Revisiting ancient Chennai through its temples

Shri Pradeep Chakravarty ji is revisiting the ancient Chennai through the temples, whoThanjavur: A Cultural History He is the author of the book named. There are many such books written by Shri Pradeep Chakravarty through which a great effort has been made to provide life lessons to the readers on subjects like Indian history and philosophy. In today's podcast, Pradeepji is reviewing the history of ancient Chennai in front of us through which he is introducing us to the temples, legends and folklore of Chennai which are amazing and unforgettable.

Etymology of the word Chennai

In ancient times, the Chennai region was called Chennapatna. In Telugu language, Chennapatna means beautiful. Chennapatna was the land of traders. The ancient port of the Pallava period located here attracted a large number of Telugu speaking cotton traders. Although there are many stories about how the name Chennapatna changed to Madras, there is no concrete evidence available for them.

It is said that at one time the Nawab of Arcot needed financial help to bear the financial burden of his kingdom. To raise money, he started selling small plots of his land to the British. Gradually the British established their dominion over all the villages and built the port city of Chennai or Madras.

Ancient History of Chennai

The earliest signs of human settlement were found in the Pallavaram area of ​​Chennai. Ancient history researcher Robert Bruce Foot found Palaeolithic rock tools in this area in the early 20th century. These tools are believed to be about 4000 years old or even older. This leads to the conclusion that Chennai has been a continuously inhabited area.

Another archaeological site in South India is the ancient Tamraparni River. According to references found in the Puranas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, the oldest bronze statue of a goddess in South India was found from the bed of this river.

Medieval era

During the reign of the Pallava and Chola dynasties, temples were the centre of various traditional and cultural activities of the state. The presiding deity of the temple was considered the emperor of the state and the temple was considered the royal palace. This practice created a sense of community among the residents of the village. For example, during the Chola dynasty, the Kodambakkam Shiva temple was the district headquarters of the state.

The oldest surviving temple in Chennai is the Saptamatrika Temple at Velachery, dated to the 5th century.

Unfortunately, apart from the temples, no structure remains that was built by the Pallava, Chola or Pandya kings. The kings of that period lived in temporary wooden buildings. There are many inscriptions available as written evidence of this, such as the inscriptions present on the walls of the Mylapore temple which are believed to be 1000 years old. According to an inscription, merchant committees and meetings were organized in Chennai during the Chola dynasty.

colonial period

Chennai has been controlled by three colonisers: the Portuguese, the French and the British.

The Portuguese were the first colonists to build a port near Chennai. They built it in the last part of the 15th century. Later, there was a struggle between the French and the British to establish supremacy over this port area. After being defeated in this struggle in 1744-1763, the French were forced to hand over Chennai to the British.

When the British first established colonies in India, they felt the need for a port on the east coast of India to gain full control over the textile trade they had established with other countries of the world. They were mainly trading in cotton and indigo. Chennai was the best area for this trade.

The king of the Vijayanagara dynasty of Chandragiri provided them a small plot of land of 300 square kilometers to start this business. The British built their fort on this plot and started their business from here. This area is now the popular Marina beach.

Tamil Literature and Music

Tamil literature and music contain detailed references to all the villages that gave birth to Chennai. The Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Swamy temple is about 1000 years old. The Appar Swamy of this temple has composed many poems based on Pumbabai, his love for Samathar and later his death. Then through these poems he calls upon Pumbabai to rise from the lap of death and inspires her to abandon mortal love and immerse herself in the immortal love of Shiva. He requests her to spread the ideals of Shaivism far and wide.

Kapaleeshwara Temple - Chennai
Kapaleeshwara Temple – Chennai

An interesting poem describes the rich flora of the Mylapore region, the festivals and the various dishes prepared on various occasions. Even today all these festivals are celebrated with the same enthusiasm. An interesting fact related to this is that Pumbabai is the ancient name of Parvati whose idol is installed in the temple.

Travel Literature

Another literary source of Chennai's history is the work of poet Venkatadhvari, Vishwagunadarshchampu. This work, written in the 17th century, belongs to the Champu chhand. Champu is an Indian literary style in which there is a combination of prose and poetry. Writings written using Champu chhand are found in Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu and many other Indian languages.

In these literatures, Chennai and other Indian cities have been described from the point of view of two Gandharvas named Krishanu and Vishwavasu. One of these Gandharvas is optimistic and the other is pessimistic. Both these Gandharvas are travelling across India from the southern region to the northern regions. They are discussing the impact of the British on India. They are also discussing politics, culture, history, development of infrastructure and possible future. The optimistic Krishanu always gives a positive and promising end to his discussion while describing the city. Through these works, we get to know about the impact of the British on Chennai till the 17th century.

Chennai is an ancient city which is still alive. There are signs of ancient times in every corner of it which connect the ancient world to the present. Much research is still needed about Chennai and its history. For detailed information about ancient Chennai, visit Podcast by Pradeep Chakravarthy A must listen. This written version is a brief account of a detailed discussion with Shri Pradeep Chakravarthy on ancient Chennai.

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