’22 August is not Chennai’s birthday’

Chennai:  A whole series of misconceptions and myths have been built that 22 August 1639 is the founding day of Chennai and that, therefore, the city is 379 years old. Chennai, in fact, is over 2,000 years old, rich in literature, music, dance.

Speaking to News Today, veteran journalist and president, Chennai 2000 Plus Trust, R Rangaraj, said, “This fact and even recorded history is sought to be suppressed by spreading stories contrary to truth about the origin of Chennai. Sadly, some schools and colleges are also misled into believing that 22 August marks the birthday of the city.’”

He said, “First the date 22 August is palpably wrong. Fanny Emily Penny, in her book Fort St George in 1900, published with the help of official records provided to her by Governor Arthur E Havelock, establishes that Madrasapatnam was bought by the company on 1 March 1639. Francis Day, representative of the East India Company, concluded his negotiations satisfactorily on the 1st of March. And by his transaction his employers obtained their first territorial rights in India.”

“The Rajah of Chandragheri (Chandragiri), who received the cash paid down as rent for the ground – the price of the grant was a yearly rent of about six hundred pounds. The agreement was drawn up on a plate of gold, and it was dated 1 March, 1639 (old style). It was carefully preserved by the Company in Fort St. George until 1746.”

J Talboys Wheeler, in his book, ‘Madras in the Olden Time’, in 1861 writes that Francis Day was despatched to examine the country in the neighbourhood of the Portuguese settlement at St Thome. Day met with unexpected success. The grant obtained from the Rajah of Chandragheri (Chandragiri) was dated 1 March 1639, said Rangaraj.

Subsequently, a formal agreement on a plate of gold was signed by Rajah of Chandragiri and Day dated 22 July 1639, and this agreement is kept in the museum in Chandragiri. Thus, it is seen that the date of 22 August is clearly wrong. A lone writer has mentioned that Day met with weavers, painters, etc on 27 July 1639, at Madrasapatnam, and that therefore the date of 22 July must be wrong. But this writer has made an erroneous conclusion that 27 July was the first visit of Day to Madrasapatnam. Penny and Wheeler have already recorded that Day had visited the sites much earlier and concluded the agreement on 1 March itself.’

The date of 22 August is wrongly used by some for reasons best known to them but it is not based on history or records of the transactions, added Rangaraj.

“In any case, Madrasapatnam had already existed for centuries before the British came here. Inscriptions and literature have all demonstrated that Chennai has a recorded history of over 2,000 years, as established even by Col Mackenzie, India’s first Surveyor General, in what is known as the Mackenzie Manuscripts.”

NT Bureau