Do not reduce Chennai history from 2,000 years to 379: Rangaraj

Updated by admin on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 12:17 AM IST

Chennai: For a city which has a history of over 2,000 years with its own culture, literature, music, dance, sculpture, trade and commerce, maritime activity, system of jurisprudence, effective administration, decentralized systems, elected local bodies, and what not, to be called 379 years old is the ultimate insult one can provide. The votaries of the so-called Madras Day continue to do just that. For a city with an indigenous living culture of over 2,000 years to be reduced to a tail of the last emperor, the British Raj, is pure desecration of history.

Everything about it is wrong. Madras was not born on August 22, 1639. The British bought the land on Madrasapatnam, which was abbreviated to Madras as the Brits could not pronounce it, existed for several centuries before the arrival of the Englishmen. The land grant itself, cited for the so-called founding, was itself a different date, July 22, as found in the agreement at the Chandrigiri museum  in Andhra Pradesh, with the signature of the Rajah of Chandragiri. Fanny Emily Penny, in her book Fort St George in 1900, published with help of official records provided to her by Governor Arthur E Havelock, establishes that Madrasapatnam was bought by the company on March 1, 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 March 1st, 1639 (old style). It was carefully preserved by the Company in Fort St. George until 1746”.Penneswaramadam in Krishnagiri district has a rock inscription by Kampana II of the Vijayanagar empire which records the name Madraspatnam, recording the grant of an irrigation scheme.

J Talboys Wheeler, in his book, ,Madras in the Olden Time, in 1861 writes that Mr Francis Day…was despatched to examine the country in the neighbourhood of the Portuguese settlement at St. Thome. Mr Day met with unexpected success. “The grant obtained from the Rajah of Chandragheri (Chandragiri) was dated 1st March 1639”:
These books by English writers testify that the deal was done on March 1, 1639, and subsequently the agreement was signed by the Rajah of Chandragiri and Francis Day again on July 22. Contrary to truth – that is what August 22 is about.

When one of the organizers of the Madras Day was asked why August 22, 1639, was selected for the Madras Day when they themselves admitted that Chennai was ancient, he said a date was needed, and this date was available! So, this date was selected to reduce the age of the city from 2,000 years to 379! What a tragedy for the lovers of the city!
A date recorded by history is available – July 21, 1367, the Penneswaramadal inscription which itself shows the city is at least 651 years old, the exploit of an Indian king, not the chronicles of the British Raj. Yet, they don’t want it. The name Madras was officially changed to Chennai on September 30, 1996, even this official date is rejected. Yet, they want to stick to a British Raj date, as if to suggest that before the British came there was no Madrasapatnam.

A walk along the beach from Thiruvanmiyur, past Mylapore, Triplicane upto Tiruvottriyur, will provide visual evidence of the existence of these places at least well before the British came to Chennai!

So, the specious argument put out was that these places existed as scattered villages, it was only the British who brought them together as madras city. Again, far from the truth and another case of distortion. Over 2,000 years ago, ancient Chennai was known as Puliyur Kottam, which was the administrative unit for the city, under which came all the areas like Egmore, Mylapore, Triplicane, Adyar, Thiruvanmiyur, Saidapet, Nandanam, Tirusoolam, Tirunirmalai, Adambakkam, Nanganallur, Chromepet, Mongadu, Koyambedu,  Kunrattur, Pallavaram, Tambaram, Somangalam, Manimangalam, Pozhichalur etc. This was a huge city on par with Greater Chennai of today. The Mackenzie Manuscript has documented the rule by Kurumbars at Puliyur Kottam 2,000 years ago. Col. Mackenzie, a Britisher, was the first Surveyor General of India.

The Paasurams of Alwars are available from 5th century onwards as also songs of Nayanmars in Chennai from 7th century onwards.

Pallavaram has cave-temples from the great Pallava king, Mahendra Varman of the early seventh century;  cave shrine excavated on the slope of its hill, and had his birugas engraved in bold letters on its facade.  This temple is one of the most ancient of the historic antiquities of Madras.

Manimangalam near Tambaram has inscription of a 7th century battle.

“One of the most remarkable features of the administrative system that prevailed, especially during the Chola period was the excellent functioning of the Central Government along with the vast network of village sabhas or assemblies which enjoyed considerable local autonomy and which were the real guardians of the welfare of the villages. The authority of the central government, even under strong kings like Rajaraja I or Kulottunga I, never crushed or curtailed the local initiative and freedom that were prevalent in the villages”, records Prof. K. Raman, historian.


Right from the 9th century AD, when the Pallavas were ruling Tondaimandalam, assemblies were functioning in the Chennai region. Inscriptions from Tiruvottriyur belonging to later Pallava kings of 9th century mention the assemblies of Manali and Adambakkam which, besides doing many other duties were evidently looking after the interests of the Tiruvottriyur temple also. In subsequent times, the functioning of the sabhas in places like Kurattur, Tirumazhisai, Poonamallee, Padi and Velachery is very well attested.
In Koyambedu, there was the ur which was a simpler type of assembly than the sabha. Invariably, the sabha was associated with villages in which the Brahmanas were the largest land-holders – such as Manali, Kurattur, Poonamallee, Thirumazhisai and Velachery. Although in these rural assemblies, like the ur, sabha, and nagaram, all those who had a stake in the locality were entitled to be present, the leadership and prominence seem to have always fallen on those who possessed high qualifications by virtue of their age, property, character and learning.

The powers exercised by the villages assemblies appear to be great and varied. Another important power of the assemblies was to collect taxes wither on their own or on behalf or as agents of the central government for certain local purposes. Epigraphs mention the activities of the Assemblies at Manali, Adambakkam, Velachery and Padi etc.

The village assemblies continued to function in the Chennai region even during the Vijayanagar period. Thus the functioning of the assemblies in Thirumazhisai, Padi and Kovur during the times of Harihara II, Virupaksha Maharaya and Krishnadevaraya respectively are recorded. The assemblies of Padi and Kovur are called mahajanas, a name which came to be applied to the sabhas during the Vijayanagar period. However, total autocracy was never allowed, and there was a system of checks and balances.

There are inscriptions galore relating to constitution of village courts and judiciary, most of whom were elected by village elders, with strict norms for qualification. The Bhaktavatsala temple of Tiruninravur, Chennai, in 930 CE, in the reign of the Chola king Parantaka, has in Tamil letters engraved matters relating to constitution of the judiciary and limitations of their service. Similar inscriptions relating to judiciary are found elsewhere in the country too.

Uthiramerur wall inscription

The Uthiramerur wall inscription of the 10th century testifies to the process of elected local bodies, the conditions therein, the strict process of eligibility and qualification, and even Disqualification, which is  a matter engaging the attention of the highest courts in India.

This inscription also specifies how family members are sought to be kept out, in an elaborate, well-laid out procedure, worthy of emulation.
A well-oiled and effective administrative system called Puliyur Kottam, ancient Chennai has been in existence for centuries, far, far ahead of the British. This system continued to be in practice though Puliyur Kottam, as did the other 23 kottams in Tondaimandalam area,  came under different kingdoms like the Pallavas, Pandyas, Cholas, Rashtrakutas, Satavahanas, Niagangaraiyans, Vijayanagara empire etc. None of those kings or administrative set-ups tampered with the already good structure that prevailed, taking into account the needs of trade and commerce, maritime trade, education, irrigation, food, social peace and amity, judiciary and jurisprudence, crime and punishment, taxation etc. It was only the last of the emperors, the invaders from Britain, who tried to dismantle the system to have their own men in place to collect taxes and loot the country.
By R. Rangaraj, President, Chennai 2000 Plus Trust


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