Chennai (சென்னை), formerly known in English as Madras, is a sprawling port city on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. One of the major Metropolitan cities of India, it is also the capital of Tamil Nadu state in southern India. It is India's fourth largest city and ranks 35th among the fifty most populous urban agglomerations in the world. The name was officially changed to Chennai in 1996, but the older name Madras is still widely used. The city used to be the nerve centre of the British Colonial Empire in India. The city's diverse and rich cultural heritage is world-renowned.
Chennai is a city on the Coromandel Coast in South India. It is found at the north-eastern tip of Tamil Nadu state, of which it is the capital city. It is the oldest of British colonial possessions, and thereby has a long history and has inherited a rich cultural heritage. It has a long shoreline bordering the Bay of Bengal and a large manmade harbour. Marina Beach, the second longest beach in the world, is in Chennai.
Connemara Public Library in Chennai is one of the oldest libaries (1890) and is one of the four National depository libraries which receive a copy of all books, newspapers and periodicals published in India free of charge. Guindy Engineering College, a part of the Anna University campus in Chennai, is the oldest institute of engineering studies outside of Europe. Chennai is also home to an Indian Institute of Technology.
Many large businesses, especially manufacturing and automobile industries, are situated there. Chennai is well connected with most cities in India by road, rail and air. Chennai is also the closest major Indian city to the economical hubs of South-East Asia. This is illustrated best by the fact that Chennai is closer to Singapore and Thailand than to the national capital of New Delhi.
Chennai had its origins as a colonial city and its initial growth was closely tied to its importance as an artificial port and trading centre. Originally there were only a few ancient villages in the area.
The Portuguese were the first to establish a fort, that of Sao Tome or San Thome in 1522, pushing back the ancient Pallava port of Mylapore. By 1612 the Dutch established themselves in Pulicat to the North. In 1639 the British East India Company was granted land between these settlements by the Nayak of Wandiwash, where they built Fort St George in 1640. First little more than a fortified warehouse, it became the nucleus around which the city grew and from which it was administered. Even today the official legislative and administrative headquarters of the state is located there.
British governors of Madras include:
George Town grew into modern Madras city, encompassing several neighboring regions. As of 2000, the government has renamed the city as Chennai - the name of the city in vernacular Tamil, with disputed origins.
St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ and believed to be the first ever Christian missionary to set foot on Indian soil, is associated with Chennai. He is supposed to have visited India in the first century A.D and died in Chennai. He supposedly set up a church near the southern shoreline and made a small hillock his home. Legend has it that he used to walk to the church - a distance of over 15 kilometers - and back everyday through what was then, a menacing jungle. The names of the two suburbs in Chennai, Santhome and St. Thomas Mount, have cemented this link. This belief, however, is contested. Although the Catholic Church has claimed St. Thomas probably never came anywhere near India or south India - and there is no proof he ever went beyond Syria - this myth has staunch believers in Chennai, most likely propagated by the first Christians who came to the Malabar coast in the 3rd century AD, fleeing persecution at home in Syria.
Founded as a trading outpost by the British East India Company in the early seventeenth century, today Chennai is a large industrial and commercial centre. The major centres of commerce in Chennai are Parrys Corner and T.Nagar. Its harbours, the main one and the one at Ennore in the north of the city, have aided in its development. Chennai has long been a traditional centre for the automobile industry in India and in recent years has consolidated that position. Major companies such as Hyundai, Ford, Ashok Leyland, TVS, Honda and MRF have factories in and around Chennai. Other major industries are leather, textiles and chemicals, including an oil refinery. Chennai is a major player in the IT boom of India. Many software companies from India and abroad have established a base in Chennai. The Old Mahabalipuram Road is now called the "IT Corridor" as it has become the destination of choice for ITES companies. Chennai is the centre for a large film industry nicknamed "Kollywood". Also of interest is the education industry. There are hundreds of colleges offering traditional degrees in the Arts, Sciences, Commerce, Engineering, Management and other fields.
People and Culture
The majority of the population are Tamils, whose mother tongue is Tamil. Telugus form a sizable minority. English is widely spoken, and is used almost exclusively in business and education. British Madras used to be the capital of the Madras state, known as the Madras Presidency, which at one point covered most of the area now occupied by the modern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - minus the princely states enjoying British patronage. Madras thus inherited a rich mix of languages and dialects, most of which have corroded with time. With the advent of Marwari moneylenders and businessmen from north India (mainly from Gujarat and Rajasthan), who settled in and around north Chennai in the 1950s, Chennai has adopted a truly cosmopolitan colour, becoming a melting pot of cultures and traditions.
There are a number of film halls, amusement parks and shopping malls in and around the city. The Marina Beach in Chennai is a popular tourist spot. Chennai is one of the most British of Indian cities. Residential areas like Tiruvallikeni (Triplicane), Mayilapur (Mylapore) have a distinct, unmistakable ancient aura about them. Many buildings over 150 years old are still fully functional and host business establishments. The Central Railway station and the adjoining Southern Railway headquarters are cases in point. However, the main arterial road of the city Anna Salai (erstwhile Mount Road) has seen maximum changes with buildings of different eras coexisting. One of the buildings on this road, the Life Insurance Corporation building (popularly known as the LIC), has been used right from its construction during the 1950s as a symbolic image of modernity in the state of Tamil Nadu. However, today the attention has shifted to newer buildings following latest trends in the West.
Chennai is known for traditional South Indian cuisine. Food from various restaurants is usually inexpensive for the quality that it offers. Familiar dishes include Pongal, Dosa, Idli, Vadai and Sambar. A special form of coffee known as 'Filter Coffee' is the popular beverage. Another, perhaps more popular beverage is strongly brewed tea found in thousands of small Tea Kadais found across the city.
Chennai is also a major cultural hub. It is famous for a branch of classical music called Carnatic music, and a classical dance form called Bharatanatyam, also the official dance form of Tamil Nadu. An important cultural centre for Bharatanatyam is Kalakshetra, located in Adyar in ths south of the city. Housed in sylvan surroundings by the seashore, Kalakshetra, literally 'temple of arts', is a hotspot of cultural activities, with thousands of individuals of many nationalities under its aegis.
December-January is the time of the Carnatic music festival in Chennai, popularly known as the 'Music Season'. During this time, a host of music halls called "Sabhas" organise Kutcheris for which performers gather from across India and recently from the diaspora around the world. The Madras music festival has also been recently acknowledged to be Asia's biggest cultural event.
Apart from the rich indigenus culture of the city, Chennai also has a vibrant Western-Cultural scene. There are a number of active theatre and dance groups that give performances on a regular basis. Rock shows are also a regular feature. The unwind centre, hosts a show every friday night. The June Rock Out, conducted every year, brings in bands from around the country to participate.
Chennai also has a number of home-grown rock bands, mostly playing popular english rock music. Of late, some of groups play their own music, most notably The LBG. Some of the popular bands from Chennai at the moment are Moksha, Little Babooshka's Grind (The LBG), Buddhas Blown, No Idea, Shadow Symphony, Sound Sleep, Tin Leaf and Powder in the Ashtray.
Of late, schools that teach ballet, jazz and other forms of traditional and modern western dances have also sprung up in Chennai.
Chennai has a fairly large and extensive public transport which is efficient but can get very crowded. The bus services are run by the government-owned Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC). The suburban railway system has three arms via which the suburbs of Tambaram, Avadi and Ennore are connected. The Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) is still under construction. The major suburban stations in the city are Chennai Central and Chennai Beach stations
The various sections of the suburban railway are
Trains also run between Chennai Beach and Avadi/Ennore. MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) which runs along the Buckingham Canal at an elevation presently operates between Chennai Beach and Tiruvanmiyur, a southern suburb. Work is underway to extend it to the suburb of Taramani and eventually connect up with the Chennai Beach to Tambaram line at the St. Thomas Mount Station.
Private call taxis are available in Chennai but can be unreliable. Auto rickshaws are extremely popular in Chennai but they are famous for fleecing people. They are particularly greedy when it comes to outsiders or tourists in the city. As a tourist it is best avoiding these "autos", as they are called. Cars can be rented at a fixed price and are certainly more reliable and safer.
Chennai is well connected to all the major cities in the country by the Indian Railways. Chennai Central and Chennai Egmore are the two main railway stations. Chennai Egmore is almost exclusively used for trains bound to the southern parts of the state. The city is also well served by the Chennai International Airport. Recently the Central Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) was opened in Koyambedu in Chennai. This is the largest bus terminus in South Asia and serves as the bus terminus for all outstation buses to and from Chennai.
Being in the equatorial zone, Chennai is hot and humid for most of the year, with day temperatures frequently exceeding 40°C/104°F during summer. The temperature can get quite hot, so it might be a good idea to stay indoors from 12:00 noon to about 4:00 p.m.
The city gets most of its rains from the two monsoons, the South-West monsoon (around june) and the North-East monsoon which prevails during the months between October-December. The monsoons provide respite from the heat and the city is pleasant during this time, with the temperature averaging 26-28°C during the days and 20-22°C during the nights.
However, sometimes the monsoon fails, resulting in acute water shortage. In recent times, attention has been focused on rainwater harvesting and varied proposals such as desalination plants to provide the city with drinking water have been brought forward.
The best time to visit the city is between the monsoon and summer when the weather is pleasant but dry.
Places to Visit
Madras has a variety of attractions to showcase, starting from its ancient temples to world's second longest beach. It has the usual catch of youngsters in theme parks, shopping centres and cafe houses. Madras is no longer a conservative city. It has retained its culture and yet is modern. You can have the best of both worlds in this harbour city.
Institutions and Universities
Chennai is home to the M.A.Chidambaram Stadium for cricket (formerly known as Madras Cricket Club ground or Chepauk Stadium) in Chepauk. This grass pitch stadium seats 50,000 and is home to the Tamil Nadu cricket team.
The Egmore Stadium for field hockey seats 4,000 spectators and has an astro turf field.
The Tennis Stadium, Nungambakkam seats 7,000 spectators and has 6 courts.
The Aquatic Complex in Velachery Road seats 4,000 spectators.
The Guindy Race Course is also in Chennai.
The IIT MADRAS Chemplast cricket ground was acknowledged by the maestro Sachin Tendulkar as the most scenic in India
The Sriperambudur and Sholavaram car and bike racing courses are on the outskirts of the city.
The city boasts of one of the most modern and well-equippedSquash Courts (http://18.104.22.168/~squish/home.htm) in India.
In recent years, along with Bangalore and Hyderabad, the city has emerged as an important hub of software development in India. This has been given a further boost by the construction of Tidel Park, an IT complex, by the Tamil Nadu government. The latest is the Mahindra Tech City near the outskirts of the City with all major IT firms having a development center in it. Some Major IT firms located in Chennai include:
The city is now called the Detroit of India due to its automobile industry producing over 40% of the country's auto parts and vehicles. Some major Auto giants in chennai include:
They make up this growing list of auto giants choosing Chennai. Also, almost 90% of the auto spare parts business is based here - especially around the Ambattur-Padi industrial estate.
In the last 30 years, Chennai has also been the choice destination for education with over 200 colleges providing education in the Arts, Sciences, Commerce, Engineering and Management. Chennai is a haven for students, studying outside their homes. Cost of living is tolerably low for a metro and the cocktail of educational courses available is second to none in India.
Famous people born in Chennai
Note: This includes all notables born here, even if they aren't native Indians.
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