Madras Day is a festival organized to commemorate the founding of the city of Madras (now Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, India. It is celebrated on 22 August every year, 22 August 1639 being the widely agreed date for the purchase of the village of Madraspatnam or Chennapatnam by East India Company factors Andrew Cogan and Francis Day from Damerla Venkatapathy, the viceroy of the Vijayanagar Empire.
The idea of a Madras Day was first suggested by Chennai-based journalist Vincent D'Souza to historian S. Muthiah during a meeting of the trustees of the Chennai Heritage foundation in 2004. Since then, Madras Day celebrations have been held every year without fail, its highlights being exhibitions, lectures, film screenings and quizzes. The Madras Day festival has registered a steady increase in popularity year after year. The 2014 and 2015 editions have lasted through August and extended into September as well, prompting demands to rename Madras Day as Madras Week or even, Madras Month.
There has been a contention that the deed of purchase was actually dated 22 July 1639 and not 22 August. The motive of the celebrations have also been criticized by academicians and state government organizations who feel that it gives undue importance to colonial heritage.
The modern history of the city dates back to 1639 when 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.
It was on 22 August 1639 that a sliver of land, where now stands Fort St George, was handed over by the local Sowbaraniya rulers to the East India Company’s Francis Day, his dubash Beri Thimmappa, and their superior, Andrew Cogan. From this small three square miles given to the East India Company grew the city of Madras where more than four and a half million people live now. As years passed by out of the fort grew settlements and the villages around it were brought together with the old and new towns linked up and hence birth of a city.
History of Madras Day
The first recorded celebration of the founding of Madras was its tercentenary commemoration in 1939. Unlike later anniversaries, the celebrations were officially sponsored by the British government and a special tercentenary commemoration volume was issued with essays on the different aspects of Madras city authored by leading experts of the time. An exhibition of pictures, portraits, maps, records and coins was inaugurated by Diwan Bahadur S. E. Runganadhan, the Vice-Chancellor of the Madras University and a short play writing competition was organized.
The 350th anniversary in 1989 was celebrated with the opening of a commemorative monument titled "Madras 350" built in the Classical Style by builder Frankpet Fernandez at the junction of the Poonamallee High Road and the New Avadi Road. Other major events included the commissioning of a book by S. Muthiah titled Madras — The Gracious City by the Murugappa Group which also organized the first Madras Quiz which has continued to the present day.
The idea to celebrate the birth of the city every year was born when journalists Shashi Nair and Vincent D'Souza met S. Muthiah at his residence for coffee. It was based on the success of another event called Mylapore Festival which D'Souza had been organising every year in January. It was decided by the trio to start celebrating Madras Day from 2004. According to them, "primary motive of celebrating `Madras Day' was to focus on the city, its past and its present." The idea initially started off with about five events in 2004 but grew gradually. The second edition in 2005 had events throughout the week. In 2008, there were a total of 60 events conducted. In 2007, a commemorative postal cover was released by Chief Postmaster-General of Tamil Nadu Circle at a function at Fort St George as a part of the Madras Day celebrations, thereby inaugurating a tradition that continued through the later editions. The 2010 celebrations lasted beyond a week and extended well into the following week as well.
The 375th Madras Day was celebrated with more than a hundred events that lasted from 10 August to 14 September 2014. However, despite expectations to the contrary, Tamil Nadu government departments did not participated in the celebrations which they felt promoted "colonial heritage". The celebrations were deemed a roaring success and the events got nationwide coverage for the first time.The Madras Song was composed to commemorate the occasion and a website launched by The Hindu titled friendsofchennai.com for residents of the city to create online petitions voicing their civic grievances. Historian and entrepreneur V. Sriram also designed a mobile app named Chennai Past Forward for users to keep in track with the heritage of the city.
The 376th Madras Day celebrations were bigger with events being held even in suburbs like Tambaram. Apart from heritage walks, the 2015 edition also included a walk of the L. V. Prasad film studios. The focus was, however, on restoration of the Coovum River and a presentation on the history and heritage of the Coovum River was held at the Madras Literary Society by author Anusha Venkatesh on 15 August. The Cycling Yogis, a Chennai cyclists' group, conducted a 72 km bicycle ride along with the Coovum River on 16 August 2015.
Madras Day focuses on the city, its history, its past and its present and the core team motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses in the city to host events that celebrate the city. The celebration consists of events such as heritage walks, public talks, exhibitions, poetry reading sessions, public performances, food festivals and special programs on local radio. It also includes contests such as, T-shirt designing, documentary film contest, multimedia presentation for schools and quiz in both Tamil and English. T-shirts to mark the event are also released. The talks delivered to mark the week-long celebrations usually involve lectures explaining the heritage and history of the city. There are also events for the retired citizens where they can post their life years ago on the "Stories about Madras section" on Madras day's website and their views on how Madras grew into the Chennai of today.
The programmes for Madras Day 2015 included:
- Heritage walks organized by the Chennai Heritage foundation.
- Quizzes and competitions for children organized by the British Council.
- Daily lectures organized by the Roja Muthiah Research Library.
- Daily lectures organized by the Press Institute of India.
- Tree walks by the Nizhal Foundation.
- Field trips by the Madras Naturalists' Society
- Lectures and exhibitions organized by The C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.
- Competitions organized by the Photographic Society of Madras
Murugappa Madras Quiz and Madras Quotient Quiz
The Madras Day celebrations and all the bash culminates each year with the Madras Quiz, separately in Tamil and English. This is facilitated by the Mylapore Times.
Many quiz enthusiasts come for the same. The quiz is quite competitive in terms of content.
The 2009 edition of the Madras Quiz in English was conducted by the Indian Quizzing League.
Criticism and controversies
Controversies regarding the date
There had been a controversy regarding the exact day when Madras was handed over to the British East India Company's Francis Day and Andrew Cogan between the dates 22 July and 22 August. The controversy arose since the agreement documents dates the records to 22 July 1639 rather than 22 August of that year. It is often stated that since Francis Day and Andrew Cogan did not arrive to the Madras coast until 27 July 1639. The evidence comes from writings of Henry Davison Love, whose monumental three-volume history of Madras from 1640-1800 is a prime reference source for Madras’s early history, which states that "The Naik’s grant, erroneously styled a farman, which was probably drafted by Day, was delivered to Andrew Cogan at Masulipatam on September 3, 1639... Three copies are extant ... all of which are endorsed by Cogan. Only the last bears a date, 22 July 1639, where July is probably a slip for August, since Day did not reach Madras until 27 July".
Accusations of celebrating colonial heritage
Madras Day is regarded by a few academics as a celebration of the city's colonial past. According to Dr. G. Ravindran, Professor and Head of the Department of Journalism and Communication at the Madras University
We are the victims of the colonial era. We closely link with the British Raj. There is nothing wrong in celebrating but it is real only by the buildings of the British
The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), a government-owned corporation distanced itself from the 375th Madras Day celebrations in 2014, explaining that the organization has no intentions of promoting colonial heritage and its prime focus was the Dravidian heritage of the city.
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