Monday, September 25, 2006

History of Chennai

Ancient Times

The region served as an important administrative, military, and economic center as far back as the 1st century. Records indicate that the ancient province of Tondaimandalam had its capital and military headquarters at Puzhal, which today is a small village on the northwest fringe of Chennai.
It is hypothesized that the apostle St. Thomas had immigrated to India in 52 to preach the teachings of Jesus, and he preached from on top of a hillock in the southwest part of the city. He was later said to be assassinated around the year 70.
Over the centuries many rulers ruled over the region as the South Indian empires grew stronger. The Pallavas who were the most prominent built several large temples in and around Chennai, which include the Kapaleeshwarar temple at Mylapore and the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram.

Early European Settlers

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.

Arrival of the British

By 1612, the Dutch established themselves in Pulicat to the north. In the seventeenth century when the British East India Company decided to build a factory on the east coast they selected Armagaon (Durgarazpatnam), a village around 35 miles North of Pulicat, as the site in 1626. The calico cloth from the local area, which was in high demand, was of poor quality and not suitable for export to Europe. The British soon realized that the Armagaon was not a good port and it 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 Armagaon Factory, made a voyage of exploration in 1637 down the coast as far as Pondicherry with a view to choose a site for a new settlement. At that time the Coromandel Coast was ruled by the Rajah of Chandragiri who was a descendant of the famous Rajas of Vijayanagar Empire. Under the Rajah, local chiefs or governors known as Nayaks, ruled over the different districts.
Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, local governor of the Vijayanagar Empire and Nayak of Wandiwash ruled the coastal part of the region, from Pulicat to the Portuguese settlement of San Thome. He had his head-quarters at Wandiwash and his brother Ayyappa Nayakudu resided at Poonamallee, a few miles to the west of Madras, and looked after the affairs of the coast. Beri Timmanna Chetti dubash(Interpreter)of Francis Day was a close friend of damarla Ayyappa Nayakudu. Beri Thimmanna migrated in the early 17th century to Chennai from Palacole, near Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Ayyappa Nayakudu persuaded his brother to lease out 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 at Madraspatnam and examine the possibilities of trade there. Madraspatnam seemed favorable during the inspection and the calicos woven at Madraspatnam were much cheaper than those at Armagaon.
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.
The English Factors at Masulipatam were satisfied with Francis Day. They requested Francis Day and the Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu 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, Francis Day and Andrew Cogan accompanied by a few factors and writers, a garrison of about 25 European soldiers and a few other European artificers, besides a Hindu powder-maker by name Naga Battan, proceeded to Madras and started the English factory. They reached Madraspatnam on February 20, 1640; and this date is important because it marks the first actual settlement of the English at the place.

Francis Day, his dubash (Interpreter) Beri Thimmanna Chetti and their superior Andrew Cogan can be considered as the founders of Chennai, then Madras. 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 grant signed between Damarla Venkatapadri and the British had to be authenticated or confirmed from the Raja of Chandragiri - Venkatapathy Rayulu.The Raja , Venkatapathy Rayulu was succeeded by his nephew Sri Rangarayulu in 1642. Sir Francis Day was succeeded by Thomas Ivy. The grant expired. So, Thomas Ivy sent Factor Greenhill on a misson to Chandragiri to meet the new Raja and get the grant renewed. A new grant was issued in 1642 copies of which are still available. It is dated October - November 1645. This new grant signed in 1645 empowered the English to administer justice and gave them an additional piece of land known as the Narimedu (Jackal-ground) which lay to the west of the village of Madraspatnam. All the 3 grants are said to be engraved on gold plates that do not exist now.
The Fort St George became the nucleus around which the city grew. 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.

1750s to 1947

In 1746, Fort St George and Madras were captured by the French under General La Bourdonnais, who used to be the Governor of Mauritius. The French are then described to have plundered the village of Chepauk and demolished Blacktown, the locality across from the port where all the dockyard labourers used to live [1].

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 Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore (1767). The 1783 version of Fort St George is what still stands today.
The British were in complete control of the city, after a decade's feud with the French, they expanded the city by encompassing the neighbouring villages of Triplicane, Egmore, Purasawalkam and Chetput to form the city of Chennapatnam, as it was called by locals then.
In the latter half of the 18th century, Madras became an important English 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). The British 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.

The development of a harbour in Madras led the city to become an important centre for trade between India and Europe in the eighteenth 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 comapy 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, Higginbothams, Hoe & Co and P. Orr & Sons.
Madras was the capital of the Madras Presidency and thus became home to important commercial organisations. 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). The Madras Trades Association was established in 1856 and The Madras Stock Exchange in 1920.


After India became independent, 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 and coined the slogan "Madras Manade" (Madras is ours) before Tirupati was included in Andhra Pradesh. The dispute arose as the city had come to be inhabited by both Tamil and Telugu speaking people. Earlier, Panagal Raja, Chief Minister of Madras Presidency in early 1920s had suggested that the Cooum river be the boundary between the Tamil and Telegu administrative areas. 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 Pradesh though the city was geographically part of the Andhra region. With time, migration of Tamil speaking people from other parts of Tamil Nadu to the state capital increased the percentage of Tamil speaking population.

Today, though a cosmopolitan city, the majority of residents in Chennai are native Tamilians. There are also a sizeable native Telugu, Anglo Indian and migrant Malayalee communities in the city. As the city is an important administrative and commercial centre, many communities like Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and Marwari communities and people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar migrated to the city and have contibuted 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.
From 1965 to 1967, the city was an important base for the Tamil agitation against the perceived imposition of Hindi, and witnessed sporadic rioting. Chennai witnessed further political violence due to the ethnic conflict 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 [2], [3]. 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 be have been a LTTE member. In 1996, the Government of Tamil Nadu renamed the city from "Madras" to "Chennai" by DMK Government. The 2004 tsunami lashed the shores of Chennai killing many and permanently altering the coastline.
Modern Chennai 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 center for outsourced IT and financial services from the Western world.

Source: wikipedia


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