dosa summer 2011
A few years ago, I traveled to the southernmost region of India, in Tamil Nadu. It is a place of ancient and modern legend where the Chettiars founded villages and built ornate villas. The Chettiars, a group of prosperous sea faring merchants, would eventually become the forerunners of modern banking. In the late 1700s, as the Chettiars serviced colonial interests in South and Southeast Asia, they forged a relationship with the British East India Company. While imperialism spread, the Chettiar established banks with the Dutch and the French, stretching their reach from Mauritius to Vietnam to South Africa. During this boom period, they enjoyed great power and wealth as illustrated by magnificent family fortresses.
Gleaning from their colonial experience, the Chettiars sought the best materials the world had to offer - teak, Carrara marble, Venetian glass. Without regard for aesthetic continuity or historical context, they randomly patched materials, creating layer upon layer of ornamentation. The resulting oversized and ostentatious architecture of the community presented a fragmented vision that knew no boundaries - here a French chateau, there a Gothic castle. Each mansion was a creative statement expressing idiosyncratic ideals of beauty. Each was also a spectacular façade to the public. Grand entrance halls led to spartan living quarters where families lived simply and humbly as they had for hundreds of years.
header photo: Arnis Dzedins