About Chennai

Most happening Dravidian capital

Food, temples, beaches and cinema have to be experienced in Chennai, the gateway of South India, to understand what is sounique about this Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal.

The capital city of the Dravidian heartland Tamil Nadu is bursting at its seems with a steady flow of migrants, foreignexpatriates and Tamils from the districts who have driven up the land prices of Chennai.

And now buying a house in city proper is just out of bounds for a middle-class family. Moreover, the explosion of IT and industrial parks in the suburbs close to city have increased the purchasing power of the youth who are good at flaunting their new found richness in full public glare.

Spread over 426 sq. km with a population of 4.6 million, Chennai is expanding in all directions. Thanks to frenetic development,the Chennai Metropolitan Area (including its suburbs) has touched 1,189 sq.km in total areawith nearly 8.6 million living underthis extended jurisdiction of the city.

Ultra-modern, tradition in sync

Sine 1990s after the liberalisation of Indian economy, Chennai has become the automobile workshop of the country, thusearning the moniker the 'Detroit of India'.

Chennai is the biggest industrial city on the coromandal coast in South India with diversity in manufacturing enterprises.

Despite rapid strides in industrial progress, there are certain enclaves which still preserve their heritage structures.

Just visiting places like ones in Mylapore, Triplicane or West Mambalam in Chennai is like going back in Time Machine tolive a life full of cultural zest with full of religious overtones.

Even today, the city is known as the cultural capital of India as traditional art forms like Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music have strong patronage among the public.

Chennai is the sixth-largest city and fourth-most populous metropolitan (Greater Chennai) area in the country and 31st-largest urban area in the world.

With a number of MNCs setting up automobile plants at suburbs like Oragadam, Sriperumbudur and Maraimalai Nagar, the city is termed the Detroit of India as these companies are doing great business apart from exporting their products via the Madras Port.

In the financial sector and related service sector, Chennai is ranked next to Mumbai at the national level.

The city is host to the third-largest expatriate population in India after Mumbai and Delhi, with 35,000 in 2009 andsteadily climbing to one lakh numbers in 2014......Read More

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Global recognitions

Chennai is the only city in South Asia and India to figure in the "52 places to go around the world" by The New York Times.

Tourism guide publisher Lonely Planet has named Chennai as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2015.

Chennai is ranked as a beta-level city in the Global Cities Index and was ranked the best city in India by India Today in the 2014 annual Indian city survey. Chennai has also been named in the 'hottest' cities to live in for 2015 by BBC among global cities with a mixture of both modern and traditional values.

National Geographic ranked Chennai as world's 2nd best food cityand Chennai was the only Indian city to feature in the list. Chennai was also named the 9th best cosmopolitan city in the world by Lonely Planet.

The Chennai Metropolitan Area has been ranked the fourth-largest economy in India, and the third highest GDP per capita.

Multi-dimensional problems

As one of the fasted growing metropolitan cities, Chennai is yet to develop its infrastructure facilities in tune with the demand explosion and the large influx of people from all over the country.

The city planners and political class are grappling with the issue of new satellite townships on the suburbs that could accommodate the huge population with the all the modern amenities and employment source, besides filling up the deficits inthe social infrastructure.

Moreover, the scare of pollution (not unlike the one faced on Delhi roads) in the city proper is a major worry as theyounger generation will be the most affected lot in due course.

Modern history reshaped Chennai

Among the European powers, the Portuguese were the first to arrive in South India in 1522 CE. They built a port called Sao Tome after the Christian apostle St. Thomas who is believed to have preached in the areabetween 52 and 70 CE.

In 1612, the Dutch had set up their own base near Pulicat in north Chennai. Called the Madras Day, on 22 August 1639 the British East India Company led by Francis Day bought a small strip of land over3 miles on the Coromandel Coast.

The British got permission from local ruler Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, the Nayaka of Vandavasi, to build a factory and warehouse for their trading activities.

This small region was basically a fishing hamlet known as "Madraspatnam". A year later (1640), the British built Fort St. George, the first major British settlement in India, which became the nucleus of the colonial city.

Post-independence, the Fort St. George till date is being used as the Tamil Nadu Assembly cum Secretariat complex. In 1746, Fort St. George and Madraspatnam village were captured by the French under General La Bourdonnais, the Governor ofMauritius.

It is said the French General plundered the town and its outlying villages. The British regained the costal hamelt in 1749 through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

They further strengthened the town's fortress wall to withstand further attacks from the French and Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore. With valour and grit, the British under the leadership of Eyre Coote resisted a French siege attempt in 1759.

In 1769 the city was threatened by Mysore and the British were defeated by Hyder Ali, after which the Treaty of Madras ended the war. By the late 18th century, the British had conquered most of the region around Tamil Nadu and the modern–day states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, establishing the Madras Presidency with Madras as the capital.

Gradually, the city grew into a major naval base and became the central administrative centre for the British in SouthIndia. With the advent of railways in India in the 19th century, the thriving urban centre was connected to other important citiessuch as Bombay and Calcutta, promoting increased communication and trade with the hinterland.

Sir Arthur Lawley was Governor of Madras from 1906 to 1911 and promoted modern agriculture, industry, railways, educationand the arts, besides making attempts to usher in democratic governance.

Madras was the only Indian city to be attacked by the Central Powers during World War I, when an oil depot was shelled by the German light cruiser SMS Emden on 22 September 1914, as it raided shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.

Birth of Tamil Nadu

After India gained its independence in 1947, the city became the capital of Madras Province. A composite state, the then Madras comprised large parts of present day Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra, besides the existingTamil Nadu.

But during the reorganisation of Indian states in 1956, Madras Province was further divided to form new southern states based on linguistics. With the advent of Dravidian parties, violent agitations gripped Madras State in 1965 against the Hindi imposition marking a dramatic shift in the political landscape of this region.

Bowing to the wishes of the political leaders of the state and the groundswell of public opinion, Madras was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1969. On 26 December 2004, an Indian Ocean tsunami lashed the shores of Chennai, killing 206 people in Chennai and permanently altering the coastline.

Cultural link between 'Madras' & 'Chennai'

A welter of theories and possibilities are put forth to explain the origin of the words 'Chennai' and 'Madras' which in 1996 was changed to the former by the Tamil Nadu Assembly to reflect the city's cultural moorings.

The first theory on 'Chennai' is that it was derived from the name of a ruler Damal Chennappa Nayagar, a Nayakar of Vandavasi who served as a general under Sriranga Deva Raya of the Aravidu Dynasty.

The British acquired a small strip of land from Chennappa Nayagar on Coromandel Coast in 1639.

The first official use of the name Chennai is said to be in a sale deed, dated 8 August 1639, to Francis Day of the East India Company.

The second theory states that it was named after the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple; the word ‘Chenni’ in Tamil means face, with the temple regarded as the face of the city.

The name 'Madras' originated even before the British presence was established in India.

But there are different explanations on the origin of the word 'Madras' which is a colonial word:

  1. Must have derived from Madraspattinam, a fishing-village north of Fort St George.
    However, it is uncertain if the name ‘Madraspattinam’ was in use before the arrival of the Europeans.
  2. The military mapmakers believed Madras was originally Mundir-raj, or abbreviated to Mundiraj.
  3. Portuguese, who arrived in the 16th century, named the village Madre de Deus, meaning Mother of God.
  4. Another possibility sees the village's name coming from the prominent Madeiros family of Portuguese origin, which consecrated the Madre de Deus Church in the Santhome locality of Chennai in 1575.
  5. Another theory concludes that the name Madras was given to Chennapattanam after it was taken from a similarly named Christian priest.
  6. Other parties express the opinion that Madras might have taken its name from a fisherman by the name of Madrasan.
  7. From religious Muslim schools, referred to as Madrasahs.
  8. From the word Madhu-ras, which means ‘honey’ in Sanskrit.