Origin and growth of Chennai

Chennai is stated to be an important contributor towards administrative, military, and economic centre since the 1st century. The Pallava, the Chola, the Pandya, and Vijaynagar the noticeable dynasties ruled over Chennai. Mylapore was a major port of the Pallava. In 1522, the Portugese built a port called Sao Tome. It was named after the Christian leader of reforms, St. Thomas who preached in the area between 52 and 70 A.D.

Madras, acquired its name from Madraspattinam which is a fishing village situated to the north of Fort St. George. There are various versions related to the origin of the name Madras. One of the theory states that the name Madre de Deus must be given by the Portuguese to the village when they arrived there in the 16th century. Whereas, the historians believe that it is named after a prominent Madeiros family who declared the Madre de Deus as a sacred church in San Thome in 1575. This church demolished in the year 1997. On the contrary, the other theory says that the village is named after an Islamic college named ‘A Madrasa’ situated in the same area.

Similar to the versions of the origin of the name Madras, there are various such versions related to the origin of the name Chennai as well. It was considered as a part of the empire of the King of Chandragiri, the period when the British arrived in 1639 A.D. Further; it was named as Chennapattanam by the British when they acquired it from Chennappa Nayaka, the leader of Vijayanagar. In Tamil language the word ‘Chenni’ means face and the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple was thought of as the face of the city. Therefore, some people believed that the Chennapattanam was named after the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple.

In due course the two towns Madraspattinam and Chennapattinam merged in the 17th century i.e. the period when the British gained possession of the area. The united town was referred as Madraspattinam by the British whereas the localities preferred to call it ‘Chennapattinam’.

On 22nd August 1639, a small piece of land was purchased by the British East India Company which is located on the Coromandel Coast in Chandragiri from Peda Venkata Raya, king of Vijayanagar. For trading projects, Damerla Venkatapathy being the ruler of Vandavasi region permitted the British to build a factory and a warehouse. The next year British built the Fort St. George which then became a core part of the growing colonial city.
In 1746, the French under General La Bourdonnais, the Governor of Mauritius, who ransacked the town and nearby villages captured the Fort St. George and Madras. The control once again went in the hands of the British in 1749 through the Treaty of the Aix-la-Chapelle. They then strengthened the town’s fortress wall to defy further attacks from the French and other looming threat by Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore.

Along with Tamil Nadu, the other northern modern-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were conquered by the British in the late 18th century. This was the period when Madras Presidency was established with Madras as the capital. Under British rule, the city grew into a major urban centre and naval base.

During World War I, German light cruiser ‘SMS Emden’ attacked an oil depot in Madras. This attack demolished the shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean causing interruption to shipping. Madras was the only Indian city which was attacked during the World War I.
After India gained independence in 1947, Chennai became the capital of Madras State. In 1969 Madras state was renamed as state of Tamil Nadu.

Keywords: Chennai, Madras, ‘SMS Emden’, General La Bourdonnais, Aix-la-Chapelle, Hyder Ali, Madraspattinam and Chennapattinam, Chennappa Nayaka, Madrasa’