The sun city – Madras aka Chennai
I went home for an extended weekend and boy, was it hot ! So, amidst Kollywood and Kancheepuram sarees, the topic of discussion moved from the weather to the recent spate of real estate prices . While catching up with some friends, I gathered the latest buzz word was Chennai day or Madras Day which was to hit the city next month. It has been decided by the historians and the media that the city was born in the month of August and hence it has to be celebrated . Good to know that we celebrate the city. I for one, always celebrate the fact that I was born in Chennai or Madras as it was called then . But ignorant as I was (or probably am) I started researching on the history of this city and this is what I came up with ..But before that , here is a disclaimer – My apologies as I am not an esteemed historian , so , all my facts and figures may not be correct . I am just another individual interested in the history of my hometown , the way I see it
In the 17th century, most of the parts of modern day Chennai or Madras were either villages or settlements controlled by the local chieftains or the Europeans. The area was apparently ruled by the chieftains or Nayaks who were serving under the Vijaynagar empire. The British had just entered India and were looking for a suitable premise for their East India Company and I read that the Chieftain, Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu under the aegis of the Vijaynagar king Peda Venkata Rayalu gave a grant – a piece ” waste land” to the British . They set up Fort St George here and the settlement came to be called Chennapatna in the honour of Damerla Chennappa Nayakudu, father of Venkatadri Nayakudu . Madraspatnam which lay further away was combined and the British shortened it to Madras with Fort St George forming the nucleus of the city.
Now I quote from Wikipedia –
“On 22 August 1639, Francis Day secured the Grant by the Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, Nayak of Wandiwash giving over to the British 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 them to build a fort and castle on an approximate 5 square kilometre sand strip…..Francis Day, his dubash (Interpreter) Beri Thimmanna Chetti and their 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. This area came to be known as ‘White Town’. When Indians came to live near it, this gave rise to another settlement. The Company called the new place ‘Black Town’, as the Indians here met its needs of cloth and indigo…..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.”
So much for Madras Day . Yes, it is historic to a certain extent and I do think the British have done their bit to develop roads , build buildings and promote education..Otherwise , I wouldnt have studied in a convent school and won medals for my Queen’s English .
Personally , I have nothing against the celebration or the historic impact of August 22 or the colonial aspect . I like Fort St George and I must say that my forefathers like anyone else chose to live closer to the “White town ” than to say, Mylapore or Triplicane..which are villages added , sorry acquired later by the British . However what probably saddens me is the fact that all the hype starts and ends with British history of the city and one doesnt even what to look further beyond . And what we decide as history is probably nothing compared to the cultural heritage of this city and its various settlements and hamlets put together .
For instance ..
1.The city as its known today has had its share of royal dynasties from the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Pallavas, the Nayaks, the Vijaynagar kings, the Nawabs, the Sultans, the Moghuls and finally the British .
2.It is said that the temples of Thiruvanmiyur, Thiruvotriyur, Thirvallikeni (Triplicane), Thirumyilai (Mylapore) have existed for more than 1000 years. They are mentioned in the Thevarams of the Moovar ..Agreed that they are all villages added to the city, but they are now thriving suburbs , right in the heart of the city .
3.The Kapaleeshwar temple in Mylapore was built in the 7th century and was probably once a Pallava port
4.The settlement at Santhome was controlled by the Portuguese and it was believed that St Thomas had visited the area today known as St Thomas Mount way back in 50 AD
And probably there is more if I keep reading and digging…and my simple question is why only colonial history when there is so much more to celebrate ?
I request all of you to participate in this discussion and let me know what you think ..and do join in the celebration.Im going to be celebrating as well as this is not just about my city or its history, but it is an integral part of me .