A City’s Birthday
People celebrate their birthdays. Here, a city celebrates its birthday. The city of Madras was founded on August 22, 1639. This day is celebrated as Madras day.
On this day, many events are held focusing on the history and cultural heritage of the city and Tamil land in general. Many groups, communities and companies come forward to organize events on culture, music, food, poetry, and talks, on the history of the city.
East India Company
Land from Raja of Chandragiri
On this day, the British East India Company, represented by Francis Day, purchased land from Raja of Chandragiri, near Tirupati, to build Fort Saint George on the Coromandel Coast.
Francis Day East India Company Logo
Chandragiri in India Map Chandragiri fort
Dynasty of Padmavati Devi
It was a daughter of this Chandragiri dynasty, Padmavati Devi whom Lord Venkateswara married.
Princess Padmavathi of Chandragiri dynasty
Lord Venkateswara & Goddess Padmavathi
Why Francis Day chose this place?
Francis Day decided to set up their camp at the estuary of the Cooum River, probably because, his lady love, a Portuguese girl, was in the Portuguese settlement of Luz, which was around 5 kms down south, along the same beach.
Luz – Light
‘Luz’ is a Portuguese word, meaning light. When the Portuguese were one evening, searching for a suitable spot in the Coromandel coast, they saw a ray of light on shore and decided to move their ship and set up their trading camp there.
This place is now remembered as Luz church.
This beach between Fort Saint George and Luz is the famous Marina beach of Chennai.
Marina Beach, Chennai
British Trade Post
This piece of land soon grew into a fledgling town, primarily a British trading post operating out of Fort Saint George.
Fort Saint George
The word Chennai comes from Chennaipatnam. The word patnam in Tamil means town.
The word chennai comes from the two patron divinities of this region, Chenna Malleswara and Chenna Kesava. The word Chenna itself finds more usage now in the Kannada language, meaning good, that which augurs well. This shows how people, language intermingled and were composite, even few centuries back.
Similarly, we have the word Vishakapatnam in northeast, with the word patnam, meaning town.
Madras – Madrassa – Thousand lights
The name Madras could well have come from a madarasa, a school of Islam that was then situated at a place now known as thousand lights. It was then called Airyam Vilaka, for, Madarrasa was well lit, every evening, with thousand glistening lamps.
Birthplace of Indian Army
In 1746, there was a war in the outskirts of Madras called the Adyar War. It was fought between the French commanders who had thousand soldiers on his side against the local Nawab who has a 10,000 strong army. The local Nawab was routed at the Adyar Estuary. The handful of British who were present there were bystanders during the war.
Major stringer Lawrence who was present then collected all the local soldiers post this battle, made them into a fighting force and called them the Madras Army.
Not of Recent Origin
While the British might have set up their colony here only in the year 1639, this place of Chennai has ancient antiquity.
Adi Shankara visits Chennai
2500 years ago, Adi Shankara visited the area around Chennai. When he came, he visited the Devi temple at Tiruvottiyur, which is today in North Chennai.
Adi Shankara Tiruvottiyur Devi Temple
Adi Shankara with his four disciples at Tiruvottiyur Devi Temple
He also visited the Devi temple at Mangadu. The word Mangadu means mango groove, Manga meaning mango and Kadu for forest.
Mangadu Devi temple
Both these Devis at Tiruvottiyur and Mangadu were in their ugra, ferocious form. Adi Shankara through his penance made a sri yantra in front of both Devis, to bring down their ferocity and make this place habitable for the locals.
Alwars who lived around 1500 years have visited Chennai. One of the Alwar, Bhoothath Alwar was born in west of Chennai.
Around Chennai, there are over a dozen temples that have poems sung by Alwars, called Pasuram in Tamil, when they visited these temples.
The 12 Alwars
Nayanmars who also lived around 1500 years ago, also visited the Chennai region.
Nayanmars, who are devotees of Shiva have visited many Shiva temples in this region.
Infact, one of the big festivals of Chennai, is the carrying of the 63 Nayanmars in palanquin, around the Kapileshwar temple and its tanks, annually, in the month of March.
Kapileshwar Temple, Chennai
This festival is popularly known as Arvathi Muvar, named after 63 Nayanmar saints.
Arvathi Muvar, 63 Nayanmars being carried in chappram, palanquin procession
The antiquity of this area having continuous habitation for the last 2500 years and more is available to us through poetry, archaeology and monuments.
It is only the British component of Madras, which grew around Fort Saint George, which is of recent antiquity of 375 years.
Chatrapati Shivaji visits Chennai
Chatrapati Shivaji, in his conquest of the south, came upto Chennai. He prayed at the Kalika temple on 16 October, 1677.
Chatrapati Shivaji Plaque at the Kalikaamba temple
Kalikamba Temple, Chennai
Shivaji statue found at Kalikambal temple gopuram
British paid honorariums to Shivaji
During this visit to Madras, the British sent him gifts, honorariums, which in the local language is called “Kappam”, twice within a month, to his camping site near the Kalikambal temple, which is to the west of Fort Saint George, which was then the entry point to Madras.
They did this as a good will gesture requesting him not attack their trading post saying that they were only peaceful traders.
As the East India Company and the British rule of India slowly grew from Madras. Madras has many firsts to its credit.
· First Allopathy Hospital in India
· First Muncipal Corporation in India
· First Centre of Technical Education In India
· First English type school
· First Astronomical Observatory
· First native infantry regiment
· Great Trignometrical Survey which measure the size of India, which survey incidently found the Mount Everest to be the tallest peak, started their first survey from Chennai
· First Railway track for demonstration purpose was laid here
· Madam Tussads wax museum famous now, was brought to Madras for display, before finally being housed in London.
Becoming a Major City
This town continued to grow over the centuries. Around this piece of land, has grown the modern city of Madras, known as Chennai today.
Madras Day is an occasion to remember the glorious heritage of this city that has evolved over millennia.