(formerly Madras) was the site of
the East India Company's first settlement. Founded in 639 AD on land given by
the Raja of Chandragiri, (the last representative of the Vijayanagar rulers
of Hampi) it was a fishing settlement before a small fort was built in 1644.
A town, subsequently known as George Town, grew in the area of Fort St. George.
The settlement became independent of Banten, Java, in 1683 and was granted its
first municipal charter by James II in 1688. It thus has the oldest municipal
corporation in India, a matter of pride for Chennai's citizens.
In the 18th
and early 19th centuries, when the British and French competed for supremacy
in India, the city's fortunes waxed and waned. Chennai's history is intimately
entwined with that of the East India Company's and later with that of the British
Because of its strategic position (as a seaport) Clive of India used
it as a base for his military expeditions during the Wars of the Carnatic. During
the 19th century, it was the seat of the Chennai (Madras) Presidency, one of
the four divisions of British Imperial India. Briefly too it was occupied by
The city was named Chennaipatnam
in 1640 and renamed Madras and remained such till 1996 when it went back to
being Chennai. Chennai is a city with multiple cultural influences because of
the various people who occupied it at different times. Besides the British and
the French the Portuguese came here too, colonising San Thome in 1522.
course long before the colonisers it was a city with a rich Tamil heritage and
strong Dravidian influences. Its uniqueness lies in its deep and all-abiding
commitment to keeping alive centuries-old traditions - cultural, religious and
But most important
Chennai, practically speaking, is the last bastion
of Dravidian India. In this it is the least hybrid of Indian cities - where
Southern music and dance traditions flourish, specifically the highly evolved
Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance.