Karaikudi ! A pleasant bucolic locality. Maps locate it at 10.07°N 78.78°E. Literally it has a better reach as chettinad or chetti land. Karaikudi is a holy town where heritage and people with prosperity live hand in hand. It is a land full of temples, humongous palaces, royally constructed houses and spicy traditional food. The prosperity reveals itself in the habits and activities of a very disciplined but flamboyant community called ‘Chettiars’ or more properly Naatukotai Chettiars. The town of Karaikudi has its origins from 1800 A.D. which was figured out from Sri Koppudaiya Nayagi Amman Temple, the oldest structure in the town. The name Karaikudi may be framed because the area is famous for the type of houses built with limestone called ‘karai veedu’ or from thorny plants ‘Karai’ and in an ancient literature this has been referred as ‘Kareekudi’.
Historically, the Nagarathars appear to have been migrated from various places to Chettinad. Around 3000 years ago, the Chettiars lived on the East coast near Thanjavur where they dominated the coastal market as merchants, traded salt, gems and small ships. Most of the migrations seem to have been dictated by professional interests. The Nagarathars chose to settle in places that were commercial and market centres or that lay on a major trade route. Chettinad which is a dry land with no proper rain happens to lie on such a route. In the 19th and 20th century, they moved to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Burma and Saigon. Since the Nagarathars played a dominant role as private bankers, money lenders and financiers they are considered as the pioneers of modern banking. The marriage ceremony of chettiars must be mentioned for the grandeur traditions.
The areas of Muthupattinam have been developed since 1940 and are characteristic of the heritage structures of the town. The old town is clearly distinguished by its smaller streets with winding patterns. Many places in and around Karaikudi such as Aayiram jannal veedu – a palatial house with 1000 windows, kindle the interest to see more of those architectural marvels constructed by the erstwhile chettiyars. Different style of architecture is followed here. The old town was with well designed palatial buildings made with spacious inner courtyards, well laid floors with athangudi tiles, decorative pillars, bright chandeliers for the ceiling, Burma teak furniture and smoothly plastered walls. And of course its elegancy made the southern film industries to choose it as one of their favourite shooting spots.
Karaikudi is known for its absolute serenity and hospitality. The chettinad food here makes one drool. The exceptional local cuisine also famously spelt as Achi Samayal blow out the tourists. Some of the special refreshments are Cheeyam, Kandharappam, Paal paniyaram, Vellai Paniayaram and Snacks like Karuppatti Paniyaram, Porulvilanga urundai, Seepu cheedai, Seedaikaai, Then Kuzhal and the list lengthens.
One of the major milestones in the town’s growth was the establishment of Dr. Alagappa Chettiar Group of Institutions and Research centers on the eastern side of the town limits. It was not a phrase of exaggeration if it is said, he built an educational empire. Karaikudi is eternally indebted to the great man – Padma Bhushan Dr. R. M. Alagappa Chettiar. These many educational institutions that dot the town are testimony to the tradition of patronage to education. The town has been growing towards eastern and northern side since then. Some of the major commercial areas are located on the important arterial links between the old town and the new town such as the College road, Sekkalai main road, New bus stand, 100 feet road, Kandanoor road etc.
There is always something natural, spare and sparse about Karaikudi. Despite its heritage, the town adapted readily to the demands of modernisation, yet had the wisdom to acknowledge and own its historicity. It’s this ability that has ensured that history in Karaikudi is enshrined and alive and not merely an insect fossilized in amber. It is one of the five fastest growing vacation spots for tourists in Tamil Nadu.