Most of these chattrams of Tamil Nadu have luckily survived till today. Rani Mangammal (1689-1706), the Nayak queen of Madurai, was one of the queens, who erected several chattrams in various places of Tamil Nadu. Many other small and big chattrams were built by the Tanjavur Maratha rulers also. The maximum number of chattram of Tamil Nadu can be seen on the main road leading from Tiruvaiyaru to Rameshvvaram via Tanjavur, Orathanad (Orattanad) and Pattukkottai. This is because this route had been used by the devotees for centuries, who went to the hallowed Ramanathaswami temple in Rameshwaram. Therefore, this route is also known as the 'pilgrim route'. This road goes almost parallel to the southern Coro Mandel coastline and at some places; the road is hardly a few feet away from the sea.
The number of chattrams built by the Tanjavur Marathas in Tamil Nadu is not known distinctly. But according to one estimate, the number of these chattrams is known to be 16 (excluding the chattrams at Mimisal, Manamelkudi and Rameshwaram). Again, as per other traditional accounts, the number of chattrams is said to be as high as 550.
When the Maratha rule in Tamil Nadu declined, most of these chattrams were transformed for using as students' hostels and schools. Again, few of the chattrams were just destructed or demolished. Now, only 25 of these chattrams can be seen in Tamil Nadu, which are also in various stages of decay.
Some of the significant chattrams erected by the Maratha rulers include the Draupadi Ammal Chattram at Manamelkudi, the Vennar Chattram at Tanjavur (1749), and the Yamunabayi or Yamunambal Chattram at Nidamangalam (1761). All these chattrams were constructed by the king Pratapasimha. The Maratha king Tuljaji built the chattrams at Darasuram and Ammachattram. He also built the Mohanambal Chattrani at Rajamadam. The king Serfoji II erected the Kalyana Mahal Chattram of Tiruvaiyaru and the 'Muktambal Chattram' of Orathanad. The Maratha ruler Shivaji II also built Sreyasi chattrams at Tanjavur in 1837.
Apart from the Maratha rulers, many traders and philanthropists also founded several chattrams at Tiruvaiyaru, Tanjavur and many other places. These chattrams had generally large buildings and among them the largest one was the 'Muktambal Chattram' in Orathanad. These were made of bricks and thickly plastered with lime. The long pillared halls (dormitories), dining rooms, kitchens, open courtyards and bathrooms made them look very attractive.
In the beginning the chattrams were meant only for a rest house-cum-feeding house. But in later period, the concept of chattram got evolved and it turned into a large self-contained institution with its own source of water supply, kitchen gardens, poultry farms, hospitals and even small temples attached to it. The activities of the chattrams also increased many folds, which included feeding the poor, providing separate accommodation for different classes of travellers such as Brahmins and foreigners. They also used to run schools, colleges and temples.
The Marathas brought out a sophisticated administrative machinery to maintain, repair and renovate these chattrams. For this purpose, the money was granted from the royal families and also from the donations of the travellers. The socio-cultural life of the Marathas was also influenced by these chattrams. Most of the chattrams were named after Maratha queens such as the 'Muktambal Chattram' got its name after Muktambal, who was one of the queens of Serfoji II. Even the name of many villages and settlements in the region were adopted from these chattrams.
These chattrams in Tamil Nadu created jobs for hundreds of people. The expansion of various art and craft form was also done by the chattrams. For example the sculptors, carpenters and painters exhibited their skills on the doors and walls of the different chattrams. From these chattrams, the beautiful specimens of Maratha art and architecture can be imagined. The Marathas used to feel proud of these rest houses. They believed these good works of maintenance of these institutions as a noble act of charity and it will in turn give them good life in this birth and the next.
However, these chattrams have done a brilliant job during that time by providing peaceful shelter to the tired pilgrims from various parts of the region as well as the country.
(Last Updated on : 22-01-2010)
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