Hindu Peranakan culture
Kampung Chetti is home to a small tight-knit community of Hindu Peranakans. Like the more visible Straits Chinese, this is another of Melaka’s mixed heritage sub-groups: offspring of Indian Tamil traders and Malay locals, known as the Chetti (also Chitty).
Their arrival is believed to date around the 13th or 14th century, making this group older than the Chinese Peranakan community. Like their counterparts in other of Melaka’s ethnically blended groups, the Chetti adopted Malay language and culture, but clung to their religious beliefs creating a unique hybrid culture. Many can’t speak Tamil, but their Malay creole is peppered with Tamil words, they dress in Malay clothes, the women in sarong and kabaya and their cuisine mixes Indian curries and Malay flavours too.
Although the group began as traders, living near Kampung Kling—where Kampung Kling Mosque remains today—they found it increasingly difficult to compete with the Indian Muslim merchants. Instead they turned to agriculture, and the community moved to the then-rural location where they now remain. But the farmlands have disappeared and these days the Chitty tend to work in lower to middle class jobs. Life is hard and many have moved away and assimilated into more mainstream Indian or Malay communities; this small distinct group faces cultural extinction.
Kampung Chetti is not much more than one street with a handful of traditional wooden houses, but like Kampung Morten in the middle of town and the traditional fishing village of Kampung Portugis, the area has been protected by heritage status in the hope of preserving their cultural identity.
Look for the elaborate arched gateway framed by double elephant heads along Jalan Gajah Berang, about two kilometres from Melaka’s colonial district. For such a small village, there is an abundance of temples: As you enter is a modest Shivaite temple, Sri Kailasana Thar dating from 1804. Notice the Shiva linggam embossed on the flat, shaped facade, architecturally reminiscent of the style of the Catholic Church of St Peter and even Christ Church in Dutch Square.
At the other end of the village, Sri Muthu Mariammam Temple was erected in 1822 and extensively refurbished in 1967. This oblong structure adds a restrained pastel-coloured, Dravidian-style decoration similar to the more common style of Hindu temples in Malaysia and Singapore, but nothing like the towering multi-gopuras of the village’s other much larger temple, Sri Subramaniar Thuropathai Amman Alaya Paripalana Sabai, which was given an over-the-top makeover in 2005. Historic
Sri Poyatha Venayagar Moorthi Temple in Chinatown, built in 1781, is the main temple for this community.
The village itself doesn’t have a lot to see, but it’s pleasant to wander and see the multi-hued houses. You’ll notice garlands of mango leaves strung above the doors—these are believed to purify the air by absorbing negative energy. Sometimes you'll come across colourful chalk-drawn mandalas on the road.
A humble but informative community-run Chetti cultural museum set up in a traditional house is worth a visit to gain an insight into this fascinating culture. Exhibitions explain various rites of passage and religious festivals, and there are artefacts from daily life and historical photographs. It's open Tuesday to Sunday, 09:00 to 17:00 (closed 13:00 to 14:00). Entry fee is 2 ringgit, children 1 ringgit.
Kampung Chetti is best appreciated by joining one of the free monthly guided tours offered by GoHeritage Melaka. Dates are changeable, but usually towards the end of the month. Reservation is essential as numbers are limited; email email@example.com for the schedule and firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. If the timing doesn’t match your trip, we recommend local guide Mr S.A Lingam (T: (0192) 096 890; email@example.com).
You may be lucky to catch one of the colourful festivals—check with the Melaka Tourist Information Centre for dates. They are on the ground floor of Bangunan Surau Warisan Dunia, Jalan Kota, Melaka (near Dutch Square), T: (06) 283 6220.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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