13°05'N 80°16'E (13.09, 80.27)
Chennai formerly known as Madras, is the fourth largest
metropolitan area of India and the capital city of the
Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Located on the Coromandel Coast
of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai had a population of 4.2
million in the 2001 census within its municipal corporation.
The urban agglomeration of Chennai has an estimated
population over 8 million, making it one of the largest
urban agglomerations in India. The city was established in
the 17th century by the British, who developed it into a
major urban centre and naval base. By the 20th century, it
had become an important administrative centre, as the
capital of the Madras Presidency.
Chennai's economy has a broad industrial base in the
automobile, technology, hardware manufacturing, and
healthcare industries. The city is home to much of India's
automobile industry and is the country's second-largest
exporter of software, information technology (IT) and
information-technology-enabled services (ITES), behind
Bangalore. Chennai Zone contributes 39 per cent of the
State’s GDP. Chennai accounts for 60 per cent of the
country’s automotive exports and is sometimes referred to as
"the Detroit of India".
Chennai hosts a large cultural event, the annual
Madras Music Season, which includes performances by hundreds
of artists. The city has a vibrant theatre scene and is an
important centre for the Bharatanatyam, a classical dance
form. The Tamil film industry, known as Kollywood, is based
in the city; the soundtracks of the movies dominate its
music scene. The city faces problems of water shortages,
traffic congestion and air pollution.
The name Chennai is an eponym, etymologically derived
from Chennapattinam or Chennapattanam or "Chinnupattanam"
named after Chinnu the Great, the name of the town that grew
up around Fort St. George, built by the British in 1640.
There are different versions about the origin of the name.
When the British landed here in 1639 A.D. it was said to be
part of the empire of the Raja of Chandragiri. The British
named it Chennapatnam after they acquired it from Chennappa
Nayaka, a Vijayanagar chieftain. Gradually, the name was
shortened to Chennai. The first instance of the use of the
name Chennai is said to be in a sale deed dated August 1639
to Francis Day, an agent for the British where there is a
reference to Chennaipattinam.
However, some believe Chennapattinam was named after
the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple, as the word Chenni in
Tamil means face, and the temple was thought of as the face
of the city.
The former name, Madras, is derived from
Madraspattinam, a fishing village that lay to the north of
Fort St. George. The origin of the name Madraspattinam is a
subject of disagreement. One theory holds that the
Portuguese, who arrived in the area in the 16th century, may
have named the village Madre de Deus. However, historians
believe that the village's name came from the once prominent
Madeiros family (variously known as Madera or Madra in
succeeding years), who had consecrated the Madre de Deus
church in Santhome in 1575 (demolished in 1997). Another
theory says that the village was named after an Islamic
college (a madrasa) which was located in the area. After the
British gained possession of the area in the 17th century,
the two towns, Madraspattinam and Chennapattinam, eventually
merged. The British referred to the united town as
Madraspattinam, while the locals preferred to call it
Chennapattinam. The city was officially renamed Chennai in
1996, about the same time that many Indian cities were
undergoing name changes. Madras was seen as a Portuguese
The region around Chennai has served as an important
administrative, military, and economic centre since the 1st
century. It has been ruled by various South Indian
dynasties, notably the Pallava, the Chola, the Pandya, and
Vijaynagar. The town of Mylapore, now part of Chennai, was
once a major Pallavan port. The Portuguese arrived in 1522
and built a port called São Tomé after the Christian
apostle, St Thomas, who is believed to have preached in the
area between 52 and 70 AD. In 1612, the Dutch established
themselves near Pulicat, just north of the city.
On August 22, 1639, Francis Day of the British East
India Company bought a small strip of land on the Coromandel
Coast from the Vijayanagara King, Peda Venkata Raya in
Chandragiri. The region was ruled by Damerla Venkatapathy,
the Nayak of Vandavasi. He granted the British permission to
build a factory and warehouse for their trading enterprises.
A year later, the British built Fort St George, which became
the nucleus of the growing colonial city. In 1746, Fort St.
George and Madras were captured by the French under General
La Bourdonnais, the Governor of Mauritius, who plundered the
town and its outlying villages. The British regained control
in 1749 through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and fortified
the town's fortress wall to withstand further attacks from
the French and another looming threat, Hyder Ali, the Sultan
of Mysore. By the late 18th century, the British had
conquered most of the region around Tamil Nadu and the
northern modern-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka,
establishing the Madras Presidency with Madras as the
capital. Under British rule, the city grew into a major
urban centre and naval base.
With the advent of railways in India in the late 19th
century, the thriving urban centre was connected to other
important cities such as Bombay and Calcutta, promoting
increased communication and trade with the hinterland.
Madras was briefly under Portuguese and French rule during
16th & 18th century.
Madras was the only Indian city to be attacked by the
Central Powers during World War I, when an oil depot was
shelled by the German light cruiser SMS Emden on September
22, 1914, as it raided shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean,
causing disruption to shipping. After India gained its
independence in 1947, the city became the capital of Madras
State, renamed the state of Tamil Nadu in 1969. The violent
agitations of 1965 against the imposition of Hindi as the
national language marked a major shift in the political
dynamics of the city and the whole state.
Chennai is on the southeast coast of India in the
northeast of Tamil Nadu on a flat coastal plain known as the
Eastern Coastal Plains. Its average elevation is around 6.7
metres (22 ft), and its highest point is 60 m (200 ft). The
Marina Beach runs for 12 km along the shoreline of the city.
Two rivers meander through Chennai, the Cooum River (or
Koovam) through the centre and the Adyar River to the south.
A third river, the Kortalaiyar, flows through the northern
fringes of the city before draining into the sea at Ennore.
Adyar and Cooum rivers are heavily polluted with effluents
and waste from domestic and commercial sources. The state
government periodically removes silt and pollution from the
Adyar, which is much less polluted than the Cooum. A
protected estuary on the Adyar forms a natural habitat for
several species of birds and animals. The Buckingham Canal,
4 km (3 miles) inland, runs parallel to the coast, linking
the two rivers. The Otteri Nullah, an east-west stream, runs
through north Chennai and meets the Buckingham Canal at
Basin Bridge. Several lakes of varying size are located on
the western fringes of the city. Red Hills, Sholavaram and
Chembarambakkam Lake supply Chennai with potable water.
Groundwater sources are becoming brackish.
Chennai's soil is mostly clay, shale and sandstone. Sandy
areas are found along the river banks and coasts, such as
Tiruvanmiyur, Adyar, Kottivakkam, Santhome, George Town,
Tondiarpet and the rest of coastal Chennai. Here rainwater
runoff percolates quickly through the soil. Clay underlies
most of the city including T. Nagar, West Mambalam, Anna
Nagar, Villivakkam, Perambur and Virugambakkam. Areas of
hard rock include Guindy, Perungudi,Velachery, Adambakkam
and a part of Saidapet.
Chennai is divided into four parts: North, Central,
South and West. North Chennai is primarily an industrial
area. Central Chennai is the commercial heart of the city
and includes an important business district, Parry's Corner.
South Chennai and West Chennai, previously mostly
residential, are fast becoming commercial, home to a growing
number of information technology firms, financial companies
and call centres. The city is expanding quickly along the
Old Mahabalipuram Road and the Grand Southern Trunk Road (GST
Road) in the south and towards Ambattur, Koyambedu and
Sriperumbdur in the west. Chennai is one of the few cities
in the world that accommodates a national park, the Guindy
National Park, within its limits.
Chennai lies on the thermal equator and is also
coastal, which prevents extreme variation in seasonal
temperature. For most of the year, the weather is hot and
humid. The hottest part of the year is late May and early
June, known locally as Agni Nakshatram ("fire star") or as
Kathiri Veyyil, with maximum temperatures around 38–42 °C
(100–107 °F). The coolest part of the year is January, with
minimum temperatures around 19–20 °C (66–68 °F). The lowest
temperature recorded is 15.8 °C (60.44 °F) and highest 45 °C
(113 °F). The average annual rainfall is about 1,300 mm (51
inches). The city gets most of its seasonal rainfall from
the north-east monsoon winds, from mid-September to
mid-December. Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal sometimes hit
the city. Highest annual rainfall recorded is 2,570 mm (101
in) in 2005. The most prevailing winds in Chennai are the
South-westerly between May and September and the
North-easterly during the rest of the year.