History & Culture

Madras is not alien

A file shot of the Royapuram fishing harbour, dated August 10, 1987.  

Cities are renamed and yet old habits die hard. Many of us still refer to Chennai as Madras. Of course, when you say ‘Madras’ instead of Chennai, you do face a lot of flak for not using a Tamil name. But there is now reason to believe that ‘Madras’ isn’t really of non-Tamil origin.

Epigraphists S. Rajavelu and Y. Subbarayalu, while editing a book on the Vijayanagar inscriptions, published by ICHR, stumbled upon an inscription, which suggests that when you say ‘Madras,’ you are not using an alien word.

Madras owes its origin to ‘Maadarasanpattanam’, a small port that existed even before the 9th Century C.E. In the Vijayanagar period, it became a well known port. This is evident from a Vijayanagar inscription found in Penneswaramadam, on the banks of the Pennar, to the South of Kaveripattinam. The inscription is dated July 21, 1367. It is about the digging of a canal in the time of Kampanna II.

“This king’s conquests and victories in Tamil territory are also recorded in this inscription, and the names of ports, forts and villages on the East Coast, which he captured from Tondaiman, give us clues about Maadarasanpattanam,” says Rajavelu.

Interesting inscriptions

The inscription of Kampanna II says he captured ports such as Pudupattinam (present name also Pudupattinam) and Chadiranapattanam (Chaturangapattanam). Neelangarai is referred to as Neelagangaraiyan. “Neelagangaraiyan was a chieftain of Chola times, who made many donations to temples around Chennai.” And now comes the interesting part… a port called Maadarasanpattanam is also mentioned in the inscription.

Rajavelu says Royapuram must have been Maadarasanpattanam. And even today, Royapuram is famous for its fishing harbour. The Tamil name ‘Maadarasanpattanam’ must have changed to Madarasapatnam and Madraspatnam. The ‘arasan’ changed to ‘raya,’ and in course of time, the area came to be known as Royapuram. Incidentally, the Vijayanagar kings were known as ‘raya.’

Chennapatnam, which British records refer to, was a small territory encompassing just a few areas. “But even in Chola times, Maadarasanpattanam was surrounded by many villages and towns, which served as taluk headquarters. It had its western entrance in Maduravoyal. There was Pudupakkam, which is today’s Pudupet. There are inscriptions that show the donation of some lands in Pudupakkam to the Tiruvallikeni temple. Chola and Pallava inscriptions talk of Mylarpar (Mylapore), Kottur (Kotturpuram), Ezhumoor (Egmore), Velicheri (Velacheri), Taramani - which was donated to the Velacheri Siva temple, Tampuram (Tambaram), Aadanpakkam (Adambakkam), Kundrathur, Mangadu, Maapulam (Mambalam), Porur, Viruganpakkam (Virugambakkam), Pammal and Pozhiselur (Pozhichalur of today).”

And that’s not all. To the North-West and West of Maadarasanpattanam lay Vepery, Vesharupadi (Vyasarpadi), Pirambur (Perambur) and so on.

Considering that Maadarasanpattanam gave birth to Madraspattanam, which became Madras, and that the area around Maadarasanpattanam included almost the whole of the present day metropolis of Chennai, the city isn’t a 375-year-old ‘baby.’ Madras is a grand old lady!

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 4:33:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/madras-is-not-alien/article6338551.ece

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