A Traditional Chettiyar House!!

I have always been fascinated by my Grand ma’s house in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu. The magnificent structure, with ample amount of space, in and around the house with trees in the front yard back yard, is all enough to make the place the best one to spend my Holidays.

The house opens up with a raised platform on either side of the main door, pillared here and there. This place is called ‘Thinnai’ in Tamil. It was originally set up in this way for the travelers to take a break from their journey and to relax for while. But later it was evolved as a place where people from neighbor hood would gather and discuss news and other stuffs. Main door is a heavy door made out of wood which cannot be easily shut and opened. My mom remembers the intensity of a cyclone in 1980s , when my grand pa went to shut this door but could not move it as the intensity of the cyclone was too huge.

The main door opens up into a big hall. This is where we have some wooden benches (Before the advent of Sofas) made out of teak for the people of the households would sit back and relax. The artistic value of the benches can be found on the table legs designed splendidly. A chair and a writing table made out of Teak also forms an integral part of the main hall. Walls of the main hall would be adorned by wooden photo frames with every member of the family captured in black and white. Somewhere in the midst, we could also capture the hand painted portraits  of our ancestors. My grand ma, who is very fond of crafts later hung up some of here favorite hand crafted crochets on the walls, adding more beauty to it. We also have rooms opening up from the hall where we have spaces for the book keepers who maintains the accounts of the family incomes and outcomes.

The main hall leads us to a very big hall : ‘Koodam – Thazhvaram’ as we call it Tamil. There is a ‘muttram’ – A lowered platform, in the middle of the hall, which unlike other parts , is not roofed on the top, rather just covered up with rows of steel rods. This structure paves way for lighting to the whole house. My Grand up had put up a wooden bench across this muttram, which would be about 12 -15 feet long and it would be a real bliss to watch the muttram, when it rains, lying down on that bench. We have a tunnel like structure just beneath the steel rods, to collect the rain waters and it would all gather up to a funnel like structure and the water would pour up to a big pot. Koodam surrounds  the muttram and would lead to many rooms on the sides. Weddings in those times took place only at homes and this big structure would all be sufficient to support 1000 people at a time. The koodam , is a place which is guarded with Pillars, so artistically designed at the top, made out of teak wood, with an absolute soft texture.

The ‘koodam’ leads us to another small place, where wooden swings are hung up facing the ‘muttram’. The sound of the swing provides a soothing effect to our ears and put us to sleep. The ‘Koodam’ opens up to kitchen . Even the kitchen has a small lowered platform, where we put our dishes for washing. The kitchens are very big, with store rooms attached. We stock all our provisions in the store room. The store room has an artistic wooden storage box called ‘Pathayam’ (Much larger than bureau). Raw rice harvested for that year is stored in that box, and it has a small opening at the bottom. We take rice for cooling, from the box, through that opening. The kitchen has a place for dining table with wooden chairs.

Just before the kitchen, we have the Pooja room, with god frames and Idols. Idols made our of brass and silvers were so common in those days and even the accessories we use for Pooja are also made out of brass. These accessories exhibit the extra ordinary skills of brass, silver and gold makers. On top of this we had something called as ‘Macchi’, where excess vessels are all stored. There is a small staircase leading to Machhi. Its all made out of wood.

The kitchen leads us to the bath area. This has a traditional set up, for heating up water by burning woods. The water heated up in this ways provides an additional soothing effect to our body and it takes a great deal to step out of the bath area. I bet, no other hot water is soothing enough to this extent. Then there is a Garden, where my Grand ma, had put up a lot of trees. There is a natural pergola at the entrance of the garden with jasmine flowers on the top. There is a small well with a  Tulsi plant to the right. My grand ma performs Pooja for the plant every day. As we go inside, we could find many varieties of plants and trees shading the area  and housing many birds.

There are many such houses in and around this district. These houses are standing proof of the exquisite skills of our ancient architects and craftsmen. Its now painful to see the house, which stood past many generations;which was once full of life, now being left at the mercy of the caretakers.  Shouldn’t we make some effort to bring back life to this house?  We can always try to arrange some family gatherings once in a while, to renovate the houses and bring back the positive energy  to it.!!


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