Madras Day – Journey of the City From Madraspatnam to Chennai

Madras Day

Today’s Chennai (formerly known as Madras) is known as an important commercial, cultural, educational and economic hub in South India. But, it was nothing like now when the British East India Company came to India and founded Madras in the year 1639.

Insights of this blog are:-

  • History of Madras
  • The Arrival of British East India Company
  • The Story of St. George Settlement
  • The Renaming of Madras: The New Name And The Reason Behind It
  • Madras Day: What It Is, How Did It Start And The Celebrations Today

History Of Madras

Earlier, the city of Chennai was known as Madraspatnam and was located in an area which was surrounded by Pennar River Nellore and Pennar River Cuddalore on each side. The area was under the rule for a long time by the Cholas, the Pallavas, the Pandiyas and the Vijaynagar empire after which European traders followed.

  • The Portuguese were the first to come. They came in 1522 and built a fort after St. Thomas which is known as Sao Tome. St. Thomas is believed to have preached on this land between 52 to 70 AD.
  • Following the Portuguese, the Dutch came to India in the year 1612. They established their base in Pulicat, which was north of Madras (now Chennai).

The Arrival of British East India Company

Following the Dutch, the British East India Company came to India. On 22nd August 1939, a British Official Francis Day obtained a grant from the local ruler, Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka. The land was a fishing village sandwiched between the Cooum River and Egmore River. The grant was issued for 2 years and allowed the British East India Company to build a fort and a castle which essentially was a settlement of British factory workers, merchants and other residents and later grew up to be a modern metropolitan city.

After receiving the grant Francis Day and his superior Andrew Cogan reached Madraspatnam on 20th February 1640 and this was the time when first British settlement in India started. The grant was further renewed in 1642 and 1645 which added some land to Madraspatnam and allowed them to enact English Common Law in the settlement.

The Story of St. George Settlement

The British built a fort known as Fort St. George in the area. Later, the surrounding areas owned by the British East India Company and the St. George Fort together came to be known as St. George Settlement. The fort was primarily built for the settlement of British factory workers, merchants and other British residents. However, after residences were built this small settlement gathered the attention of traders, both Indians and Europeans towards it.

  • The rules of the Nayka, did not allow the Europeans to decorate the walls of their houses with any other color apart from white and thus the area came to be known as “White town.”
  • However, Indians arrived in the area and violent clashes broke between the Hindus, Muslims and other Indian communities against the Europeans. As a result, these non-Europeans, mostly Hindus and Muslims were given a place to form their settlement and a wall was built to separate this settlement from the White Town and thus this area was known as “Black town.”
  • Originally, Madras was a name given by British and compromised of St. George Fort, the White Town and the Black town.
  • However, in the 17th century vexed by plague and warfare between the Europeans and the non-Europeans the population of St. George Fort fell drastically.
  • In order to protect themselves during the violent clashes the Europeans used to take refuge in St. George Fort and over time, the fort became the core of the city.

Renaming of Madras: The New Name And The Reason Behind It

On 17th of July, 1996, the Chief Minister (CM) of the state M. Karunanidhi changed the name of the city and renamed it as Chennai. The new name Chennai was derived from Chennaipattanam which was a small town near fort St. George.

The reason for renaming the city from Madras to Chennai was linguistic pride associated with renaming the city in vernacular rather than staying stuck to the old name given by the British.

Madras Day: What It Is, How Did It Start And The Celebrations Today

What It Is?

Being celebrated on 22nd of August every year, Madras Day is a festival which marks the founding of the city of Madras by the East India Company back in 1639. This day highlights the highly important event when the British East India Company purchased Madraspatnam from the then viceroy of Vijaynagar empire, Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka. Madras Day highlights the history of the city, it’s past and present.

How Did It Start?

The idea of Madras Day was first suggested by a journalist Vincent D’Souza to a historian S.Mutiah during a meeting of trustees of Chennai Heritage Foundation back in 2004. Since then, the Madras Day celebrations have been held every year without fail.

The Celebrations Today

What started as a gratitude event by four people back in 2004 has gained popularity immensely in the hearts of the people. The success of the event during successive years have moved the attention from celebrating it only on a particular day to a week. Today, Madras Day celebrations go on for a week and the core team motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses in the city to host events to uphold the glory of the foundation day i.e. Madras Day. From heritage walks to food fests, bike tours and photo exhibitions people celebrate this day with full of joy and enthusiasm.

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