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Happy Birthday Chennai!

From a humble birth as one of the early settlements of the British East India Company in the 17th century, Chennai has grown into a vibrant metropolis.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2011 09:38 IST

From a humble birth as one of the early settlements of the British East India Company in the 17th century, Chennai has grown into a vibrant metropolis retaining its cultural moorings as it celebrates its 372nd founding day on Monday.

It has been a long and eventful journey for the city which came into being on August 22, 1639 when the then British administrator Francis Day struck a deal with local Nayak rulers for a sliver of land where the Fort St George, the seat of power of the Tamil Nadu Government, stands today.

The city has today grown into a teeming metropolis of 4.6 million people (including suburbs 6.4 million), showing the continuing shift of rural population to urban areas in the state seeking better employment opportunities.

Commemorating the event, a week-long programme is being organized by various public and private institutions along with NGOs extending the Madras Day celebrations that have become a regular feature the last seven years.

Heritage walks, tours, exhibitions including those of photo archives, quiz contests and inter-school meets are among the events planned for the birthday bash, billed as heritage revival and preservation initiatives.

Madras Day focuses on the city, its history, its past and its present and its core team, including famous historian S Muthiah, motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses to host events that celebrate the city.

"In my opinion, Madras was the origin of many systems of administration. It is the first city of modern India and preceded Mumbai, Kolkatta," Muthiah said.

Virtually every major institution be it engineering school, medical college, surveying of India, the army, civil service all had their beginning here and then spread to the rest of India.

This is something which had been forgotten. The whole concept of Madras Day is to resurrect these memories, he said.

Another highlight of this year's celebration is launching of a campaign to press for a separate heritage act in Tamil Nadu to preserve old buildings and cultural heritage from becoming the thing of the past.

A group of heritage enthusiasts led by Muthiah have launched a signature campaign seeking support for passing the act.

"The draft of Heritage Act was made but for 13 years it has not seen the light of day. Once we pass such an act, conservation of buildings that reflect our culture, tradition and heritage, shall be protected," Muthiah said.

Seeking to enlarge participation, the Madras Day has been expanded to create the Madras Week this year.

Institutions like the Madras Medical College, the Anna University, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, the Madras Naturalists' society are associated with the celebrations and lined up various programmes.

Tracing Chennai's history is an interesting journey into the past.

It was believed to have been first named Chennappanaikan, in memory of the father of the Nayaks who sold the land to British, and later came to be known as Chennapattinam from which the present name came about.

The original document relating to building of Fort St George, a historic fort which was for a while the seat of power of East India Company, is said to have been signed at Chandragiri fort in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

Robert Clive, founder of the British empire in India, got married in a church inside the fort. His marriage certificate is still the prized possession of the museum in the Fort.

Unknown to many is that villages around temples like Parthasarathy in Triplicane and Kapaleeswarer temple in Mylapore near the southern coast and Marudheeswarer temple in Thiruvanmiyur existed for several centuries, long before the Europeans arrived here.

The first Europeans to reach the shores of Madras were the Portuguese. They built a church in Saint Thomas Mount enshrining the Bleeding Cross.

The city which became prominent carrying the name of Madras, was renamed Chennai by the Karunanidhi Government in 1997.

Chennai has emerged as one of the four major metropolises in the country and has quality institutions in education and health sectors with a number of corporate hospitals contributing to medical tourism besides a thriving automobile and IT industry.

Virtually every major automobile manufacturer in the world from Ford to Hyundai has set up shop on the outskirts of Chennai but the growing migration of people and the city's expansion is posing challenges on many fronts, particularly public transport and drinking water.

First Published: Aug 22, 2011 09:15 IST