Numbering more than 25,000, Chettinad's mansions were built by a Hindu caste of Chettiars called the Nagarathars. They were bankers and merchants who made their fortunes outside India in Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore during the British colonial era. With their new found fortunes they built mansions, really exquisite palaces that rivaled those of even the Maharajahs, using teak from Burma, marble from Italy, tile from Japan and steel from England.
But these glory days lasted only until the end of WWII, after which the British left Burma, and the Negarathars were forced to leave and return to India. Suddenly, with no income to pay for much-needed maintenance, mansions began to decay and many were pulled down, with the magnificent pillars, windows, doors and antiques sold off. This process continues today, with some estimating that another 20 of the mansions disappear every month. Preservation groups like Revive Chettinad Society are working to halt the destruction, and the influx of tourism offers hope that these mansions can be saved before they all fall down.