History of Chennai

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu and is India’s fourth largest city.[1] It is located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. With an estimated population of 8.9 million (2014), the 400-year-old city is the 31st largestmetropolitan area in the world.

The city of Madras in 1909

Chennai boasts of a long history from the English East India Company, through the British Raj to its evolution in the late 20th century as a services and manufacturing hub for India. Additionally, the pre-city area of Chennai has a long history within the records of South Indian Empires.

Ancient area in South India[edit]

Chennai, originally known as “Madraspatnam” was located in the province of Tondaimandalam, an area lying between Pennar river of Nellore and the Pennar river of Cuddalore. The capital of the province was Kancheepuram. Tondaimandalam was ruled in the 2nd century by Tondaiman Ilam Tiraiyan, who was a representative of the Chola family at Kanchipuram. It is believed that Ilam Tiraiyan must have subdued the Kurumbas, the original inhabitants of the region and established his rule over Tondaimandalam. The modern city of “Chennai” arose from the British settlement of Fort St. George and its subsequent expansion through merging numerous native villages and European settlements around Fort St. George into the city of Madras. While most of the original city of Madras was built and settled by Europeans, the surrounding area which was later incorporated included the native temples of Thiruvanmiyur, Thiruvotriyur, Thiruvallikeni (Triplicane), Thirumayilai (Mylapore) which have existed for more than 1000 years. Thiruvanmiyur, Thiruvotriyur and Thirumayilai are mentioned in the Thevarams of the Moovar (of the Nayanmars) while Thiruvallikeni in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandhams (of the Alwars)

Chola and Pallava eras[edit]

The Kapaleeshwarar temple inMylapore was built by the Pallava kings in the 7th century

Subsequent to Ilam Tiraiyan, the region was ruled by the Chola Prince Ilam Killi. The Chola occupation of Tondaimandalam was put to an end by the Andhra Satavahana incursions from the north under their King Pulumayi II. They appointed chieftains to look after the Kanchipuram region. Bappaswami, who is considered as the ruler to rule from Kanchipuram, was himself a chieftain (of the tract around) at Kanchipuram under the Satavahana empire in the beginning of the 3rd century. The Pallavas who had so far been merely viceroys, then became independent rulers of Kanchipuram and its surrounding areas.

The Pallavas held sway over this region from the beginning of the 3rd century to the closing years of the 9th century, except for the interval of some decades when the region was under the Kalabhras. The Pallavas were defeated by the Cholas under Aditya I by about 879 and the region was brought under the Chola rule. The Pandyas under Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan rose to power and the region was brought under the Pandya rule by putting an end to Chola supremacy in 1264.

Historical establishment of the city[edit]

Under Vijayanagara Dynasty Nayaks[edit]

The present day city of Chennai started as an English settlement known as Fort St. George. The region was then a part of Vijayanagara Empire, then headquartered at Chandragiri in present-day Andhra Pradesh. The Vijayanagar rulers who controlled the area, appointed chieftains known as Nayaks who ruled over the different regions of the province almost independently. The region was under the control of the Damerla Venkatadri Nayakudu, a PadmaVelama Nayak cheiftan of Srikalahasti and Vandavasi. He was also an influential Nayak ruler under the Vijayanagara King Peda Venkata Raya then based in ChandragiriVellore Fort, was in-charge of the area of present Chennai city when the English East India Companyarrived to establish a factory in the area.[2][3]

Obtain of Land Grant[edit]

On 20 August 1639 Francis Day of the East India Company along with Damerla Venkatadri Nayak travelled to Chandragiri palace to meet the Vijayanagara King Peda Venkata Raya and to obtained grant for a small strip of land in the Coromandel Coast from in Chandragiri as a place to build a factory and warehouse for their trading activities. It was from Damarla Venkatadri Nayaks domain, on 22 August 1639, the piece of land lying between the river Cooum almost at the point it enters the sea and another river known as the Egmore river was granted to East India Company after deed from Vijaynagara emperor.

On this piece of waste land was founded Fort St. George, a fortified settlement of British merchants, factory workers, and other colonial settlers. Upon this settlement the English expanded their colony to include a number of other European communities, new British settlements, and various native villages, one of which was named Madraspatnam. It in honor of the later village upon which the British named the entire colony and the combined city Madras. Controversially, in an attempt to revise history and justify renaming the city as Chennai, the ruling party has purged the history of the early English Madras settlements. According to the new party history, instead of being named Madras, it was named Chennai, after a village called Chennapattanam, in honour of Damerla Chennappa Nayaka, father of Damerla Venkatadri Nayaka, who controlled the entire coastal country from Pulicat in the north to the Portuguese settlement of Santhome.[4][5]

However, it is widely recorded that while the official centre of the present settlement was designated Fort St. George, the British applied the name Madras to a new large city which had grown up around the Fort including the “White Town” consisting principally of British settlers, and “Black Town” consisting of principally Catholic Europeans and allied Indian minorities. Thiruvotriyur is historically important port city, now forms part of north chennai. vayiratharayan of Virukanbakkam alias Chenninallur.

Early European settlers[edit]

Modern Chennai had its origins as a colonial city and its initial growth was closely tied to its importance as an artificial harbour and trading centre. When the Portuguese arrived in 1522, they built a port and named it São Tomé, after the Christian apostle St. Thomas, who is believed to have preached there between the years 52 and 70. The region then passed into the hands of the Dutch, who established themselves near Pulicat just north of the city in 1612. Both groups strived to grow their colonial populations and although their populations reached into 10,000 persons when the British arrived, they remained substantially outnumbered by the local Indian population.

Arrival of the English [edit]

A plan of the Fort St. George and surrounding settlements

By 1612, the Dutch established themselves in Pulicat to the north. In the 17th century when the English East India Company decided to build a factory on the east coast and in 1626 selected as its site Armagon (Dugarazpatnam), a village some 35 miles north of Pulicat. The calico cloth from the local area, which was in high demand, was of poor quality and not suitable for export to Europe. The English soon realized that as a port Armagon was unsuitable for trade purposes. Francis Day, one of the officers of the company, who was then a Member of the Masulipatam Council and the Chief of the Armagon Factory, made a voyage of exploration in 1637 down the coast as far asPondicherry with a view to choosing a site for a new settlement.

Permission from Vijayanagara Rulers[edit]

At that time the Coromandel Coast was ruled by Peda Venkata Raya, from the Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire based out of ChandragiriVellore. Under the Kings, local chiefs or governors known as Nayaks ruled over each district.

Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka, local governor of the Vijayanagar Empire and Nayaka of Wandiwash (Vandavasi), ruled the coastal part of the region, from Pulicat to the Portuguese settlement of San Thome. He had his headquarters at Wandiwash, and his brother Ayyappa Nayakudu resided at Poonamallee, a few miles to the west of Madras, where he looked after the affairs of the coast. Beri Thimmappa, Francis Day’s dubash (interpreter), was a close friend of Damarla Ayyappa Nayakudu. In the early 17th century Beri Thimmappa of the Puragiri Kshatriya (Perike) caste migrated to the locality from Palacole, near Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh.[6] Ayyappa Nayakudu persuaded his brother to lease the sandy strip to Francis Day and promised him trade benefits, army protection, and Persian horses in return. Francis Day wrote to his headquarters at Masulipatam for permission to inspect the proposed site atMadraspatnam and to examine the possibilities of trade there. Madraspatnam seemed favourable during the inspection, and the calicoes woven there were much cheaper than those at Armagon (Durgarazpatam).

Raja Mahal Palace at Chandragirifrom where Francis Day acquired permission from the King ofVijaynagara, Peda Venkata Raya

On 22 August 1639, Francis Day secured the Grant by the Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka, Nayaka of Wandiwash, giving over to the East India Company a three-mile long strip of land, a fishing village called Madraspatnam, copies of which were endorsed by Andrew Cogan, the Chief of the Masulipatam Factory, and are even now preserved. The Grant was for a period of two years and empowered the Company to build a fort and castle on about five square kilometres of its strip of land.[7]

The English Factors at Masulipatam were satisfied with Francis Day’s work. They requested Day and the Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka to wait until the sanction of the superior English Presidency of Bantam in Java could be obtained for their action. The main difficulty, among the English those days, was lack of money. In February 1640, Day and Cogan, accompanied by a few factors and writers, a garrison of about twenty-five European soldiers and a few other European artificers, besides a Hindu powder-maker named Naga Battan, proceeded to the land which had been granted and started a new English factory there. They reached Madraspatnam on 20 February 1640; and this date is important because it marks the first actual settlement of the English at the place.

Grant establishing lawful self-rule[edit]

The grant signed between Damarla Venkatadri and the English had to be authenticated or confirmed by the Raja of Chandragiri – Venkatapathy Rayulu. The Raja, Venkatapathy Rayulu, was succeeded by his nephew Sri Rangarayulu in 1642, and Sir Francis Day was succeeded by Thomas Ivy. The grant expired, and Ivy sent Factor Greenhill on a mission to Chandragiri to meet the new Raja and to get the grant renewed. A new grant was issued, copies of which are still available. It is dated October – November 1645. This new grant is important regarding the legal and civic development of the English settlement. Because the Raja operated an arbitrary and capricious legal code which fundamentally discriminated against private property, trade, and merchandising in general, and against non-Indians in particular, the new grant signed in 1645 expanded the rights of the English by empowering them to administer English Common Lawamongst their colonists and Civil Law between the colonists and the other European, Muslim, and Hindu nationalities. Furthermore, it expanded the Company property by attaching an additional piece of land known as the Narimedu (or ‘Jackal-ground’) which lay to the west of the village of Madraspatnam. This new grant laid the foundation for the expansion of Madras into its present form. All three grants are said to have been engraved on gold plates which were later reported to have been plundered, disappearing during one of the genocides of the English colony. However, there are city records of their existence long afterwards, and it has been suggested that the present government may still hold them.

An old 18th-century painting of Fort St George.

Expansion of Fort St. George into Madras[edit]

Francis Day and his superior Andrew Cogan can be considered as the founders of Madras (now Chennai). They began construction of the Fort St George on 23 April 1640 and houses for their residence. Their small fortified settlement quickly attracted other East Indian traders and as the Dutch position collapsed under hostile Indian power they also slowly joined the settlement. By the 1646, the settlement had reached 19,000 persons and with the Portuguese and Dutch populations at their forts substantially more. To further consolidate their position, the Company combined the various settlements around an expanded Fort St. George, which including its citadel also included a larger outside area surrounded by an additional wall. This area became the Fort St. George settlement. As stipulated by the Treaty signed with the Nayak, the British and other Christian Europeans were not allowed to decorate the outside of their buildings in any other color but white. As a result, over time, the area came to be known as ‘White Town’.

According to the treaty, only Europeans, principally Protestant British settlers were allowed to live in this area as outside of this confine, non-Indians were not allowed to own property. However, other national groups, chiefly FrenchPortuguese, and other Catholic merchants had separate agreements with the Nayak which allowed them in turn to establish trading posts, factories, and warehouses. As the East India Company controlled the trade in the area, these non-British merchants established agreements with the Company for settling on Company land near “White Town” per agreements with the Nayak. Over time, Indians also arrived in ever greater numbers and soon, the Portuguese and other non-Protestant Christian Europeans were outnumbered. Following several outbreaks of violence by various Hindu and Muslim Indian communities against the Christian Europeans, White Town’s defenses and its territorial charter was expanded to incorporate most of the area which had grown up around its walls thereby incorporating most of its Catholic European settlements. In turn they resettled the non-European merchants and their families and workers, almost entirely Muslim or of various Hindu nationalities outside of the newly expanded “White Town”. This was also surrounded by a wall. To differentiate these non-European and non-Christian area from “White Town”, the new settlement was termed “Black Town. Collectively, the original Fort St. George settlement, “White Town”, and “Black Town” were called Madras.

During the course of the late 17th century, both plague and genocidal warfare reduced the population of the colony dramatically. Each time, the survivors fell back upon the safety of the Fort St George. As a result, oweing to the frequency of outbursts of racial and national violence against the Europeans and especially the English, Fort St George with its impressive fortifications became the nucleus around which the city grew and rebuilt itself. Several times throughout the life of the colony, the Fort became the last refuge of Europeans and their allied Indian communities from various savage pograms initiated by several Indian rulers and powers, which resulted in the almost total destruction of the town. Each time the town and later city was rebuilt and repopulated with new English and European settlers. The Fort still stands today, and a part of it is used to house the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the Office of the Chief Minister. Elihu Yale, after whom Yale University is named, was British governor of Madras for five years. Part of the fortune that he amassed in Madras as part of the colonial administration became the financial foundation for Yale University.

The city has changed its boundaries as well as the geographic limits of its quarters several times, principally as a result from destructions of the town by surrounding Hindu and Muslim powers. For instance, Golkonda forces under General Mir Jumla conquered Madras in 1646, massacred or sold into slavery much of the Christian European inhabitants and their allied Indian communities, and brought Madras and its immediate surroundings under his control. Nonetheless, the Fort and its surrounding walls remained under British control who slowly rebuilt their colony with additional colonists despite another mass murder of Europeans in Black Town by anti-colonialists agitated by Golkonda and plague in the 1670s. In 1674, the expanded colony had nearly 50,000 mostly British and European colonists and was granted its own corporate charter, thereby officially establishing the modern day city. Eventually, after additional provocations from Golkonda, the British pushed back until they defeated him.

After the fall of Golkonda in 1687, the region came under the rule of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi who in turn granted new Charters and territorial borders for the area. Subsequently, Firmans were issued by the Mughal Emperor granting the rights of English East India company in Madras and formerly ending the official capacity of local rulers to attack the British. In the later part of the 17th century, Madras steadily progressed during the period of the East India Company and under many Governors. Although most of the original Portuguese, Dutch, and British population had been killed during genocides during the Golkonda period, under the Mughul protection, large numbers of British and Anglo-American settlers arrived to replenish these losses. As a result, during the Governorship of Elihu Yale(1687–92), the large number of British and European settlers led to the most important political event which was the formation of the institution of a Mayor and the Corporation for the city of Madras. Under this Charter, the British and Protestant inhabitants were granted the rights of self-government and independence from company law. In 1693, a perwanna was received from the local Nawab granting the towns Tondiarpet, Purasawalkam and Egmore to the company which continued to rule from Fort St. George. The present parts of Chennai like Poonamalee (ancient Tamil name – Poo Iruntha alli), Triplicane (ancient Tamil name – Thiru alli keni) are mentioned in Tamil bhakti literature of the 6th – 9th centuries.Thomas Pitt became the Governor of Madras in 1698 and governed for eleven years. This period witnessed remarkable development of trade and increase in wealth resulting in the building of many fine houses, mansions, housing developments, an expanded port and city complete with new city walls, and various churches and schools for the British colonists and missionary schools for the local Indian population.

Madras and its environ, 1901


Village Year
Madraspatnam 1639
Narimedu (area to the west of Madraspatnam) 1645
Triplicane 1672
Tiruvottiyur 1708
Kottivakkam 1708
Nungambakkam 1708
Egmore 1720
Purasawalkam 1720
Tondiarpet 1720
Chintadripet 1735
Vepery 1742
Mylapore 1749
Chennapatnam 1801

1750s to the end of the British Raj[edit]

Map of Madras city in 1921

In 1746, Fort St George and Madras were captured at last. But this time it was by the French under General La Bourdonnais, who used to be the Governor of Mauritius. Because of its importance to the East India Company, the French plundered and destroyed the village of Chepauk and Blacktown, the locality across from the port where all the dockyard labourers used to live.[8]

The British regained control in 1749 through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. They then strengthened and expanded Fort St George over the next thirty years to bear subsequent attacks, the strongest of which came from the French (1759, under Thomas Arthur, Comte de Lally), and later Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore in 1767 during the First Anglo-Mysore War. Following the Treaty of Madras which brought that war to an end, the external threats to Madras significantly decreased. The 1783 version of Fort St George is what still stands today.

In the latter half of the 18th century, Madras became an important British naval base, and the administrative centre of the growing British dominions in southern India. The British fought with various European powers, notably the French at Vandavasi (Wandiwash) in 1760, where de Lally was defeated by Sir Eyre Coote, and the Danish at Tharangambadi (Tranquebar). Following the British victory in the Seven Years’ War they eventually dominated, driving the French, the Dutch and the Danes away entirely, and reducing the French dominions in India to four tiny coastal enclaves. The British also fought four wars with the Kingdom of Mysore under Hyder Ali and later his son Tipu Sultan, which led to their eventual domination of India’s south. Madras was the capital of the Madras Presidency, also called Madras Province.

Bazaar at Madras, from The Graphic, 1875

By the end of 1783, the great 18th century wars which saw the British and French battle from Europe to North America and from the Mediterranean to India, resulted in the British being in complete control of the city’s regional and most of South India area. Although the British had lost most of their well-populated, industrious, and wealthy North American colonies, after a decade’s feud with the French, they were securely in control of Madras and most of the Indian trade. Consequently, they expanded the Chartered control of the company by encompassing the neighbouring villages of Triplicane, Egmore, Purasawalkam and Chetput to form the city of Chennapatnam, as it was called by locals then. This new area saw a proliferation of English merchant and planter families who, allied with their wealthy Indian counterparts, jointly controlled Chennapatnam under the supervision of White Town. Over time and administrative reforms, the area was finally fully incorporated into the new metropolitan charter of Madras.

The development of a harbour in Madras led the city to become an important centre for trade between India and Europe in the 18th century. In 1788, Thomas Parry arrived in Madras as a free merchant and he set up one of the oldest mercantile companies in the city and one of the oldest in the country (EID Parry). John Binny came to Madras in 1797 and he established the textile company Binny & Co in 1814. Spencer’s started as a small business in 1864 and went on to become the biggest department stores in Asia at the time. The original building which housed Spencer & Co. was burnt down in a fire in 1983 and the present structure houses one of the largest shopping malls in India, Spencer Plaza. Other prominent companies in the city included Gordon Woodroffe, Best & Crompton, Higginbotham’s, Hoe & Co and P. Orr & Sons.

Madras was the capital of the Madras Presidency and thus became home to important commercial organisations. Breaking with the tradition of the closed and almost wholly British controlled system of the English East India Company, The Madras Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1836 by Fredrick Adam, Governor of the Madras Presidency (the second oldest Chamber of Commerce in the country). Thereafter in a nod to the declining fortunes of the British textile owners and skilled workers who were still extant in the city, the Madras Trades Association was established in 1856, by which the old colonial families still involved in the skilled and textile trades were granted entry into the British and Indian financial trade system. In turn, the Madras Stock Exchange was established in 1920. In 1906, the city experienced a financial crisis with the failure of its leading merchant bank, Arbuthnot & Co. The crisis also imperiled Parry & Co and Binny & Co, but both found rescuers. The lawyer V. Krishnaswamy Iyer made a name for himself representing claimants, mostly wealthy Hindus and Muslims who had lent money on the failed bank. The next year, flush with funds won from the original British owners who had capitalized the bank, he organized a group of Chettiar merchants to found Indian Bank, with which he funded new Indian enterprises and broke into the previously closed ranks of the British financial system. The bank still has its corporate headquarters in the city.

During World War I, Madras (Chennai) was shelled by the German light cruiser SMS Emden, resulting in 5 civilian deaths and 26 wounded. The crew of a merchant ship also destroyed by the Germans that night.

Post-independence (1947)[edit]

The Victory War Memorial

Map of Madras in 1955

Post-British Raj[edit]

After India became independent in 1947, the city became the administrative and legislative capital of Madras State which was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1968.

During the reorganisation of states in India on linguistic lines, in 1953, Telugu speakers wanted Madras as the capital of Andhra Pradesh[9] and coined the slogan “Madras Manade” (Madras is ours). The demands for the immediate creation of a Telugu-speaking state were met with after Tirupati was included in Andhra State and after the leaders who led the movement were convinced to give up their claim on Madras.[10] The dispute arose as over the preceding hundred years, the early British, European workers and small cottage capitalists had been replaced in large part by both Tamil and Telugu speaking people. In fact, as the greater concentration of capital wrecked what remained of old East Indian middle class, the city principally became a large housing development for huge numbers of workers. Most of these were recruited as cheap labor from the relatively poor Telugu nationality, which in turn enraged the Tamil nationals who were originally the working and middle class settlers of Madras in the late 18th century. Earlier, Panagal Raja, Chief Minister of Madras Presidency in early 1920s had suggested that theCooum River be the boundary between the Tamil and Telugu administrative areas.[11] In 1953, the political and administrative dominance of Tamils, both at the Union and State levels ensured that Madras was not transferred to the new state of Andhra

Although the original inhabitants of Madras and responsible for its growth into the modern metropolis of today, the British and European nationals are virtually non-existent. Always a tiny minority in comparison with the vast Indian population of the hinterlands, despite slow growth in natural birthrate and continued settlement, the British and European populations were made an ever decreasing share of their city’s populations. As more and more Indians arrived from the countryside to work in the city, the British and other Europeans found it increasingly difficult to establish or maintain independent wealth as they had during the early East Indian regime. This only furthered to mitigate continued British settlement. Nonetheless, as any purview of the city’s and other major metropolitan cemeteries of India can attest, hundreds of thousands came to India between the 1600s (decade) and 1770s and later another million more came between 1770 and 1870. These settlers and their families spread throughout India or settled in the cities, with Madras being one of their principal entry points. However, by the early 20th century they had become a small minority in their own city. Although they remained in control of the original corporations and businesses of Madras, and were the official representatives of the Imperial government, their communities size relative to the larger Indian population in Madras ensured their eventual demise should democratic control be given to Indian nationalities in place of the older Colonial charters. When this was accomplished with the Independence of India in 1947, they were quickly brushed aside by the Indian population.

Despite lacking their original numbers and control, the original British community remnants, along with other minorities as well as the long history of British culture, keeps Madras a slightly cosmopolitan city. Population of Telugu’s and Tamils were more or less the same in those days, however dynamics of Madras city was changed post independence rapidly. mixed Anglo Indian descendants of the original English settlers, a smaller but still extant British and European community, as well as migrant Malayalee communities in the city. As the city is an important administrative and commercial centre, many nationalities such as Bengalis, Punjabis, Gujaratis and Marwaris, as well as people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar migrated to the city and have contributed to its cosmopolitan nature. Today, Chennai also has a growing expatriate population especially from the United States, Europe and East Asia who work in the industries and IT centres.

Since its establishment as a city in 1639, English was the official language of the city. However, with independence, the new Hindi-dominated Central government started imposing the use of Hindi in business and government. Therefore, from 1965 to 1967, the city was an important base for the Tamil agitation against this imposition, and witnessed sporadic rioting. Madras witnessed further political violence due to the civil war in Sri Lanka, with 33 people killed by a bomb planted by the Tamil Eelam Army at the airport in 1984, and assassination of thirteen members of the EPRLF and two Indian civilians by the rival LTTE in 1991. In the same year, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur, a small town close to Chennai, whilst campaigning in Tamil Nadu, by Thenmuli Rajaratnam A.K.A. Dhanu. Dhanu is widely believed to have been an LTTE member. In 1996, keeping with the recent nationwide practice of Indianizing city names, the Government of Tamil Nadu, then represented by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, renamed the city to Chennai. The 2004 tsunami lashed the shores of Chennai killing many, destroying much of the historical oceanfront, and permanently altering the coastline.

Today, modern Chennai, formerly known as Madras is a large commercial and industrial centre, and is known for its cultural heritage and temple architecture. Chennai is the automobile capital of India, with around forty percent of the automobile industry having a base there and with a major portion of the nation’s vehicles being produced there. Chennai is also referred as the Detroit of South Asia. It is a major manufacturing centre. Chennai has also become a major centre for outsourced IT and financial services from the Western world.


Various etymologies have been posited for the name, ‘Chennai’. These are a few of the suggested explanations of the origin of the words Chennai or Chennapattanam:

  1. A popular explanation is that the name comes from the name of the Telugu chieftain, Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, Nayaka of Chandragiri and Vandavasi, father of Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, from whom the English acquired the town in 1639. The first official use of the name Chennai is said to be in a sale deed, dated 8 August 1639, to Francis Day of the East India Company.[12]
  2. Another suggestion is that the city was named after the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple; the word chenni in Tamil means face, with the temple regarded as the face of the city.[13]
  3. While historian J B Prashant More also supports the ‘Chenna Kesava’ theory, he contends that ‘Chenna’ is a Telugu word meaning “fair”.[14]

Chennai’s earlier name of Madras is similarly mired in controversy. But there is some consensus that it is an abbreviation of Madraspatnam, the site chosen by the British East India Company for a permanent settlement in 1639.[15]

Currently, the nomenclature of the area is in a state of controversy. The region was often called by different names as madrapupatnam, madras kuppam, madraspatnam, and madirazpatnam as adopted by locals. Another small town, Chennapatnam, lay to the south of it. This place was supposedly named so by Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, Nayak of Wandiwash in remembrance of his father Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu. He was the local governor for the last Raja of Chandragiri, Sri Ranga Raya VI of Vijayanagar Empire. The first Grant of Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu makes mention of the village of Madraspatnam as incorporated into East India lands but not of Chennapatnam. This together with the written records makes it clear that the Fort which became the centre of present Chennai, was built upon or nearby the village of Madraspatnam. Although, Madraspatnam is named in later records following the establishment of Fort St. George, this is likely because of the discriminatory nature of the local caste system. Under Hindu caste code, as well as English Common Law, it is unlikely that Fort St. George was built upon the village of Madraspatnam and its inhabitants incorporated into the new town. Instead, it is likely that Fort was built either close to the village or if it was built upon the village, the village was relocated. In fact, in all records of the times, a difference is made between the original village of Madraspatnam and the new town growing around the Fort known as “White Town”. Therefore, because of the fort’s proximity or origin to the village of Mandraspatnam, and the fort’s centrality to the development of the city, the British settlers of the city later named their settlement Madras in honour of it. Further militating against the name “Chennai”, Chennapatnam was the name in later years of an area explicitly detailed as having been incorporated of native villages, European plantations, and European merchant houses outside of the combined city of Madras consisting of Fort St. George, and White and Black Town. Lastly, while the Fort St. George, White Town, and Black Town areas were fully incorporated together by the late 18th century, and was known as Madras, Chennapatnam was its own separate entity existing under the authority of Fort St. George well into the 19th century. Consequently, once the area separating Chennapatnam and Old Madras was built over uniting the two settlements, as founders, settlers, and authorities of area, the English named the new united city Madras. Thus it is improbable that the area was ever called Chennai. Instead, being the gateway of trade and the centre of the economy of the region, the English settlement and their fort of 1639-40, which was the basis for the presently named city of Chennai, was likely called Madras as well by the rest of India. The DMK renamed Madras to Chennai as DMK founder Anna renamed Madras State as Tamil Nadu.

Madras Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chennai historian S. Muthiah delivering a lecture on The Story of Photography in Madras at the Press Institute of India as a part of Madras Day 2015 celebrations

Madras Day is a festival organized to commemorate the founding of the city of Madras (now Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, India. It is celebrated on 22 August every year, 22 August 1639 being the widely agreed date for the purchase of the village of Madraspatnam or Chennapatnam by East India Company factors Andrew Cogan and Francis Day from Damerla Venkatapathy, the viceroy of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The idea of a Madras Day was first suggested by Chennai-based journalist Vincent D’Souza to historian S. Muthiah during a meeting of the trustees of the Chennai Heritage foundation in 2004. Since then, Madras Day celebrations have been held every year without fail, its highlights being exhibitions, lectures, film screenings and quizzes. The Madras Day festival has registered a steady increase in popularity year after year. The 2014 and 2015 editions have lasted through August and extended into September as well, prompting demands to rename Madras Day as Madras Week or even, Madras Month.[1]

There has been a contention that the deed of purchase was actually dated 22 July 1639 and not 22 August. The motive of the celebrations have also been criticized by academicians and state government organizations who feel that it gives undue importance to colonial heritage.


The modern history of the city dates back to 1639 when Francis Day of the British East India Company bought a small strip of land on the Coromandel Coast from the Vijayanagara King, Peda Venkata Raya in Chandragiri. The region was ruled by Damerla Venkatapathy, the Nayak of Vandavasi.[2] He granted the British permission to build a factory and warehouse for their trading enterprises. A year later, the British built Fort St George, which became the nucleus of the growing colonial city.[2]

It was on 22 August 1639 that a sliver of land, where now stands Fort St George, was handed over by the local Sowbaraniya rulers to the East India Company’s Francis Day, his dubash Beri Thimmappa, and their superior, Andrew Cogan. From this small three square miles given to the East India Company grew the city of Madras where more than four and a half million people live now.[3] As years passed by out of the fort grew settlements and the villages around it were brought together with the old and new towns linked up and hence birth of a city.[4][5]

History of Madras Day[edit]

The first recorded celebration of the founding of Madras was its tercentenary commemoration in 1939. Unlike later anniversaries, the celebrations were officially sponsored by the British government and a special tercentenary commemoration volume was issued with essays on the different aspects of Madras city authored by leading experts of the time.[6][7] An exhibition of pictures, portraits, maps, records and coins was inaugurated by Diwan Bahadur S. E. Runganadhan, the Vice-Chancellor of the Madras University and a short play writing competition was organized.[6][8]

The 350th anniversary in 1989 was celebrated with the opening of a commemorative monument titled “Madras 350” built in the Classical Style by builder Frankpet Fernandez at the junction of the Poonamallee High Road and the New Avadi Road.[9] Other major events included the commissioning of a book by S. Muthiah titled Madras — The Gracious City by the Murugappa Group which also organized the first Madras Quiz which has continued to the present day.[9]

The idea to celebrate the birth of the city every year was born when journalists Shashi Nair and Vincent D’Souza met S. Muthiah at his residence for coffee.[3] It was based on the success of another event called Mylapore Festival which D’Souza had been organising every year in January. It was decided by the trio to start celebrating Madras Day from 2004.[3] According to them, “primary motive of celebrating `Madras Day’ was to focus on the city, its past and its present.[10] The idea initially started off with about five events in 2004 but grew gradually. The second edition in 2005 had events throughout the week. In 2008, there were a total of 60 events conducted.[3] In 2007, a commemorative postal cover was released by Chief Postmaster-General of Tamil Nadu Circle at a function at Fort St George as a part of the Madras Day celebrations, thereby inaugurating a tradition that continued through the later editions.[11] The 2010 celebrations lasted beyond a week and extended well into the following week as well.

The 375th Madras Day was celebrated with more than a hundred events that lasted from 10 August to 14 September 2014.[1] However, despite expectations to the contrary, Tamil Nadu government departments did not participated in the celebrations which they felt promoted “colonial heritage”.[1] The celebrations were deemed a roaring success and the events got nationwide coverage for the first time.[12][13]The Madras Song was composed to commemorate the occasion and a website launched by The Hindu titled friendsofchennai.com for residents of the city to create online petitions voicing their civic grievances.[14][15] Historian and entrepreneur V. Sriram also designed a mobile app named Chennai Past Forward for users to keep in track with the heritage of the city.

The 376th Madras Day celebrations were bigger with events being held even in suburbs like Tambaram.[16] Apart from heritage walks, the 2015 edition also included a walk of the L. V. Prasad film studios.[17] The focus was, however, on restoration of the Coovum Riverand a presentation on the history and heritage of the Coovum River was held at the Madras Literary Society by author Anusha Venkatesh on 15 August.[18][19][20] The Cycling Yogis, a Chennai cyclists’ group, conducted a 72 km bicycle ride along with the Coovum River on 16 August 2015.[21]

The 377th Madras Day celebrations were kick-started in a grand manner by THE HINDU Group through their Madras Beats 2016 song. Composed and performed by Opus G7 music band which was selected as winner through a competition floated by the The Hindu, the song ENDRUM PADHINAARU was launched on 21st August 2016 and is already viral in Social Media network.[22]

The Celebration[edit]

Madras Day focuses on the city, its history, its past and its present and the core team motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses in the city to host events that celebrate the city.[4] The celebration consists of events such as heritage walks,[23] public talks,exhibitions, poetry reading sessions, public performances, food festivals and special programs on local radio.[4] It also includes contests such as, T-shirt designing, documentary film contest, multimedia presentation for schools and quiz in both Tamil and English.[4] T-shirts to mark the event are also released.[24] The talks delivered to mark the week-long celebrations usually involve lectures explaining the heritage and history of the city.[25] There are also events for the retired citizens where they can post their life years ago on the “Stories about Madras section” on Madras day’s website and their views on how Madras grew into the Chennai of today.[26][27]

The programmes for Madras Day 2015 included:

A unique design T-shirt, selected through open competition, is sold by Mylapore Times every year during Madras Week.[28][29]

Murugappa Madras Quiz and Madras Quotient Quiz[edit]

The Madras Day celebrations and all the bash culminates each year with the Madras Quiz, separately in Tamil and English. This is facilitated by the Mylapore Times.

Many quiz enthusiasts come for the same. The quiz is quite competitive in terms of content.

The 2009 edition of the Madras Quiz in English was conducted by the Indian Quizzing League.

Criticism and controversies[edit]

Controversies regarding the date[edit]

There had been a controversy regarding the exact day when Madras was handed over to the British East India Company’s Francis Day and Andrew Cogan between the dates 22 July and 22 August. The controversy arose since the agreement documents dates the records to 22 July 1639 rather than 22 August of that year. It is often stated that since Francis Day and Andrew Cogan did not arrive to the Madras coast until 27 July 1639. The evidence comes from writings of Henry Davison Love, whose monumental three-volume history of Madras from 1640–1800 is a prime reference source for Madras’s early history, which states that “The Naik’s grant, erroneously styled a farman, which was probably drafted by Day, was delivered to Andrew Cogan at Masulipatam on September 3, 1639… Three copies are extant … all of which are endorsed by Cogan. Only the last bears a date, 22 July 1639, where July is probably a slip for August, since Day did not reach Madras until 27 July“.[30]

Accusations of celebrating colonial heritage[edit]

Madras Day is regarded by a few academics as a celebration of the city’s colonial past. According to Dr. G. Ravindran, Professor and Head of the Department of Journalism and Communication at the Madras University

We are the victims of the colonial era. We closely link with the British Raj. There is nothing wrong in celebrating but it is real only by the buildings of the British[31]

The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), a government-owned corporation distanced itself from the 375th Madras Day celebrations in 2014, explaining that the organization has no intentions of promoting colonial heritage and its prime focus was the Dravidian heritage of the city.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^ “Chennai”. lifeinchennai.com. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
  2. Jump up^ “District Pofile – CHENNAI”. Chennai.tn.nic.in. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  3. Jump up^ C S Srinivasachari (1939). History of the City of Madras. pp. 63–69.
  4. Jump up^ “District Pofile – CHENNAI”. Chennai.tn.nic.in. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  5. Jump up^ C S Srinivasachari (1939). History of the City of Madras. pp. 63–69.
  6. Jump up^ The Madras Tercentenary commemoration volume, Volume 1939
  7. Jump up^ S. Muthiah (21 August 2006). “Founders’ Day, Madras”. Hindu Times. Retrieved 2009-01-28.
  8. Jump up^ http://www.chennaicorporation.com/madras_history.htm Chennai Corporation – Madras History
  9. Jump up^ Narayana Rao, K. V. (1973). The emergence of Andhra Pradesh. Popular Prakashan. p. 227. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  10. Jump up^ A R, VENKATACHALAPATHY; Aravindan, Ramu (2006). “How Chennai Remained with Tamil Nadu”. Chennai not Madras: perspectives on the city. Marg Publications on behalf of the National Centre for the Performing Arts. p. 9. ISBN 9788185026749. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  11. Jump up^ G. V., Subba Rao (1982). History of Andhra movement. Andhra Pradesh. Committee of History of Andhra Movement. Committee of History of Andhra Movement. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  12. Jump up^ “District Profile – Chennai”. District Administration, Chennai. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  13. Jump up^ T. A., Srinivasan (28 February 2002). “Face behind the name”. The Hindu. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  14. Jump up^ “Chennai is a Telugu word, nothing Tamil about it: Historian”. The Hindu. 14 May 2014.
  15. Jump up^ “Origin of the Name Madras”. Corporation of Madras.
About 1,95,000 results (0.41 seconds)
Stay up to date on results for Madras Day.

Create alert

Help Send feedback Privacy Terms
About 4,40,00,000 results (0.59 seconds)
Dahisar West, Mumbai, Maharashtra – From your search history – Use precise location
 – Learn more
Help Send feedback Privacy Terms











Author: bcp211


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s