Perched upon the ancient clay where the Cooum and Adyar rivers snake through their last miles toward the Bay of Bengal, Chennai (formerly Madras) is one of India’s largest cities. Chennai is also the center of Tamil film industry; A.R. Rahman, composer of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, calls this city home.
Modern Chennai had its origins as a colonial city and its initial growth was closely tied to its importance as an artificial harbor and trading centre. When the Portuguese arrived in 1522, they built a port and named it São Tomé, after the Christian apostle St. Thomas, who is believed to have preached there between the years 52 and 70. The region then passed to the Dutch, who established themselves near Plicat just north of the city in 1612.
The present day city of Chennai started as an English settlement on a piece of waste land to be known as Fort St. George. It grew into a fortified settlement of British merchants, factory workers, and other colonial settlers. Expanding upon this settlement, the English colony grew to include a number of other European communities, new British settlements, and various native villages, one of which was named Madraspatnam. All were combined into the city Madras. However, it is widely recorded that while the official centre of the present location was designated Fort St. George, the British applied the name Madras to include areas which had grown up around the Fort including the “White Town” consisting principally of British settlers, and “Black Town” consisting of principally Catholic Europeans and allied Indian minorities.
We arrived in Chennai on the first night of a marathon worldwide cricket event (56 days). Celebrity and VIP opening night plus widespread highway construction combined for a monumental traffic jam. We are off to explore Chennai for an all day experience tomorrow.
Today was intense and totally engaging! Soon after breakfast we were out walking Chennai’s distinct districts. Neighborhood boundaries still seem defined by early colonial influence. One of our first stops was to have our left palm intricately hennaed by a young man recently come from Delhi seeking entrepreneurial opportunity here. What fun and amazingly intricate design. Lots more photo ops of historical sights right next to enormous slums next to exclusive neighborhoods. The shifts are startling and abrupt.
We next visited an enormous sari store that carried everything from inexpensive acrylic work and uniform saris for employment in hotels or businesses to exquisite intricately embroidered silk for weddings or other festive occasions plus every thing in between. The rich and varied color combinations were truly “eye candy” and help explain how the cities’ vast throngs of women at EVERY walk of life could all be so colorfully arrayed.
The afternoon was consumed by participating in the festival. Check out my separate festival blog on this adventure.