Chennai turns 380: Interesting facts about the capital city of Tamil Nadu

Updated: Aug 22, 2019, 14:46 IST | mid-day online correspondent

Chennai, the first city of Modern India in Tamil Nadu completes 80 years on August 22nd. The founding of this southern metropolis is celebrated as Madras Day annually. On this occasion, we present some interesting facts and trivia

Chennai turns 380: Interesting facts about the capital city of Tamil Nadu
Mount Road with the round Tana. The word Tana comes from Thana meaning police station. Pic courtesy/ Madras Then Chennai Now by Nanditha Krishna and Tishani Doshi/Roli Books

Chennai, the first city of Modern India in Tamil Nadu completes 380 years today on August 22nd. The occasion is celebrated annually as Madras Day. On this occasion, we present some interesting facts and trivia on the South Indian city...

Chennai's 375 anniversary
An aerial view of Chennai city. Pic courtesy/ Madras Then Chennai Now by Nanditha Krishna and Tishani Doshi/Roli Books


On 22 August 1639, the British East India Company under Francis Day bought a small strip of land stretching 3 miles on the Coromandel Coast. They got a license to build a fort and a castle in the contracted region.

The ruler Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, the Nayaka of Vandavasi, granted the British permission to build a factory and warehouse for their trading enterprises. The region was then primarily a fishing village known as "Madraspatnam".

A year later, the British built Fort St. George, the first major British settlement in India, which became the nucleus of the growing colonial city.

Fort St. George housed the Tamil Nadu Assembly until the new Secretariat building was opened in 2010. The Tamil Nadu Assembly was again moved back to Fort St. George.

A city of firsts

  • Chennai has the distinction of being the first British settlement.
  • The Fort Museum inside the premises of Fort St. George, managed by the Archaeological Survey of India enjoys the pride of having in its possession, the first tricolour hoisted after the Indian independence. 
  • Chennai is the first city in India to have implemented the Conditional Access System for cable television.
  • Chennai was the first Indian city to have a Wi-Fi facility in a widespread manner.
  • Chennai is home to the first European-style banking system in India with the establishment of the 'Madras Bank' on 21 June 1683, almost a century before the establishment of the first commercial banks, such as the Bank of Hindustan and the General Bank of India, which were established in 1770 and 1786, respectively. 
  • The Spectator, founded in 1836, was the first English newspaper in Chennai to be owned by an Indian and became the city's first daily newspaper in 1853.

Home to world's second longest beach

Chennai's Marina Beach runs for 6 km, spanning along the shoreline of the city between the deltas of Cooum and Adyar. It is the second-longest urban beach in the world.

Marina Beach

An undated image of the Marina Beach. The picture presents a view looking south along the waterfront, with the lighthouse in the distance and numerous masoola boats lining the foreshore. In 1976, the lighthouse was replaced by a new building. The current Chennai Lighthouse is one of the 13 lighthouses in India that are identified as heritage centers to portray the maritime history of India. Picture courtesy/ Madras Then Chennai Now by Nanditha Krishna and Tishani Doshi/Roli Books

A tribute to Chennai

Anirudh Ravichander of 'Kolaveri Di' fame released a music album titled, 'Chancey Illa Chennai', a tribute to Chennai, starring himself, which was shot at various places across the city including Kamala Theatre, Beasant Nagar beach, Chennai Central railway station etc.

The birthplace of the rich and famous

Chess grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, Cricketers Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Dinesh Karthik, Murali Vijay, Squash players and CWG gold medallists Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa, racing driver Karun Chandok, actor Kamal Haasan, Oscar-winning music maestro AR Rahman, scientist and Nobel laureate CV Raman, chairmann of Pepsi Co. Indra Nooyi among many other eminenet personalities were born in Chennai.

How Chennai got its name

Different aspects explain the origin of the name Chennai/Chennapattanam:

1. First theory explains the name that it was from the Telugu ruler Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, Nayaka of Chandragiri and Vandavasi, father of Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, from whom the English acquired the town in 1639.

2. The second theory states 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

3. Historian J B Prashant More has stated that the origin of the name "Chennai" is Telugu and not Tamil.

Home to Kollywood

Chennai is the base for the Tamil film industry, known as Kollywood. Many former film personalities like M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalitha have gone on to become successful politicians. Former chief minister M.Karunanidhi has close links with Kollywood. Chennai hosts the AVM studios, the oldest surviving studio in India.

Chennai was Madras before the British came

The name Madras originated even before the British arrived in India. Several explanations attempt to account for the city's colonial name:

  • Allegedly derived from Madraspattinam, a fishing-village north of Fort St. George. However, it is uncertain whether the name 'Madraspattinam' was in use before the arrival of European influence. 
  • Military mapmakers believed Madras was originally Mundir-raj, or abbreviatedly, Mundiraj.
  • Other arguments suggest that the Portuguese, who arrived in the area in the 16th century, named the village Madre de Deus, meaning Mother of God.
  • 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.
  • Other parties express the opinion that Madras might have taken its name from a fisherman by the name of Madrasan from religious Muslim schools, referred to as Madrasahs
  • From the word Madhu-ras, which means "honey" in Sanskrit.

Other facts

  • 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.
  • It is also the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the country and 31st largest urban area in the world.
  • The city is host to the third-largest expatriate population in India after Mumbai and Delhi, with 35,000 in 2009 and steadily climbing to 82,790 in 2011.

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