Sivagangai: It was a homecoming of an emotional sort for the 25 children of Chettiar families who were born and brought up abroad. On their visit to spots and monuments associated with their cultural heritage as part of a four-day training programme, they were touched by the poignancy the ‘Patharakudi’ in Sivagangai district evoked in them when they were told it was in that place that their forefathers had undergone ceremonial rites before embarking on risky journeys to Southeast Asian countries.
“When an aachi (grandmother in Chettinad lingo) at the ‘Chettainadu Museum’ told us that if we could lead a modern life with all comforts today it was only because of the sacrifices made by our forefathers, I was a bit sceptical about such a sweeping statement. But Patharakudi opened my eyes, changing my perspective about our community's history," said 16-year-old Aparna Ramanathan, studying in class 11 in a Dubai school.
The children, who may have visited India a few times to attend weddings of relatives or family functions, found the latest trip educative and enlightening.
Picking up nuggets of knowledge from the oral history narrated by elders in the villages, 13-year-old S. Venkachalam will go back to Sharjah better informed about his community.
“Chettairs were always keen on crossing the seas. But Hindu tradition prohibited sea journeys for religious reasons. At the age of 12, our forefathers were sent to foreign nations for business through boats and rafts only after the rituals at Patharakudi and some advice from spiritual gurus because no one was sure they would return home safe. Anything might happen to them in the sea,” he said.
“Today, we reached our home town within a day from London, but it was not the case with our forefathers, many of whom even died during such journeys. When our parents narrate our family history, we don't show much interest but this four-day training programme has helped us understand our heritage,” said the children from Middle Eastern countries and UK.
The programme, aimed at imparting knowledge on the history, culture and heritage of the community was organised by the Dubai-based Naggarathar Business Initiative Group (NBIG) at Cholapuram near Sivagangai. When the children were taken to the Museum maintained by the Koviloor Math near Karaikudi as part of the field trip, they were amazed by two historical documents titled - ‘Burma Nattukottai Chettiyarkal Sangam - India discussion committee’ dated December 14, 1952. “I felt proud to find my family name SKTA Chettairs mentioned in the ledger which detailed the expenditures incurred by the Sangam,” said Aparna.
“Their entrepreneurial success stories also had its dark side. We have also learnt that they lost their fortunes during World War II and many resided on the roadside for safety in those countries before they managed to reach Karaikudi,” said Kanishka Senthilnathan (15) from London.
As the nine temples - Pillayarpatti, Vairavanpatty, Ilayathankudi, Mathur, Iraniyur, Sorrakkudi, Illupaikkudi, Nemam and Velankudi - located in Sivagangai district stand as culture symbols to identify the history of the Chettair clans, the children were taken to each one of them. “When we met our community members in Dubai, they always refer to each family by their temple name, but we never understood its historical significance. Only now we learned that it narrates the migration history of the community from Poompugar (Kaveri Poompattinam), an ancient port town in the Chola period that was later to be destroyed in a cyclone," said M Muthukoothai (15) from Dubai.
As most of the children are accustomed to living in small houses probably not more than 1,000 square feet aboard, the NGIB secretary Ramesh Ramanathan, who organised this event free of cost, arranged their stay at his 100-year-old ‘Chettainadu Bungalow’ sprawling over one acre of land to help them understand the aesthetic values of the community.
“It is astonishing to learn that our architecture is an indigenous amalgam of traditional Indian architecture and various European styles, which our forefathers melded over the years. The living room of this bungalow is the total area of the house we are residing in at Abu Dhabi now,” said M.Magesh (15).
The children resolved to revive their community identity. “Our forefathers made us realise that we have lost our distinct community identity in the globalised world. We will definitely revive it,” they said....