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Chennai (Madras)

[che nI'] the fourth largest city in India

Located on the Bay of Bengal, Chennai has a population of approximately 4.34 million people, and covers an area of 461.6 square miles (178.2 square kilometers); the metropolitan area has a population of about 7.5 million.

location of Chennai
location of Chennai on map of India


Chennai is a leading center of trade and commerce. It has the fourth largest port in the country, and was the first city in India to develop a full-fledged container terminal to international standards. Factories in the metropolitan area manufacture a wide variety of products, including automobiles and automobile parts, electronics and computer hardware, textiles, and leather products. Software production, health care, and financial services are other major components of Chennai's economy.


The governing body of Chennai is known as the Corporation of Chennai. This body is comprised of 155 councillors, chosen by direct election from 155 wards. The councillors are responsible for determining the direction of the city, and for enacting the city's laws and ordinances. Day-to-day government functions are supervised by a Commissioner, who is responsible to the councillors.

Ripon Building, seat of the Chennai Corporation
Ripon Building


Although there have been villages and towns on the site that is now Chennai since ancient times, the modern city owes its existence to the British.

In 1639, Francis Day, an agent of the British East India Company, purchased a strip of land along the coast from Chennappa Nayakar, a local ruler. The company then proceeded to erect Fort Saint George, from which it conducted its trading operations, and the town of Chennaipatnam grew up around the fort. As Chennaipatnam grew it gradually encroached upon the village of Madraspatnam, which lay to the north. The two towns eventually became one, and in 1687 the city was chartered as the Corporation of Madraspatnam (which the British shortened to Madras).

Madras was captured by the French in 1746, during the War of the Austrian Succession. It was returned to the British as a result of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended that war in 1749. In 1763 the land encircling Madras was ceded to the British by the Nawab of Arcot. The Northern Circars, out of which the French had recently been driven, were granted to the East India Company by the Mogul Emperor in 1765. Full rights of dominion over Madras and surrounding region were acquired by the British in 1823. Many of the city's current cultural institutions were established by the British after this time.

On August 15, 1947, India gained its independence, and the Indian National Flag was hoisted over Fort Saint George. Madras became the capital of Madras State at the same time. Madras State was renamed Tamil Nadu in 1969, and the city of Madras was officially renamed Chennai in 1996.

Educational and Cultural Institutions

Madras University was founded in 1857, and is today one of the principal institutions of higher learning in India. Other major learning institutions in Madras include: Anna University, Madras Christian College, Loyola College, The New College, Madras Medical College, Stanley Medical College, Kilpauk Medical College, and Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute.

Research institutions in Madras include: the Central Leather Research Institute, the Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute, and the Institute for Financial Management and Research.

Connemara Public Library is one of four National Depository Centers in India, meaning it receives a copy of every newspaper and book published in India. It has been designated a UNESCO Information Center.

Connemara Public Library
Connemara Public Library

The Government Museum and Art Gallery began as the Madras Literary Society in 1851. Today the museum houses an impressive collectionsof ancient Indian art, as well as artwork from more recent years. The museum also houses collections from the fields of geology, botany, numismatics, and more. Artifacts relevant to the city and region's history are also on display.

Government Museum and Art Gallery
Government Museum and Art Gallery

Kalakshetra houses the College of Fine Arts, which has as one of its goals the promotion of Indian culture, with special emphasis on the Tamil culture. The center hosts a five-week-long Music Season every December, which celebrates the 1927 opening of the Madras Music Academy.

The world-renowned Theosophical Society has its headquarters in Chennai.

Chennai is also the center of the Tamil film and television industry, with literally hundreds of movies and programs produced locally every year.

Official Website of the Government of Tamil Nadu

See Also

East India Company

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The Robinson Library >> India >> Local History and Description

This page was last updated on August 22, 2018.