On August 22, Chennai completed its 375th Birthday – Here’s a tribute to the one of the oldest and most important city of the South!

Treasures of Chennai

Brown sugar sapotas
Blending with custard alfonso mangos
And bold sweet lime juice

Georgette saris
Pairing with uncut diamond necklaces
Mixed with peals and rubies

Gently sloping palm trees
Swaying in balmy sultry air
And hazy golden sunsets

Frenetic yellow autos
Competing with dusty zipping mopeds
Mixed with ambulating pedestrians

Aromas of cumin
Blending with the sewage
Other times with incense

Glows of brass oil lamps
Singing in hums of prayer
Added with turmeric’s incantations

Brightly-patterned salwars
Accentuating gemstone bindis
Comfy fitted leggings

Savoury masala dosas
Coupling coconut chutney
Meter-high filter coffee

(This Poem is written by a young poet under the Nom De Plume: Indian Phoenix)

My earliest memory of Chennai (It was called Madras then) is perhaps of Marina Beach! It was less crowded then. Perhaps in the eyes of a kid, it was more halcyon kind of beach. No popcorn sellers, no fish fry stalls, or the makeshift chats, bonda and bajji stalls around, not many ice-cream carts either, just conch shells and sea corals at throwaway prices.

The road from Presidency College to Queen Mary’s College was not occupied then by the vendors of every hue and haggle!

The beachfront road was well maintained then and it was a pleasant route for a walk along the vast expanse of the sea.

mgr memorial at marina beach 1  Chennai 375!

On the moonlit nights the place was magical! 

Running from near Fort St. George in the north to Besant Nagar in the south at a length of about 13 kms., It is still the longest natural urban beach in India. But the idyllic charm has gone for ever, despite a new shopping mall has cropped up in the vicinity, with KFC, McDonalds, Subway, even a PVR at the top…just across the road!

The other memory is of Mylapore. Chennai’s oldest residential area. 

With so many temples around! Of which the Kapaleeshwarar Temple has always  played a central role! Temple bells ringing at designated hours, hawkers selling flowers, garlands, kumkum, ritual’s knick knacks on the approaching roads, the scents of champak, jaathi malli, kadambam, nagalingam ,sampangi ,sandal paste and  occasional rasam from some nearby eatery, all conjured up into my juvenile memory!

Mylapore is also famous for its Silk Sari shops too. The Rasi Silk Store near Kapalishwara temple is a landmark till date. Established in the early 1900s, it has always been the most sought after source for the most beautiful collection of Kanjivaram Saris!

Mylapore’s Saravana Bhavan is still the best traditional Tamilian food joint which I kep on coming, time and again.

This is one of the largest Indian vegetarian restaurant chains in the world. In 1981, the founder P. Rajagopal (Annachi) believed that very few things bring about a smile of satisfaction like good food. The philosophy remained intact. 

Today, our group has its presence across 31 outlets in South India, 2 in the North (in Delhi) and 46 outlets across the globe.

But for me Mylapore is very special. Even, after so many years, I always find early in the morning, so many loyal customers sipping their cup of kaapi, engrossing on their newspapers. Located in the commercial district of Mylapore’s Radhakrishnan Salai. It buzzes with activities through the day and most parts of the morning and night. The place has now become crowded, more items have been added, but the taste, courtesy and cleanliness remained intact.

Never to forget A2B: Adayar Anand Bhavan on the Road to Ramakrishna Math (it has now opened branch in Delhi like Saravana Bhavan …too, but the authentic Southey taste and environ simply can’t match) for the immortal taste of Madras sweets and snacks,

The Mylai Karpagambal Mess, on Mylapore’s East Mada Street, though become a bit older in all those years but the keen attraction remains. A trip to Mylapore is perhaps not complete, if you have not stepped into this modest restaurant for a ready bite or a cup of coffee. Right from the banana leaf to the hot kaapi, each and everything about this place speaks of Madras of yesteryears.

chennai food  Chennai 375!

Those who have grown old in Chennai can still swear for its unique, potato podimas, beans usili, avial, lemon and pineapple rasam!

Time has changed, now Mylapore has so many restaurants! North Indian Restaurants are aplenty. Now you have a ‘Copper Chimney’ at Rajasekaren Street, ‘Dhaba’, ‘Tandoor’,’Minar’, ‘Kabul’, even ‘Al-Arab’!

Chennai Turned 375 

On Friday, Chennai completed its 375th birthday. August 22 commemorates the day in 1639 when officials of the East India Company established Fort St George that ultimately become the nucleus of the modern city.

Dates may not be finitely assured, but the modern history of this phenomenal city begins on August 22, 1639.

 On that very day, Francis Day, and Andrew Cogan, the officers of the English East India Company, received permission and the grant from Venkatadri Nayak of Wandiwash, the ruled of the region under the Vijayanagara Empire, to build a Fort on a of land on the seafront between the Cooum River in the south and the “Elampore River” in the north.

The first stone of the Fort was laid on March 1, 1640, visualising the city of Madras, the first modern city of India.

A Chequered History 

The place on the Coromandel Coast looked peaceful and serene. A few fishing villages here and there, palm-lined fields, the calmness that matched with the temperate waves that touched the sun kissed sands.

But it is not that the place was forlorn before the British came. The place can boast of magnificent eighth century temples that include the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore, the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, and the Marundeeswarar temple in Thiruvanmiyur – all within the heart of Chennai.

This place was under the Pallava rulers, from the fourth century A.D. to the 9th century A,D. “The earliest inscription to be found in Madras is at Pallavaram. It belongs to the Pallava ruler Mahendravarman I (ruled between A.D. 600-630). 

madras battle  Chennai 375!

As Fort St. George was developed further, the places Chennapatnam and Madraspatnam expanded too, the three got integrated to become Madras. On this process, British acquired a number of adjacent villages, including Mylapore and Triplicane, using various tactics with the local rulers. In early 1693 the villages of Egmore, Purasawalkam and Tondiarpet were acquired.

In 1708, the Mughal Nawab Daud Khan handed over Thiruvottiyur, Nungambakkam, Vyasarpadi, Kathiwakkam and Sattangadu to the British by a firman.

Battles for Madras 

While the East India Company was busy acquiring villages, a city was slowly shaping up. Madras grew around Fort St George, which was not just a Military outpost but also a British trading post at that time.

The Great Maratha ruler Chhatrapathi Shivaji and his troops came on marching through the town of Madras in the year 1740. 

The war between England and France in Europe had its fallout in Madras. French attacked Fort St. George in September 1746 and took it from the British. For a brief period (1746-49), Fort St George was into the possession of the French, due to strong French presence in Pondicherry. It was on a later date, restored to the British under a treaty.

Hyder Ali attacked Madras on the outbreak of Mysore Wars. His army defeated the combined forces of the English and the Marathas. Hyder Ali’s army looted the city and adjoining areas and won a part of the territory. But after his death in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799, British had no challenges left for them. They got busy in town building.

Creating Base for Modern India 

Renowned city chronicler S. Muthiah wrote: “Kolkata is 50 years younger than Madras and Bombay is about 35 years younger. The East India Company when it first established itself in India, Madras was the chief settlement of the British and of the Company when it was a trading unit. It was only when they began to look at expanding that they moved the capital to Kolkata.”

As Madras grew, it provided to India the institutions that modern India can boast of.

Chennai Corporation, the oldest Municipal body in India, was established in the year 1688. Incidentally, it’s the second oldest in the world, after London.  

chennai corporation  Chennai 375!

British brought the landmark Educational institutions like Presidency College and Guindy Engineering College in the city. They are the pioneers in imparting modern education and scientific/technical knowledge in the country.

Muthiah further says: “For the first 150 years Madras was the chief settlement and it was here that almost virtually everything in modern India – the first municipality, the first technical school, the first western style of Education – began. After that they grew elsewhere but the beginnings were in this city”.

Madras started the first European-style banking in India with the opening of the ‘Madras Bank’ on 21 June 1683, almost a century before the establishment of the first commercial banks in the country, the Bank of Hindustan and the General Bank of India, which were established in years 1770 and 1786, respectively.

Celebrating ‘Madras Day’ 

Once a sleepy hamlet, Chennai has now changed into a lively metropolis dotted with skyscrapers, numerous shopping malls, spreading roads and spiralling flyovers. It’s the home of one of the Indian’s biggest film industry, the centre of Indian automobile and ancillary industries, the second biggest IT hub, a cultural melting pot and the political hotspot.

To commemorate the birth of this great city, some years ago, a group of historians, heritage lovers and intellectuals  came together to celebrate August 22 as Madras Day lining up a series of events including heritage walks, exhibition of old photographs, film screenings, commemorative songs  and indigenous culinary sessions. TV and radio channels started airing special programmes related to the city’s birthday.

The idea to celebrate the birth of the city every year was actually  born when journalists Shashi Nair andVincent D’Souza met the legendary historian of Madras city and the Editor of ‘Madras Musings’, S. Muthiah at his residence  over cups of Filter Coffee.

D’Souza has been organising the Mylapore Festival, a major happening in the city now, in January every year.

mylapore festival chennai turns 375  Chennai 375!

It was then decided by the three of them, to start celebrating ‘Madras Day’ from 2004.  The “primary motive of celebrating `Madras Day’ was to focus on the city, its past and its present.

With just five events in 2004, in 2008, it reached over 60 different events around the city.

The events associated with the day including heritage walks, photo exhibitions, lectures, seminars, cycle and Motor Bike tours across the city,  poetry, caption quiz contests, screening of films and documentaries, songs and food festivals.

This year it reportedly crossed 100 events, and will be continued for a fortnight, spiralling into September. Big industrial houses of the city, publications and FM channels have been roped in.

This year commemorative T Shirts are a big sale. RJs are now better prepared for their narrations, seminars are held on topics like Armenians in Madras, Forest Conservation in the city, about Temples and Churches of the city. The Murugappa Group, the Hindu Newspaper, even Tamil Newspapers, even Times of India  are coming out in a big way to support the fortnight long Festival.

‘Madras Day’ Songs

The significant celebration has put Chennai’s lyricists and musicians into high enthusiasm. 

Publicly three major theme songs have been composed for this gala occasion. They have now gone viral. 

The Madras Song 

The Murugappa group collaborated with the newspaper The Hindu for the vibrant song which describes the variant experiences a first-time visitor and her wondrous discovery of the city of Madras.

A young lady lands in Chennai, for the first time. In a defiant mood, she takes a typical yellow top Ambassador Taxi to the vibrant city in the evening. Next morning she sparks off a whirlwind discovery of Madras, riding a scooter, where she flits between the various sights, sounds, smells and warmth the city has to offer. In her wondrous trip she starts interacting with the people. Travelling on a yellow scooter, then waving from a cycle rickshaw or often dancing on the streets…she starts falling in love with the city! 

This four-and-a-half minute video, the experiential film, made in an unchoreographed format with real-life experiences, is directed by Vijay Prabhakaran. Written by Subu and Music director is Vishal Chandrasekharan.

The most appealing voice is of singer Shakthishree Gopalan. The young lady, as the visitor to Madras has been played by actor-model Yasmin Ponnappa.

Namma Chennai Chancey Illa 

Produced by Sathyabama University, this music video is again about an outside visitor falling in love with the city. A first-time visitor, who is from abroad,  flies into the city and instantly  falls in love with the city, looking at it  from the backseat of an autorickshaw.

The song is composed by AR Reihana, who is the sister of Music Director AR Rahman. The song   mentions the names of CV Raman, Abdul Kalam and of course, Rajnikanth, the famous Chennai personalities.  

This this peppy Music video is sponsored by The Times of India.

Anirudh Ravichander of ‘Kolaveri Di’ fame has composed the music. ‘Chancey Illa Chennai’, a tribute to Chennai, starring himself. 

Here the youngsters of the city are exclaiming and proclaiming: “Chancey illa”, by their characteristic hand gesture.  Which roughly translates, “Dude, there’s no chance there’s a place like ours, Chennai!”

The video was shot at various locations across the city, including Chennai Central Railway station, Kamala Theatre and Beasant Nagar beach.

By: Deep Basu

Image Source: Mylapore Festival, Chennai Corporation, Map, Marina BEACH, Food

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