In 1639, a tiny fishing hamlet, Madraspatnam, was given to the East India Company by the Raja of Chandragiri for establishing a trading post. Soon a fort started coming up there, attracting weavers to the area. The locality came to be known as Chennapatnam. Along with the growing fortunes of the East India Company, Chennapatnam also grew, and today it stands as Chennai, the fourth largest city in India and the capital of Tamil Nadu.
Though a modern metropolis with a population of close to five and a half million, Chennai has a very open and spacious feel to it. The city has grown more outward than upward. An efficient transport system, supplemented by the commissioning of India’s first elevated railway in 1995, adds to the relaxed atmosphere.
The feeling of openness is accentuated by the 12 km long Marina Beach that forms the eastern boundary. The beach attracts health conscious walkers and joggers in the mornings and whole families in the evenings when it turns into a fair ground.
Chennai has a very big film industry, aided in no small measure by the Vijay Vahini Studios, Asia’s largest. Cinema halls continue to draw large crowds despite the onslaught of television with its myriad channels. However, the advent of cinema and television has not dimmed the people’s abiding interest in classical dance and music. Chennai hosts a very popular month-long Music and Dance Festival from mid-December every year where the best known exponents of classical dance and music participate.
The city’s early growth and long association with the British are seen in the broad tree-lined avenues, buildings in the Indo-Saracenic style, and, ofcourse. Fort St. George around which the city grew. The fort now houses the State Legislature and Secretariat. The Fort Museum has exhibits from the days of the East India Company. Also in the fort is St. Mary’s Church, the oldest Anglican church in Asia, consecrated in 1680, and still an important place of worship.
Other Tourists Places in Chennai
- the 13th century Kapaleeswarar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva.
- the 16th century slim-spired Santhome Basilica.
- the Government Museum and National Art Gallery – excellent sculptures and bronzes.
- including the famous 10th century Nataraja that stands nearly 60 cms (2 ft) high.
- the Deer Sanctuary, Snake Park at Guindy and the Crocodile Farm near Covelong.
Shopping in Chennai
Kancheepuram silks with their exquisite ‘zari’ embroidery (designs woven with gold thread); colourful cotton sarees and textiles with ethnic designs from Madurai and Coimbatore; bronze icons, gold and gem studded jewellery; granite sculptures & soapstone images of deities, and sandalwood carvings are some of the things that you can buy.
The most reputed place for sarees is Nalli. Other places to try out are Spencer Plaza for everything under one roof, Vummidiars for authentic diamonds, Design for leather goods and Victoria Technical Institute for good handicrafts and the best lace hand embroidery done by nuns.
Chennai is a good base from which to visit the nearby Kancheepuram and Mamallapuram and also a launch-pad for embarking on an exploration of Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Thanjavur that hold some of the marvels of Tamil Nadu’s temple architecture.