The celebration of Madras Day in India

Madras Day is a festival celebrated to show respect to the founding of Madras (now Chennai), a city in Tamil Nadu, India.

When is Madras Day celebrated?

This special day is celebrated on 22nd August each year. It is because on 22nd August 1639, East India Company factors Sir Andrew Cogan and Sir Francis Day purchased the village of Madraspatnam or Chennapatnam from the viceroy of the Vijaynagar Empire Damarla Venkatedri Nayaka.

How did the idea of this day come into being?

It was during a meeting of the trustees of the Chennai Heritage Foundation that the idea of Madras Day first came into being. In 2004, it was first suggested by the Chennai-based journalist Vincent D’Souza to historian S. Muthiah. Since then, the people celebrate Madras Day without fail.

The main highlights of this day are film screenings, exhibitions, lectures, and quizzes. Ever since 2004, the popularity of Madras Day has steadily grown. In 2014 and 2015, this festival lasted throughout August and even extended till September. Therefore, people demanded to rename this day as Madras Week or even Madras Month.

History of Madras Day

The first celebration about the foundation of Madras Day was in 1939. Though a bit different from the other anniversaries, that year the British government sponsored the celebrations and issued a special volume of books about the city of Madras with essays on the different facets of Madras city. The famous authors of that time wrote these essays. There was also an exhibition of portraits, maps, coins, records, and pictures. The Vice-Chancellor of Madras University inaugurated this exhibition. There was even a short playwriting competition.

The idea to celebrate the birth of the city was also based on the success of another event known as the Mylapore Festival. D’Souza organized it every year in January. It was the combined idea of D’Souza, S. Muthiah, and the journalist, Shashi Nair, to start the celebrations of Madras Day in 2004. They unitedly said that the primary aspect of celebrating Madras Day was to focus on the city’s past and present.

At first, there were five events but the number increased with time. In 2006 there were about 60 events. The celebrations of 2010 lasted beyond a week and extended into the next week. In 2014, there were about 100 events and the celebrations lasted from 10th August to 14th September. However, the government of Tamil Nadu did not participate in any of the events because they felt that it was ‘colonial heritage’.

What happened after the celebration of Madras Day in 2014?

The celebrations were a great success and journalists covered them worldwide. At that very time, songwriters composed the Madras Song to honor the celebrations. The Hindu launched a website named friendsofchennai.com where the people of Chennai could create online petitions about their civic grievances. V. Sriram, a historian, and entrepreneur designed a mobile app called Chennai Past Forward to help people keep track of the heritage of Chennai.

2016 was the 377th celebration of this auspicious day. The festival kick-started with the 2016 Madras Beats song. There was a competition which The Hindu organized. The band Opus g7 became the winner. A composed song of theirs, “Endrum Padhinaru” launched itself on 21st August and it took a few seconds to become viral on social media.

Celebration of this day

The celebration of Madras Day consists of many events like public talks, food festivals, exhibitions, heritage walks, poetry reading sessions, public performances, and special programs on the radio. On this day, there are many contests like documentary film contests, t-shirt painting contests, quizzes in both Tamil and English as well as multimedia presentations in schools.

On this day, companies release theme-based special t-shirts. The talks are generally based on the heritage and history of the city. There are events even for retired citizens. On Madras Day’s website, there is a section- ‘Stories about Madras’. They can write down their life history there and also share their views about how Madras came to be the Chennai of today.

Controversies about the date of Madras Day

Some people believe that the British got their hands on Madras on 22nd July while the majority believe that it was 22nd August. It happened because the agreement document of the British getting the land from S. Muthiah records the date as 22nd July 1639. The belief that the date was 22nd August was based on the fact that Francis Day and Andrew Cogan did not arrive at the Madras coast until 27th July. So the date can never be 22nd July.

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