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Chennai completes a journey of 371 years

Last updated on: August 18, 2010 14:45 IST

Chennai completes a journey of 371 years

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From a tiny fishing village to a high-tech metropolis with major automobile units, a thriving information technology industry and pride as the cultural capital of the South, it's been a long and eventful journey for Chennai, which turns 371 on Sunday.

As befits the occasion, a week-long birthday bash has been drawn up by various bodies, including the Archeological Survey of India, University of Madras, Chennai Museum, and Anna University to mark 'Madras day' celebrations -- a wide canvas of cultural and literary activities.

"As part of the celebrations, we have organised a photo exhibition titled 'Chennaiyil Paadal Pettra Thiruthalangal' at Clive's building in Fort St George," ASI's superintending archaeologist Sathyabama Badrinath told PTI.

Text: PTI

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Image: Marina beach in Chennai is one of the longest in the world and a prime tourist attraction
Photographs: Babu / Reuters
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Temples abound in the city

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She said even before the British came to Madras (now Chennai), the place was 'sanctified' and temples were built which even today are acclaimed and respected.

Heritage walks, school exchange programmes, poetry sessions, Carnatic music and quiz contests, food festivals and rallies, photo exhibitions and bike tours will give Chennaites glimpses of a city they never knew.

"Madras Day focuses on the city, its history, its past and present. The core team motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses in the city to host events that celebrate the city," Chennai's famous historian S Muthiah, who pens a popular nostalgia column on Chennai in The Hindu, said.

 


Image: The famous Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore, Chennai
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons
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A city with deep history

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It was on this day in 1639 that British administrator Francis Day got permission from the wards of Chennappa Naicker, a chieftain ruling the fishing hamlet near the harbour to construct Madraspatam, as it was referred to by the British.

The deal was struck by Francis Day, his 'dubash' Beri Thimmappa, and their superior Andrew Cogan, with local Nayak rulers. The original document relating to the building of Fort St George, a historic fort which was for a while the seat of power of East India Company, is said to have been signed at Chandragiri fort in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

Robert Clive, founder of the British empire in India, got married in a church inside the fort. His marriage certificate is still a prized possession of the museum in the fort.


Image: An 18th century painting of Fort St George, the seat of Tamil Nadu's administration, in Chennai
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons
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Home to music, dance and theatre

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Unknown to many is the fact that villages around temples like Parthasarathy in Triplicane and Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore near the southern coast and Marudheeswarer temple in Thiruvanmiyur existed for several centuries, long before the Europeans arrived.

Though many city historians have brought out books on the history of this 'grand dame' of the South, there has been no unanimity on how the city came to be known as Madras.

The Nayaks, who sold the land to the British, apparently wanted the city named after their father, Chennappanaikan, from which the later version of Chennapattinam and the present version of Chennai is believed to have come about.


Image: A Bharata Natyam danseuse performs in Chennai
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons
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A popular shopping destination too

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The first Europeans to reach the shores of Madras were the Portuguese. They built a church in St Thomas Mount enshrining the 'Bleeding Cross'.

And then they went further down to Little Mount, where they built another small church in 1551 where St Thomas, one of Jesus Christ's apostles, was hiding in a cave from his persecutors before being martyred in St Thomas Mount.

A Portuguese map of South India dating to 1569, displayed at Clive Hall in Fort St George, does not mention Madras by name, but refers to 'Milapur', the present day Mylapore, famous for its temples.


Image: Ranganathan Street in T Nagar, one of Chennai's hot spots for shopping
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons
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Cinema courses through its veins

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The city of Madras was renamed Chennai by the M Karunanidhi government in 1997 in deference to native sentiment.

Today Chennai, with over 60 lakh population, remains one of the four major metropolises in India and stands tall with its impressive strides in education, healthcare, information technology, history, tourism, automobile industries and movies.

The city has also emerged as the second largest film production centre of India behind Mumbai, with over 45 studios. Of late, Chennai has also emerged as the 'medical capital' of India, with a large number of corporate hospitals coming up.


Image: A Tamil film poster. Chennai's film industry boasts of some of the best talent in India
Photographs: Babu / Reuters
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A booming manufacturing hub, too

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The city can also boast of being the second largest IT hub in the country, next to Bengaluru. On the manufacturing front, Ashok Leyland, Hyundai and Ford have set up manufacturing units in and around Chennai. So also have Nissan and German luxury automobile BMW.

The present-day Chennai does have problems like drinking water shortage and waterlogging even during brief spells of rains, besides unscheduled power cuts.

City-dwellers, who are increasingly vocal about civic issues, must be fervently hoping the birthday celebrations will at least see an end to their woes.


Image: The Hyundai factory outside Chennai has seen many Koreans moving to the city
Photographs: Ran Kim / Reuters
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