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History, Geographical and Physical Features of Chennai City, Capital of Tamilnadu

History, Geographical and Physical Features of Chennai City, Capital of Tamilnadu

History, Geographical and Physical Features of Chennai City, Capital of Tamilnadu Source:


Chennai, originally known as Madras Patnam, was located in the province of Tondaimandalam, an area lying between Pennar river of Nellore and the Pennar river of Cuddalore. The capital of the province was Kancheepuram.Tondaimandalam was ruled in the 2nd century A.D. by Tondaiman Ilam Tiraiyan, who was a representative of the Chola family at Kanchipuram. It is believed that Ilam Tiraiyan must have subdued Kurumbas, the original inhabitants of theregion and established his rule over Tondaimandalam. Subsequent to Ilam Tiraiyan, the region seemed to have been ruled by the Chola Prince Ilam Killi.The Chola occupation of Tondaimandalam was put to an end by the Andhra Satavahana incursions from the north under their King Pulumayi II. They appointed chieftains to look after the Kancheepuram region. Bappaswami, who is considered as the first Pallava to rule from Kancheepuram, was himself a chieftain (of the tract round) at Kancheepuram under the Satavahana empire in the beginning of the 3rd century A.D.,

The Pallavas who had so far been merely viceroys, became independent rulers of Kancheepuram and its surrounding areas. Pallavas held sway over this region from the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. to the closing years of the 9th century except for the interval of some decades when the region was under Kalabharas. Pallavas were defeated by the Chola under Aditya-I by about 879 A.D. and the region was brought under Chola rule.

Pandyas under Jatavarman Sundara Pandya rose to power and the region was brought under Pandya rule by putting an end to Chola supremacy in 1264 A.D.Pandya's rule over this region lasted a little over half a century followed by Bahmini kingdom with the extension of Delhi Sultanate under Khilji dynasty especially under the rule of Alauddin Khilji, a pioneer of all revenue works.

During 1361, Kumara Kampana II, the son of Vijayanagar King, Bukka I conquered and established Vijayanagar rule in Tondaimandalam. The Vijayanagar rulers appointed chieftain known as Nayaks who ruled over the different regions of the province almost independently. Damarla Venkatapathy Nayak, an influential chieftain under Venkata III, who was in-charge of the area of present Chennai city, gave the grant of a piece of land lying between the river Cooum almost at the point it enters the sea and another river known as Egmore river to the English in 1639.

On this piece of waste land was founded the Fort St. George exactly for business considerations. In honour of Chennappa Nayak, father of Venkatapathy Nayak, who controlled the entire coastal country from Pulicat in the north to the Portuguese settlement of Santhome, the settlement which had grown up around Fort St. George was named after Chennapatanam. The older area called the Madraspatnam lay to the north of it. Later on, the intervening space between the older northern site of Madraspatnam came to be quickly built over with houses of the new settlers (as the two expanded) and that the two villages became virtually one town. While the official centre of the settlement was designated Fort St. George, the British applied the name Madras Patnam to the combined town. Golkonda forces under General Mir Jumla conquered Madras in 1646 and brought Chennai and its immediate surroundings under his control.

On the fall of Golkonda in 1687, the region came under the rule of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi. Firmans were issued by the Mughal Emperor granting the rights of English company in Chennai. In the later part of the seventeenth century, Chennai steadily progressed during the period of Agency and under many Governors. During the regime of Governor Elihi Yale (1687-92), the most important event was the formation of the institution of a mayor and Corporation for the city of Chennai. In 1693, a perwanna was received from the local Nawab granting the towns Tondiarpet, Purasawalkam and Egmore to the company. Thomas Pitt became the Governor of Chennai in 1698 and governed for eleven years. This period witnessed remarkable development of trade and increase in wealth. The important events during this period were the blockade of Chennai by Daud Khan and its repulsion and the acquisition of additional suburban villages by the English. Thiruvottiyur, Vysarpadi, Kathivakkam, Nungambakkam and Satangadu were made as a free gift to the English in 1708. In 1735, Chintadripet was taken over and in 1742 Vepery, Perambur and Periamet were presented to the British.

Nicholas Morse was the Governor from 1744 to 1746. The most important event during his time was the outbreak of war between England and France and the consequent struggle for supremacy between the French and the English in South India. Chennai was captured by the French in 1744 but consequent on the treaty of peace of Aix-La-Chapelle, Chennai was restored to the English in 1749. George Pigot was the Governor for the period from 1755 to 1763. The period is remarkable for the fact that the Company form a trading corporation, owning isolated towns, forts and factories, became a ruling power controlling vast territories. Charles Bourchier became Governor in 1767. During his period Hyder Ali who usurped the Sovereignty of Mysore joined hands with the Nizam and began an offensive on Chennai. In 1761, a treaty was signed between Hyder Ali and the Company for an alliance and mutual restitution of the conquests. The Governance of the Carnatic became the responsibility of the Chennai Government which could not maintain a large army without the revenue of Nawabs. In 1763,the English got the district of Chengalpattu known as Chennai Jagir for the maintenance of the army.Lord Macartney took charge of the Chennai Government in 1781.

During his period, Chennai was turned into an important Naval base. Major General Medows became Governor in 1790. The position of the English was made secure in South India. the elimination of other foreign power and settlement of the limits of native territory gave stability and paved the way for an era of commercial development. In 1792, in a new treaty Mohammed Ali handed over the entire management of the Carnatic to the English and accepted in return a pension. Another important event of this period was the outbreak of Mysore war. Tippu was killed in 1799 and the whole of Carnatic ceded to the British. Thus the supremacy of the English in South India was established.

The present day territorial limits of the city existed in the shape of scattered villages for centuries before the advent of the British. In the process of growth, many villages got agglomerated into a single unit. The shape and extent of the city which existed during 1939-40 was reached even during the opening years of 19th century. The period in between 1803 to 1827 represents consolidation and development of institutions. Sir Edward Elliot was the important Governor of Chennai during this period. He appointed a Judicial Commission with Munro as its President in 1814. Several reforms in the administrative system were made by the Commission.

Sir Thomas Munro became the Governor in 1820 and continued till 1827. He tried his best to improve literacy. He initiated English education in Chennai and established a body called Board of Public Instructions to improve and direct public education. Important improvement made to Chennai city during the first half of the 19th century was the progress made in the establishment of institutions for professional and technical education. School of Industrial Art was started in 1850, Civil Engineering College in 1834 and Madras Medical College in 1835,etc. The Madras University was started in September 1857. The Chennai High Court was created in June 1862.

The Railway Company in Chennai was formed in July 1845. the first construction work began on 9th June 1853 and in 1858,South Indian Railway was formed having Chennai as the Railway Headquarters. Lord Hobart who was the Governor from 1872 to 1875 initiated Chennai Harbour project. The Congress party came to life during the period 1881-90. The Indian National Congress held its session in 1887 at Chennai. The First Governor of Chennai in the 20th century was Lord Ampthill (1901-06). Sir Arthur Law-by was the Governor from 1906-1911 and Lord Pentland from 1912-19. The important Landmarks during this period were the establishment of Chennai Electric Supply Corporation in 1906 and opening of Indian Bank in 1907.

During 1934 and 1936 for a short period, two Indians Sir M.D. Usman Sahib and Sir K. Venkatareddy Naidu acted as Governors of Chennai. In 1937, the Ministry of Shri C. Rajagopalachari came into power for two years. The influence of the Governors on the administration considerably diminished. The British departed on 15th August 1947 but Chennai remained as a standing monument of what the British have done to India.

Location And Area

Tamil Nadu constitutes the south-eastern extremity of the Indian peninsula. Chennai is the capital city of the State, besides being an important district. The district city is one of the metropolis of India and serves as the gateway of the culture of South India. In spite of being the capital of a Tamil speaking State, it has emerged as a cosmopolitan city playing an important role in the historical, cultural and intellectual development of India, representing still the distinct components of the highest form of Dravidian civilisation. In addition, it holds out an interesting fare of South Indian architecture, music, dance, drama, sculpture and other arts and crafts. Chennai is situated on the north-east end of Tamil Nadu on the coast of Bay of Bengal. It lies between 12* 9' and 13* 9' of the northern latitude and 80* 12' and 80* 19' of the southern longitude on a `sandy shelving breaker swept beach'. It stretches nearly 25.60 kms. along the Bay coast from Thiruvanmiyur in the south to Thiruvottiyur in the north and runs inland in a rugged semi-circular fashion. It is bounded on the east by the Bay of Bengal and on the remaining three sides by Chengalpattu and Thiruvallur Districts.

The city of Chennai came into being due to a strategic necessity and historical accident. It symbolises the rise of British power in South India by setting up and consolidation of the East India Company in the seventeenth century with its headquarters at Fort St. George in Chennai as a trading centre. Within 350 years, a few scattered villages (important being Mylapore, Triplicane and Chennai Patnam) have developed into a modern metropolitan city without shedding its traditional customs, religious outlook and other traditions. It can be proudly remarked that the greatness of ancient Chennai is mostly religious due to the preservation of the old famous Saivaite and Vaishnavite shrines signifying the antiquity of the place.

The growth of the city is significant and closely linked with the development of British Institutions and administration. In short, Chennai city was the chief centre from which the British rule expanded in the sub-continent and it remains a standing monument of British contribution to India. Chennai city has acted as an important centre of culture and education in South India and has been the cradle of many movements which have played an important role in the history of the sub-continent. A large number of institutions which are known in India and abroad are found located in the city, of which mention may be made of the Theosophical Society, the Kalakshetra and colleges of Arts and Crafts. The establishment of professional colleges like Medical, Veterinary, Law and Teaching, the location of the Indian Institute of Technology and the establishment of Central Leather Research Institute have added to the development of the city.

Chennai is one of the leading cities in India today from the point of view of trade and commerce, with the fourth largest port in the country and the first to have developed a full-fledged container terminal to international standards. The port is providing trade links with Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Burma, Bangladesh, Ceylon and other far eastern countries. Chennai is also one of the most important industrial cities of the sub-continent. As a district of the State it ranks third after Coimbatore and Salem in so far as the number of factories is concerned but stands at the top in case of employment and productive capital and first in revenue. It, however, ranks second in terms of industrial out-put next to Chengalpattu. Chennai city enjoys an eminent position in the country in film industry and Kodambakkam, known as the Hollywood of Chennai, has a number of studios engaged in the production of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi movies which are quite popular. Total area of the district is 178.20 sq. kms.

The city of Madras has now been renamed as Chennai. It is s tated that the name Chennai traced its origin to "some other language". The rechristening of the city is part of the steps announced for the "growth of Tamil in various fields". There are different versions about the name of this once sleepy coastal village. When the British landed here in 1639 A.D. it was said to be part of the empire of the Raja of Chandragiri. The British named it Chennapattinam, after they acquired it from Chennappa Nayakar. Gradually, it became Chennai. The first instance of the use of the name Chennai is said to be in the Vestiges of Old Chennai, the sale deed of August 1639 to Francis Day, an agent for the British. There it has been referred to as Chennaipatnam.

The British are said to have built Fort Saint George, the present seat of power, in 1640. It was named after the patron saint of England. The Vestiges of Old Chennai infer that the original village of Madraspatnam lay north of the proximate to Chennapattinam. In course of time and with rapid growth, the two virtually became one. It is also inferred that the English preferred the name Madraspatnam, while Indians chose Chennapattinam.


Chennai is a low-lying area and the land surface is almost flat like a pancake. The even topography of the land throughout the district renders sub-divisions into natural regions rather difficult. It rises slightly as the distance from the sea-shore increases but the average elevation of the city is not more than 22' above mean seal-level, while most of the localities are just at sea-level and drainage in such areas remains a serious problem. From very early times, Chennai was known for its pleasant scenery and was said to be a town open to sky and full of garden of mangoes, coconuts, guavas, oranges, etc.
In earlier days when the city was not so congested, gardens and groves were a common feature and most of the roads were flanked by frequent groves of palm and other trees. Even a number of houses too had gardens displaying fine trees canopied by green bough and creepers, Chennai city today is devoid of any forest areas but can still be proud of some of the well maintained green belts found in the Peoples park, the Napier park, the Horticulture-gardens, My Lady's Park, Children's Park Guindy, Snake Park, Nehru Park, Nageswara Rao Park, Independence Park, Anna Square Park, the Raj Bhavan, the Theosophical Society Campus, and a number of bungalows and newly developed colonies where provisions of public parks, etc. have been provided.

The indigenous trees found include among others neem, mango, tamarind, rain-tree, vagai, banyan, coconut, palm and pipal. Stretches of casuarina plantations are available on the sea-coast beyond the mouth of the Adyar in the South and Tondiarpet in the North, supplying firewood to the city. House gardening is not very common these days due to shortage of water and lack of space

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