Inside Kanadukathan Palace – The Maharaja’s Palace in Chettinad

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Tamil Nadu | 12

Enthralled by my last post on the mansions of Chettinad? Well  – it is now time to get blown by the exquisite Kanadukathan Palace of Chettinad. This one is a blog exclusive for it is not every day that you get special permission to this Maharaja’s palace of Chettinad. In fact, it took me a lot of phone calls and networking to get inside this stunning mansion. And boy – it was worth every bit of that!

The famous Kanadukathan Palace in Chettinad
The famous Kanadukathan Palace in Chettinad

There is no missing the Kanadukathan palace in Karaikudi – at least from the outside. It is the landmark of this small village. Quite like the other Chettinad homes, the owners have long moved away. However, unlike its neighbors, it is still in good shape. Well maintained and massive, this eye-catching abode is bound to tempt you into exploring its interiors. While permissions might be hard to come by, you will always have this blog post as your virtual tour of the Kanadukathan Palace in Karaikudi.

History of Kanadukathan Palace

The Kanadukathan Palace history goes back to the 1900s. A wealthy zamindar (landlord) – Sir Annamalai Chettiar laid the foundation of his palace in his ancestral village of Kanadukathan. The entire mansion took around 10 years to finish. The family resided there for quite a few years before moving their separate ways. Today, the palace sees life only during festivals and family functions.

Portrait of Sir Annamalai Chettiar in his residence - Kanadukathan Palace
Portrait of Sir Annamalai Chettiar in his residence – Kanadukathan Palace

However, it is not the history of the palace that is exciting. It is the man who built it that makes it intriguing. If you notice, I referred to him as “Sir”. Well, he was officially given the knighthood by the British in the 1920s. In the same decade, he was also, conferred the title of “Raja of Chettinad”. These honors came to him for his services in the banking sector during the British India period. In fact, he was the first Governor of the Imperial Bank of India, which has now become the famous State Bank of India. The “Diwan Bahadur” as called by the British, is known as the founder of the Indian Bank and the Annamalai University in Chidambaram.

Now that you know the charisma of the man behind the beautiful mansion, you can be well prepared to see the same reflecting within his home.

Permissions for Kanadukathan Palace

Pictures of the Raja’s palace in Kanadukathan haunted me. As my trip to Karaikudi started firming up, I frantically scoured the internet to get permission for the palace. I spoke to various hotels in Kanadukathan and they said they could try but could not guarantee entry. Finally, it was Venkat who responded to my plea on my Facebook post with a contact of the illustrious family. A little more networking and I finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel.

Side view of the Maharaja's palace in Kanadukathan
Side view of the Maharaja’s palace in Kanadukathan

For my readers who are pondering about Kandukathan Palace Permissions, it is not easy to get one. You got to know someone from the family. After talking to my hotel staff and the other locals in Karaikudi, I  figured that the palace was initially opened for a small fee. One could get in through the various heritage homes but now all that has been restricted. Possibly the family did not want it to become commercial, especially since the still use it for their gatherings.

However, don’t fret. This post is one way you can get see the interiors of the Raja’s Palace in Kanadukathan. The other is watching some of the popular movies shot in Kanadukathan Chettinad palace – such as Kandukondain Kandukondain starring big names like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Tabu, Ajith and Mammootty.

The architecture of the Maharaja’s Palace in Kanadukathan

Not white, not colored - the Chettinad palace in Kanadukathan
Not white, not colored – the Chettinad palace in Kanadukathan

You can’t say that the Maharaja’s Palace of Kanandukathan is white. Nor can you say it is colored. The best way to describe its exterior facade is that the colors enhance the white. It is actually quite charming to see those little blues, reds, greens and even yellows just enhancing the white walls. The combination lends a contemporary touch to the Chettinad palace but at the same time, does not hide its grandeur.

The entrance with the dome
The entrance with the dome

The huge white umbrella over the massive gate adds that princely touch to the Chettinad mansion. The little designs on the top make it look like jhaali work. The green eaves resemble the leafy toran that is often seen on the various doors of India. (The leaves are generally tied with lemon and chili to ward off evil). Even the plinths holding the roof had an intricate touch. There seemed to be remnants of some faded paintings under the dome

As mentioned in my earlier post on the Chettinad mansions, most of these homes had a very Indo-European feel. You can see that clearly in the Kanadukathan Chettinad Palace. The Belgian colored glass covering various arches and the columned balconies are just the tip of that iceberg. Wait till you are inside!

The Thinnai of Kanadukathan Maharaja’s Palace

Thinnai as seen from within the Kanadukathan Palace
Thinnai as seen from within the Kanadukathan Palace

Thinnai or the verandah in any Chettinad home is one of its most beautiful areas. As explained in my earlier post on Karaikudi Mansions, this area doubled up as an office area for the Chettiar businessmen. The one at Kanadukathan Palace was quite majestic in terms of both – decor and size.  A chandelier hung down the central aisle while the colored lights reflected by the Belgian glass windows lit up the raised platforms on either side. A grand Burma Teak wood door opened into the house. I would have loved to treat you with some more pictures of the Thinnai but photography of that section was not allowed.

Stained Glass Corridors at the Chettinad Palace in Kanadukathan

Stained glass corridors that lead to the 2nd section of the Kanadukathan Maharaja's Palace
Stained glass corridors that lead to the 2nd section of the Kanadukathan Maharaja’s Palace
Corridor that leads to the gigantic dining hall
Corridor that leads to the gigantic dining hall

Before we go inside, a quick look across the walls of the Thinnai. A long stained glass corridor leads to a different section of the house. This section was out of bounds for me. It had a separate gate though there were connecting doors within the house to that area. As I understand, that belongs to the brother of the present-day owner of Kanadukathan Palace. In its early days, that area led to a gigantic dining hall. It could seat over 250 people. Two huge mirrors were hung on either side of the hall so that the servants could see who had finished and who needed more helping. Hmmm! Now that would have been a sight to see.

Mugappu (Reception Hall)

Mugappu or the reception hall of Kanadukathan Palace
Mugappu or the reception hall of Kanadukathan Palace

Get ready for your first step into this intriguing world of Kanadukathan Raja’s Palace. The reception hall with its high ceilings and marble flooring is quite a sight.  Huge portraits of its owners including Sir Annamalai Chettiar stand tall around the place. Most of the furniture is covered or moved out as the home is no longer functional but even without it, its reminiscent grandeur is evident.

Family portraits displayed inside Kanadukathan Palace in Chettinad
Family portraits displayed inside Kanadukathan Palace in Chettinad
The elephant tusk and foot displayed inside Maharaja's Palace in Kanadukathan
The elephant tusk and foot displayed inside Maharaja’s Palace in Kanadukathan
Close up of the carved ivory work
Close up of the carved ivory work

Huge African Elephant Tusks occupy one end of the hall. The priced tusks are not just ordinary ones but have an artistic touch to them by way of carvings. Between them, you can see the stuffed elephant foot that has been converted to a Pouffe. As cruel as it sounds, these items of decor were a status symbol in those days. I recall seeing similar ones in the Bangalore Palace – though those were made out of the games won by the Wodeyar kings. I am not sure if that is the case in the Maharaja’s palace or whether they were gifted or purchased.

Ceiling in the reception with Italian tiles
Ceiling in the reception with Italian tiles
Kanadukathan palace ceiling
Kanadukathan palace ceiling

The most significant and dazzling part of this hall is the ceiling that is covered with Italian tiles. The colorful palette is further enhanced by the tall chandeliers and the fans, each of which has an Indian base tile – most likely, the famous Athangudi ones.

Valavu – Courtyards in Raja’s Palace

The Valavu of Kanadukathan Raja's palace in Karaikudi
The Valavu of Kanadukathan Raja’s palace in Karaikudi

Every Chettinad home is divided into courtyards or Valavu. Read this section of my previous post on Valavu to understand why and what makes it unique. The Valavu of Kanadukathan was my favorite part of the Maharaja’s palace in Karaikudi. Open to sky, the colorful pillars and the wide-open spaces just appealed. Each corner of the courtyard was a perfect frame with its decorative eaves and the Indo-European charm. I could almost hear the sound of anklets and the swishing of skirts worn by little girls who might have played tag. Maybe, a young lady would have sat in one of those corners practicing her music. In fact, I imagined myself playing hopscotch in the center.

The sky as seen from the open courtyard of Kanadukathan Palace
The sky as seen from the open courtyard of Kanadukathan Palace
Inside Kanadukathan Palace in Karaikudi
Inside Kanadukathan Palace in Karaikudi
Pillars around the Valavu
Pillars around the Valavu

Locked Burma teak wood doors made me curious about the contents within as did the upper levels that were out of bound. The thirst to know more increased when I saw what that one opened door showcased. The colorful staircase of Athangudi tiles!

The walls around the corridors had various black and white pictures of the family. The caretaker who was guiding us around pointed out to various pictures and shared the names of the members. At some point, he pointed out to a lady who was the maternal grandmother to one of the present-day ministers – P. Chidambaram. Honestly speaking, I missed out on a few of these as I was just dazzled by the surroundings and could not get my eyes of those pillars.

Doors around the courtyard of Kanadukathan palace
Doors around the courtyard of Kanadukathan palace
Colorful staircase leading to the first floor of the palace of Maharaja
Colorful staircase leading to the first floor of the palace of Maharaja

Kitchen area of the Palace of Chettinad

Huge Kitchen courtyard of Kanadukathan palace
Huge Kitchen courtyard of Kanadukathan palace

There are many other courtyards in this palace but all out of bounds. The only other one that I could see was the Kitchen courtyard – which was HUGE! I guess, it made sense to me after I learned about the big dining hall for 250 people. It was quite impressive to see how the kitchen area was spaced. The open corridors were lined with tools to grind, chop, roll etc. At the far end, the Adukala (cooking area) had well-spaced fire pits for the huge vessels that might have contained the yummy Chettinad curry.

Adukala - kitchen area of Kanadukathan Palace
Adukala – kitchen area of Kanadukathan Palace
Kitchen corridor of the Raja's palace in Karaikudi
Kitchen corridor of the Raja’s palace in Karaikudi
Grinding stone kept in the corridor
Grinding stone kept in the corridor

With that, we were ushered back to the gate. My short and sweet tour of the Chettinad Palace was over. Still in a daze, we thanked the caretaker and remembered to call and thank our benefactor (the one who got us the permissions to see within). It was truly one mesmerizing journey. I think I enjoyed it better knowing that I had managed to see something of what was otherwise out of bounds. If you ask me, was it worth it all! I would say – A BIG FAT – OF COURSE!

I hope you enjoyed this exclusive tour of the Kanaduthan Palace in Karaikudi. Remember to pin this to your boards and share it around – for it is not every day that you get access to the Maharaja’s Palace in Kanadukathan.

How to get to Kanadukathan?

  • With Madurai and Trichy being the closest airports, you can use either of these two cities for arrival by flight. The distance from Kanadukathan to Madurai is around 100 km. Trichy is almost similar. You can get to Kanadukathan by hiring a cab at either of the two airports.
  • Karaikudi has its own railway station. Kanadukathan is one of the villages that make up Karaikudi. It is around 13 km from the Karaikudi railway station.
  • Kanadukathan and Karaikudi make great long-weekend destinations for people in Chennai and Bangalore. It takes around 7 hours for you to drive down from either of these two places. You can even stop by at Thanjavur, Madurai or Trichy – depending on the route you take.
  • There are regular public buses from Chennai, Thanjavur and Trichy that get you to Kanadukathan.

Where to stay in Kanadukathan?

You always have an option to stay in the center of Karaikudi. There are plenty of guest houses, hotels and heritage homes in every possible budget. However, if you are keen to base yourself in Kanadukathan, there is the Chettinadu Mansion, just a few houses away from the Maharaja’s palace. I did not stay there but dropped by for a heavenly meal. The little I saw of the place convinced me that it would be a good option to consider when in Kanadukathan. You can book a stay online through the links in the Booking resources.

Travel Tips

  • It is not easy to get permission to visit Kanadukathan Palace. You need to know someone from the family. Best case scenario – you can speak to your hotel and see if they have any connections to get you in.
  • If you do get permission, please remember to respect the privacy of the owners. Do not venture into areas that are indicated as out of bounds. Avoid touching and displacing the objects in their homes.
  • There are a few Chettinad mansions in Kanadukathan that allow you entry. I managed to go to one of them. You can checkthis post for all the details on how I managed to get there.

Booking resources

  • You can book your stay in Kanadukathan through Booking.com
  • If you need any travel accessories, you can buy them from Amazon by clicking through the link. The link is valid for any other requirement that you might have for your homes as well. 

P.S: A huge Thank you to Venkatarangan Thirumalai for helping me get in touch with the folks at Kanadukathan Palace. I am equally grateful to Mr. Ramesh and Mr. Chidambaram. Without their help, this tour would have not been possible.

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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12 Responses

  1. Chetan

    As usual very nice and detail description. Detail description give us very valid information.You always make us travel with you ..:).Love your writing.

  2. Tony B Gomes

    mesmerizing pictures of the palace.
    The latch and the lock and the carvings on the door made me time travel to those times. 🙂

  3. Dada

    How lucky aren’t you to have visited Maharaja’s palace of Chettinad and how lucky aren’t we that you wrote a blog post and share it with all of us so we could also have a glimpse inside this wonderful palace! It’s hard to imagine that people actually lived in this palace before!
    Could the building be painted in white egg shells?

    • Ami

      You got that right. Most Chettinad mansions are built using egg shells – including this one. You should have a peek at what are the key features of the homes in Chettinad region. My previous post explains all that and more.

  4. Arnav Mathur

    You indeed are very lucky. Not everyone gets a chance to visit a kings place, and appreciate the interiors up close. Thanks Ami, for taking all of us on a virtual tour of the Palace in Chettinad through your amazing photos. I certainly wasn’t aware that the Raja of Chettinad was conferred the knighthood, before being made the Raja. That was an interesting piece of information.

  5. Jennifer Prince

    Ah! It is so beautiful. Everywhere you look there is more and more detail – except for the kitchen, but I guess that was reserved mainly for the help. I love all of the color – what a gorgeous place to visit!

  6. Raksha

    Kanadukathan Palace looks spectacular. I have never visited Chettinadu but would love to go there someday. I know that some of these palaces are closed for public. I had visited one of them long time ago that was not allowed for all. You are very lucky to have visited this one. Your pictures were surely a visual treat.

  7. Melissa

    It sure is beautiful! I’m sure the work was worth it in the end. One of the worst things is seeing photos of a destination and knowing that you may never be able to visit it. I have had that happen on a few occasions. I love the architecture and all the colors.

  8. Bolupe

    This is such a beautiful palace with intricate designs everywhere you look. the architecture is elaborate and I particularly like the portraits of the family members. I like the way the kitchen courtyard draws light into the building. My favourite It is wonderful to see a traditional grinding stone.

  9. Bhushavali N

    Whoa! Awesome that you managed to gain permission to visit the Kanadukathan palace from the inside. Chettinad palaces are, in general, so gorgeous and recently a friend got married in one and unfortunately I couldn’t attend! Really I did miss a chance. KKKK was shot here? I need to go back and rewatch the movie now to see the location. That corridor with those green pillars, stained glass windows, everything look spectacular!

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