Chettinadu & Sithanaavasal Trip

trip chittannavasal

Vernacular Architecture, Trip – 25 July 2014, Karaikudi-Chettinadu houses and Sithanaavasal Caves   

Text: Mr. Aadhinarayanan. B., II B.Arch., 

Karaikudi & Sithanavasal Trip
A group of 30 students and 3 professors embarked (27 july, 2014) on a trip to Karaikudi, to study the vernacular architecture of Chettinad region. We visited various places like Sithanavasal, Karaikudi, Kovilur and Kanadukathan.

First stop
We visited Sithanavasal in Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu. At first, we went to the Jain monks hidden/sleeping place (i.e.,) in Tamil termed as “Samana Padukaigal”. The entry for Jain monks hiding place had an excavated stone stairs. A long horizontal corridor leading to a Jain’s padukkai. We can see 17 sleeping area with pillow like smooth surfaces inside the cave of Aeladipattam. Among those, there is a stone carving which said to be the oldest and the biggest padukkai, it also has Brahmin language carving, which belongs to 2nd and 3rd century BC. It is said that Jain monks used and lived in this palace till 9th century. 

After this, we visited the Jain monuments in the east. This temple has been declared to be a national importance under the ancient monuments, Archeological sites and remains act 1958. A flight of stone carved stairs leads to the rock cut Jain temple, dated to the Pandyas of 7th century. The cave temple is facing westwards, the garbagriha is square in plan and a rectangular mukhamandapa constitute the temple. The rear walls of the garbagriha contain bas-relief figures of Jain Tirthangaras in Aseena-mudra (seated posture). The side walls of the mukhamandapa shows bas-relief figures of Parsvanatha and Jain acaryas. The ceiling of mukhamandapa has the depiction of a lotus tank with realistic figures of a man, animals, flowers, birds and fishes. It recalls the samavasaran-faith of Jainism. The façade of the pillars show the dancing girl, the king and the queen. These paintings represent the early painted tradition of the south and comparable with those of Ajanta. After lunch, we left that place and directed towards Karaikudi.

Second stop
Around 4 pm we reached Karaikudi. After a break, we went on a street study of Chettinad architecture. Kalyana bazzar area, Aayiramjannal veedu and Mahar-nonbu thidal. We saw 5 houses and did an interior study of one of them. The house was 150-200 years older. Next we saw the Aayiram jannel veedu. It reflects the heritage of the city. This house has become a land mark. It has a sum of 1000 windows. It is constructed in new Chettinad style in the year 1941. This house has a capacity to accomadate 4 families. The entrance foyer is made out of granite pillars and Italian tiles. The doors and windows are made from burma teak, rose wood, country wood etc.

The houses we saw there, had left an impression of their wealth in past. Later we went to Koppudai amman koil, the town has developed around the temple. The temple is about 400 years old. Opposite to this temple there is a clock tower which is 125 years old and built in the newer version of Chettinad style. We sketched this structure, it has turned out to be a day of practical learning. 

Sithanavasal – studying about jains and their construction technique such as acoustics used in rock cut temple.
Karaikudi – this street walk has generated a new experience of my hometown. We did a lot outdoor sketching, walk around the town witnessing the construction technique, collecting history and so on.

Third stop 
On the 2nd day morning we all finished our in my house and travelled to Kovilur, Kandukathan and Aathangudi. Kovilur – kottravaaleeswarar koil, had massive pillars with relief works, garbagirha made of granite, open courtyards, pradikshana path with columns on either side. The temple was illuminated only via clerestory lighting. The experience of dark and silent environment inside the temple invoked our inner soul. There was a kund in front of the temple, it gave a holistic appearance.

Kanadukathan – Rajah muthiah palace: It was a massive structure in the region, which was built in 1932. They have followed unique plastering technique. They use of materials such as slaked lime, gall nut, palm cake and egg white. Primarily they mixed slaked lime and gall nut in the ball mill in a certain ratio, and finely grinded. A small mixture is made by adding palm cake and albumin and plastering that same day. For a square feet they add 2 egg white. This is responsible for the long lasting luster, they have not painted the surface. This palace is built is a symbol of Chettinad architecture, we can see use of octagon and such well defined geometric shapes.

Aathangudi – Nagappa chettiar house: It is one of the oldest and familiar houses around the town. The central hall consists of ceiling with golden ornamentation. The house consist of 3 courtyards, numerous wall paintings, glossy italian tiles, traditional aathangudi tiles, expensive belgium mirror and vegetable oil paintings etc. 

Visalam hotel: Built in a theater style and then converted into a hotel. It is in a style of art deco movement. After Aathangudi peria veedu we went to aathangudi tiles making yard. Although a native of this region, I think have had a first glimpse in the extraordinary heritage of Chettina architecture and its construction techniques. I happy that I have had this chance to host my friends and faculty in my town. 

Text: MS. Sujeeya. J., II B.Arch., 


Through the column I would like to screen my experiences and record the exotic incidents that I witnessed on a 2 day trip to Karaikudi. A sum of 33 members including our seniors and staff, galloped in a bus heading Sithanaavasal. Crossing the welcome arch and a pond we climbed a flight of stairs made by shoveling rocks. It was an enthralling moment, we stood on the top of the mount glaring at the steep rocks and feeling the hit of the fierce wind, we walked through a corridor like space. To the left of the corridor was a fence, behind it stood a cave with a suppressed plane (samana padukkai) and some encryption in old Brahmi language. Later we came to know that the place was once a hide out for the samana munivargal from the saivaits. Moreover this stands an evidence for religious and language war in the past.

Secondly, we moved to the Arivar koil (a Jain temple).The place from a distance looked like a huge ostrich egg with a rat hole at its lower part. As we moved nearer and nearer we saw a rock-cut Jain temple. The cave was decorated with mural paintings made of natural pigments made of vegetable colors. The ceiling of mukhamandapa has the depiction of a lotus tank with realistic figures of men, animals, flowers, birds and fishes. It recalls The SAMAVASARAN–faith in Jainism. The façade of the pillars show the dancing girl, the king and the queen. These paintings represent the early painted tradition of the south and are comparable with those of AJANTA.

Later in the day we reached Karaikudi. As we stepped in, the very smell of hot curry welcomed us .The narrow streets with huge houses of iridescent colors and fortification walls on either side led us to home. Then a night walk on the kalyana bazaar glaring at exterior of each house, we sketched, observed and took photographs.  We also visited Aayiramjannal veedu (The House of 1000 windows).The stunning appearance of the courtyard lured everyone’s appearance because it’s the first house we got in .We were unlucky that we were denied entry but, the massive pillars and carving on it, minor details on the mammoth doors, Athangudi tiles, rafters, kindled our interest to learn more about chettinad architecture.

In the morning we visited Kottravaalleesvara temple. The temple had many stone pillars with different carvings on it like a granny slightly bent forward with a walking stick, a cow that liters milk over the lingam .It also had many deities and many some made out of granite. Our final visit was to Kanadukathan to see the well-known Rajah Muthaih palace. We visited a portion of the house and we stood thunderstruck at its beauty, construction style, and thought process of the labor of the past and cost of construction cost. The plastering is done with unimaginable materials like egg white, palm cake and this building as withstood the acid test of time, and this building as withstood the acid test of time.

On the way back we moved into house in athangudi and the house had wall paintings of the epics made out of a natural pigment that stands even today. It also had an olden ornamentation on the double height ceiling. Chettinadu houses have some common features like open courtyard-huge pillars-clearstory windows -stained glasses-wall painting-room arranged around the courtyard-kitchens with a row of some 7 stoves. To conclude chettinadu houses stand as evidence for the Wealth of the tamilians in the past not just that but it also shows the immaculate skill of the architects of the past.

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