My tryst with Madras Day began in 2016 when I had to consolidate the Madras Day events and add them in the newspaper I was working on then. Madras Day is celebrated every year on August 22 since 2004. What started as a small celebration by a few people, was steered ahead by the late S. Muthiah, the Publisher of Madras Musings.
The events slowly extended for a week and came to be known as Madras Week celebrations. In recent years, Madras Day events happen throughout August. The events range from Heritage Walks in iconic structures, talks by Historians, quizzes, and so on. Butterfly walks and bird-watching events also became a part of Madras Day celebrations and I am proud to say that I had attended a couple of such events. My most cherished one was the walk around Chennai Port, followed by sailing in the sea organized by Royal Madras Yacht Club in 2018.
The founding day of Madras is considered to be August 22, 1639. It was on that day, in that year, that a sliver of land, where Fort. St. George stands today, was transacted by the East India Company. The deal was struck by Francis Day, his interpreter Beri Thimmappa, and their superior, Andrew Cogan, with the local Nayak rulers.from the official website themadrasday.in
With the Covid situation, Madras Day events had been reduced mostly to online talks and virtual events. This year I decided to create my own Madras Day ritual for my family. We marked certain iconic landmarks of Madras along Marina Beach and drove to those places. My children thoroughly enjoyed the outing. Not only were they engrossed in the History of Madras, but they also added life to our little trip with their curiosity.
The crimson-coloured lighthouse is a popular landmark on Marina Beach. It was built in 1976 replacing the old lighthouse. Previously there were other lighthouses providing light to the ships navigating at the harbour.
A dilapidated lighthouse structure erected in 1841 can be found within the compound of the Madras High Court.
In Vivekananda House, earlier known as Ice House, my kids bombarded the exhibit coordinators with questions regarding the storage of ice in that building. Though remodelled now, the original structure mostly remains unchanged. Similar Ice Houses in Kolkata and Mumbai were demolished.
Brief History of the Ice House
The building was built in 1842 to store ice brought as a trade commodity from America. It was used for storing ice till the 1880s. Swami Vivekananda stayed in this building from 6th to 15th February 1897. This building is now managed by Ramakrishna Mission. An exhibition displaying both the yesteryear Ice House as well as teachings of Swami Vivekananda can be found here.
The 164-year-old Madras University was founded by the British in 1857. Even today the institution continues to educate thousands of students. The senate building of the university you see in the picture is considered one of the best examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India.
Fort St. George
The cover photo of this article and also the area responsible for the commemoration of Madras Day. This fort currently holds the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and other official buildings. The flagstaff here is 150 feet tall. It is made of teak wood and is one of the tallest in the country. The historical St. Mary’s Church constructed between 1678-80 is another important building inside Fort St. George. Since the Fort formed the centre of Madras, all other important buildings were constructed around the Fort by the British.
General Post Office
The General Post Office was built in 1884 opposite the Beach Station. Officially the place where the building is located has the Postal Index Number 600 001. Hence Parry’s Corner is officially Chennai – 1.
Madras High Court
The High Court structure was built in 1862. While the word ‘Madras’ in most of the iconic buildings was removed, the High Court and the University have retained Madras. As I have made it a point to use only the photos taken by me in this Madras Day special, please excuse this photo. It doesn’t do justice to the historic building with such great architecture.
Remember the trademark frame to represent Chennai in all Indian movies? It is the Central Railway Station. Well, it is the same building, but renamed recently as Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. MGR Central Railway Station. It was opened in 1873.
This majestic building near the Central Station is the headquarters of the Corporation of Chennai. The building came into function in 1913 and was named after Lord Ripon, the erstwhile Viceroy of India. There is a statue of Ripon inside the building. I remember once during my childhood days; my grandfather had brought me to the building. I stood awestruck inside the huge building with wide steps and wooden rails.
With this, I officially conclude the Madras Day tour. But I have added additional photos of interesting buildings from my very own city Madras. The government of Tamil Nadu officially changed the name of the city to Chennai in 1996. This article is dedicated to readers who have experienced both Madras and Chennai.