Chennai turns 370

Central Railway Station-Madras in 1925

As befits the historic occasion,a grand week-long birthday bash has been drawn up to mark 'Madras day' celebrations -- a wide canvas of cultural and literary activities.

Heritage walks, school exchange programmes, talks and contests, poetry and Carnatic music and quiz, food festivals and rallies, photo exhibitions and bike tours will give the true blue Chennaites glimpses of the city they never knew and of some things they do.

It was on this day in 1639 that British Administrator Francis Day got permission from the wards of Chennapa Naicker, a chieftain ruling the fishing hamlet near Madras Harbour to construct Madraspatam, as it was referred then by the British. The deal was struck by Francis Day,his 'dubash' Beri Thimmappa and their superior Andrew Cogan, with local Nayak rulers.

The original document relating to building of Fort St. George, a historic fort which was for a while the seat of power of the East India Company, is said to have been signed at Chandragiri fort in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

Robert Clive, founder of British empire in India, got married in a church inside the fort. His marriage certificate is still the prize possession of the museum in the fort.

Unknown to many is the fact that villages around temples like Parthasarathy in Triplicane and Kapaleeswarer temple in Mylapore near the Southern coast and Marudheeswarer temple in Thiruvanmiyur existed for several centuries, long before the Europeans arrived here.

Though many city historians have brought out books on the history of this 'grand dame' of the South, there has been no unanimity on how the city came to be known as Madras.

The Nayaks, who sold the land to the British, apparently wanted the city named after their father, Chennappanaikan from which the later version of Chennapattinam and the present version of Chennai is believed to have come about.

The first Europeans to reach the shores of Madras were the Portuguese. They built a church in Saint Thomas Mount enshrining the 'Bleeding Cross.'

And then they went further down to Little Mount, where they built another small church in 1551 where St Thomas, the disciple of Jesus Christ was hiding in a cave from his persecutors before being martyred in St Thomas Mount.

A Portuguese map of South India dating to 1569, displayed at the Clive Hall in Fort St George, does not mention Madras by name, but refers to 'Milapur', the present day Mylapore, famous for its temples.

Out of the Fort grew settlements around which villages came about and as time went by,merged to form a single entity. The city which became prominent carrying the name of Madras, was renamed Chennai by the Karunanidhi government in 1997.

Today Chennai, with over 60 lakh population, has emerged as one of the four major metropolises in India and stands tall with impressive strides in education, health care, IT, history, tourism, automobile industries and movies.

The city has also emerged as the second largest film production centre of the country behind Mumbai, with over 45 studios.

Of late, Chennai has also emerged as the 'medical capital' of India,with a large number of corporate hospitals coming up.

The city can also boost of being the second largest IT hub in the country, next to Bangalore. Ashok Leyland, Hyundai and Ford have set up manufacturing units in and around Chennai. So also have Nissan and German luxury marque BMW.

Present day Chennai does have its problems like drinking water shortage and waterlogging even during brief spells of rains, besides unscheduled power cuts. City dwellers, who are increasingly vocal about issues, must be fervently hoping that the birthday celebrations will at least see an end to their woes.

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