The third and last post in this thread is about their unique jewellery, the Kandangi selai and their amazing cuisine!
First about the yummy menu served on that day – Have you ever tasted Tomato Kuzhi paniyaram? Which just melts in your mouth? And the famous dessert “Kavuni Arisi” – a delicious dessert made out of the Vietnam/Burma Black sticky rice, sugar and coconut? And another lesser-known dessert which glides into your stomach – the “Aadi Kummayam” the soft fluffy sweet made out of Urad dal, rice and ghee which takes the main place in all important functions!
Variety is key in every Chettinad meal; originally the community were vegetarians but had to adapt to other cuisines as they ventured into new frontiers. Our talented Aachi who has invaluable knowledge on the regional fare (like sarees) has co-authored a book, along with her sister – called the “The Chettinad Cookbook”. She also points out the tremendous organizational capacity of the Aachis to oversee cooking on a large scale – for weddings, special occasions – They just take charge of everything, down to the smallest detail.
It was interesting to hear about the black fibre rice called “Kavuni Arisi” and its gastronomical connection to South East Asia. Earlier the chettiars used to bring small packs of this rice from Vietnam, and later they got the seeds here to sow and cultivate.
We had a look at their vintage Chettinad saris, and was in awe. The earthen hues of mustards, reds, oranges, chromes is a feast to the eyes. And we are still reeling from the effect of these amazing designs! A 100-year-old silk saree with a “Ganda Berunda” motif in pure zari nestled in a maroon which cannot be JUST described 🙂
Chettinadu Aachis wore only silks during the very early years – even daily at home; and of course they wore a diamond addigai, earrings, nose ring and also a “Kappu” in the top of their ears! Very fashionable even then!
And so we learnt that Kandangi Selai DOES not mean checks; this special drape had a “Pin Kosuvam” which was tucked at the back of the hip, and that’s the reason for long borders! When they made the legendary Chettinadu cotton sarees, they were made only in Coarse cotton (40/60 count) – And the reds, maroons, mustard and orange take a special colour ONLY if they are coarse.
We had a glimpse of the “Maman Pattu” – red silk with benarasi border – A towel kind of accessory which the uncles tie like belts over the dhoti, during weddings; And a unique thali which has 34 pieces of gold adornments called the “Kaluthooru” (meaning which stays in the neck) – I love their vocabulary in pure yesteryear Tamizh, where the central ritual of the wedding ceremony, the tying of Mangalsutra is is referred to as “Thirupootuthal”.
The central piece of the thali is in the shape of a shrine topped by a Gopuram with Mahalakshmi (yes, that connection is because they were traders). They also have a “Vaira thali” in Vaira chain (Diamond thali in the diamond-studded chain)
The glitter of the metal attracted the men too – and of course, the Nagarathars were traders in precious stones ( An insight into their names Vairavan, Muthiah, Rathinam, Manickam..) – It was a common practice for the men to have their ears pierced, and all the Chettiars wear a single “Rudraksham” even today, she points out.
But the most impressive of the Chettiar’s jewellery is the traditionally handed over ornament called “ Gowri Sangam” – A huge gold pendant with a centrepiece of either Nataraja/ or Shiva & Shakti in an elaborate long Rudhraksha malai. We need not even speak about the uncut ruby Burmese kemp necklaces, earrings and bangles!