A Brief History
On August 22, 1639, the British East India Company founded a city they called Madras in Southern India on the Bay of Bengal on land they bought from local Nayak leaders, a mere 3 mile strip that would become one of the world’s great cities.
Known as “The Detroit of south Asia” because of its thriving automobile industry, the city today has a population of over 4,500,000 and a metro area population of over 8,500,000. Despite the present day giant size of the city, the 4th largest in India and 36th largest in the world, this Asian metropolis is rated as the safest city in India and is considered the health capital of the country, attracting a whopping 40% of India’s health oriented tourists. The honorifics continue with Chennai rated by the BBC in 2015 as the “hottest” destination (most desirable) in the world, and the food of this city is rated #2 in the world by National Geographic. Still not convinced you need to visit this city? India Today ranked Chennai the #1 city in India in 2014 and Lonely Planet named the city the 9th Best Cosmopolitan City in the world to visit in 2015.
The cosmopolitan nature of Chennai may stem from its early roots as a Portuguese and then Dutch trading post prior to British settlement, and the fact that the city has the 3rd largest expatriate population in India (ie, foreigners living there).
The name “Madras” was of ethnic Tamil origin, and the newer name, “Chennai” is of Telugu origin. Madras was a name used even before British involvement, and may have a meaning ranging from “mother” to “juice of honey.” In any case, the name was officially changed in 1996 at a time when many Indian cities also received a renaming. The name Madras is still in some use, and of course people there and in other places know which city you mean if you call the city Madras.
The name “Madras” is closely associated with a colorful lightweight cotton cloth that the city has been famous for producing for centuries. Shirt maker David Anderson made the cloth famous in 1844 and by the late 1950’s the cloth became known for the “bleeding” of its colorful dyes if washed in hot water. Modern industries in the technological field abound, in software and hardware as well as in tech support. Aside from the famous number of automobiles made there, you can find considerable numbers of heavy equipment and other vehicles produced in Chennai as well. Chennai is also a financial center, and has modern advanced medical facilities.
Chennai also has a thriving arts and culture community, with numerous museums and available entertainment, as well as picturesque temples, beaches and wildlife parks. Of course, as a thriving modern city, Chennai also has the requisite modern theme parks, including MGM Dizee World and Queen’s Land, with a Wonderla park expected to open in 2017. The city contains a National Park within its borders and as a coastal city, boasts an active recreational boating scene. Tourists are also provided ample opportunities to find quality golf courses, notably the Gymkhana Club. For the many people heading to India as tourists, we highly recommend you stop by and visit Chennai, a city worth visiting.
Question for students (and subscribers): Did you know Chennai has 2 American “sister cities,” San Antonio, Texas and Denver, Colorado? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Doshi, Tishani and Nandita Krishan. Madras Then Chennai Now. Roli Books, 2014.
Narasiah, K R A. Madras: Tracing the Growth of the City since 1639. Oxygen Books, 2008.
Srinivasachari, C. S. History_of_the_city_of_madras. Sagwan Press, 2015.