Not many tourists would think of the deep interior of Tamil Nadu as a perfect vacation spot. A blessing, of course, for the rest of us.
Chettinad is a place for those who value lost grandeur over glitter, who choose elegance over excitement and who would much prefer an evening’s walk through history’s shadows to a night at the nearest
club. Deep in the heart of Southern India is a secluded land of gracious mansions, dating back a half-century and more. And a culture of vigour and trade, rooted in the ancient soil of Chettinad, yet open to the four winds of the world.
In Visalam, it’s as if we found an old lamp, waiting to be burnished and relit. And it illuminates a cultural treasure trove of rare beauty.
The Nattukottai Chettiars were merchant princes, with business interests as far-flung as Vietnam and Malaysia. And with a reputation as imposing as his name,
K. V. A. L. M. Ramnathan Chettiar was amongst the pillars of the community in the period between the wars.
Visalam was built as a gift from this doting father to his daughter Vishala. Fate decreed that the house was never used, except for occasional family weddings.
A half century passed. When the property passed on to us, we knew we had to retouch, not renovate, this masterpiece. The materials we chose were faithful to the originals. The only changes made were to the cavernous inner halls, which were partitioned to create rooms. We put the woodwork and original art deco grilles in the hands of master restorers. The fine platforms of Italian marble were lovingly re-polished. And a legacy came back to life.
K.V.AL.M. Ramanathan Chettiar had this house built for his eldest daughter Visalakshi. This is very unusual because houses in Chettinad were never built for daughters, only for sons; a woman considers her husband’s house as her own. It worried him that his daughter had no family home.