Once Madras, Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu turns 372

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2011, 13:29 PM IST

Chennai: It was on this day in 1639 that British administrator Francis Day along with his superior Andrew Cogan struck a deal with the Vijayanagar Empire to acquire a stretch of no man`s land. That stretch of land went on to be become Madras, which is today known as Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.

The British first built a fortified `factory` on this land which was named on St.George`s birthday April 23, 1640 as Fort St.George, which is now the seat of power in the state, according to historian S. Muthiah`s "Madras-Its past and its present".

In his book, S. Muthiah says that before British, there was no Madras. And after Madras, half the area in the world map was marked with the English flag.

However, it`s not that there were no towns and villages before the British built their fort on the Coromandel Coast.

There was thriving civilization along the coast, the proof of which is the existence of temples dating back to eighth century like the Padampakkanathar temple in Thiruvottiyur, Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, Marundeeswarar Temple in Thiruvanmiyur.

Outside the walls of Fort St.George developed what is called George Town, from where the British carried out their trade.

Slowly, the East India Company began acquiring villages, and in the process the city grew.

For three years between 1746 and 1749, Fort St.George fell into the possession of the French. It was restored to the British under the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

After that, there was no looking back for the East India Company which laid the foundation of the British Empire in India.

British architect Roberth Chisholm gave Madras the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture -- a mix of Hindu, European and Mughal styles. Madras High Court, Southern Railways and National Art Gallery are some of the notable buildings built in the architecture style.

Madras was rechristened Chennai in 1996.

While the city produces battle tanks to bicycles, it`s considered the hub of global auto production with major vehicle producers like Ford, Hyundai, Caterpillar, Mitsubhishi, BMW, Nissan and Renault and home-grown Ashok Leyland and Enfield Motors rolling out their products.

It`s also considered the cradle for modern retail -- thanks to Spencer Departmental Stores to Viveks and Saravanas.

The city`s business map also includes software companies like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and electronic companies like Nokia, Samsung and Motorola.

Chennai also boasts of a number of leather and cotton garment units. The city is said to be a Mecca of medicare and engineering education, not to forget the south Indian film industry.

It has also been home for stalwarts in various fields.

The city boasts of noted sporting personalities like chess player Vishwanathan Anand, tennis players Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, cricketers K. Srikkanth and S. Venkataraghavan.

It`s also home to businessmen like Pratap Reddy, founder of Apollo Hospitals group. In the auto component field, Venu Srinivasan and Suresh Krishna chart their business from Chennai. Pepsico`s global CEO Indira Nooyi was born and brought up here.

"It is a city that meets the world through the ocean. Chennai is home to the most gifted minds in music, dance, theatre, science, software, philosophy and silence," contemporary dancer-writer Anita R. Ratnam told reporters.

"This is a city that hosts the largest cultural festival in the world every December. It is only here that individuals and artistes from other states are honoured with the local government award. There is little pretence and affectation in Chennai - just bonhomie and goodwill," Ratnam added.

As part of Madras Day celebrations, a week-long programme of events like heritage walks, tours, exhibitions and others are organised by different organisations.

IANS