better to stay in Karaikudi and visit Athangudi while you are there. Compared to Karaikudi, there aren’t many restaurants and stay options here.
- The caretaker at the Athangudi palace will charge you INR 50 per visitor within nothing extra for cameras
- The Palace of Athangudi is open throughout the week from 9 am to around 6 pm. There is no official visiting time. Neither is there a website to ascertain the same. The only time I think, you will not be allowed in is at night and if there is a shoot going on at the premises.
- If you are looking for a stay in Karaikudi, you can check out Booking.com .
- For any kind of travel essentials or accessories in general, consider Amazon.
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.