Madraspatnam and Chennapatnam

The occurrence of the term Srirangarayapatnam, my town, in the cowle given by Sriranga Raya in 1645, introduces an element of confusion with regard to the origin of the names Madraspatnam and Chennapatnam.There was a view which had been prevalent ever since Walter Hamilton published his valuable account of India in 1820 that, at the time of the foundation of Madras, Sriranga Raya insisted that the settlement should be named after him as Srirangarayapatnam, but that his purpose was defeated by the local Nayak who managed to get it called after his own father, Chennappa. We know, however, that Sriranga succeeded to the throne only in 1642, fully three years after the foundation of the settlement.

This was not known to Hamilton who based his view only on a perusal of the cowle of the Raya, a copy of which was available to him among the Madras records that he utilised. The grant of the name of Srirangarayapatnam was probably intended by the Raya as a special mark of his royal favour to the factors of Madras. Also, about the time of this grant, Damarla Venkatapathi Nayak, son of Chennappa, was in disgrace; and this might have had a share in making Sriranga alter in his grant the name Chennappapatnam to Srirangarayapatnam.

The name of Chennapatnam is due to the fact that Damarla Origin of the Ayyappa Nayak, when writing to Francis Day name at Armagon in 1639, expressed a desire to found a town in the name of his father, Chennappa Nayak and offered the English liberal privileges if they would come and settle in it. Very probably the origin of the name came about this way.
Chennappa Nayak was a famous personage in his generation. He was a brother-in-law of Yachama Nayak and a prominent noble at the court of Venkatapathi Raya- I (1586-1614) and took possession of Vellore, on behalf of his master, after defeating its ruler, Lingama Nayak. From this time, Vellore served as the residence of the Baya and was a second capital of his kingdom. Chenna’s sons attained to considerable distinction. One of them, Damarla Venkatapathi, was the chief minister of Venkatapathi Raya- II (1630-42). He warred against the Nayak of Gingee and constructed a lake in the North Arcot District, which he named Chennasagaram, after his father. Another son of Chennappa was Ayyappa. Both these brothers helped the English in the acquisition of Madras.

A third brother was Ankabhupala known by a Telugu work, Ushaparinayam which he wrote and dedicated to his father, Chenna. Therein he says that his younger brother, Ayya, saw that the people of Pralaya Kaveri (Pulicat), the Dutch, were incessantly fighting with the people of Mylapore (the Portuguese at San Thome) and in order to put an end to that fighting, he founded the town of Chennapatna (Madras) between them so as to prevent their mutual bickerings.

The name Chennapatnam was applied from the beginning to the Indian town that grew up to the north of the English Fort which was built on the site of Madraspatnam, according to the first grant. The village called Madrasapatnam was definitely mentioned even in the first grant as existing at the time when it was made. In all the available records of the time 1639-45, a difference was maintained between the original village of Madraspatam and the new town that quickly grew up in and round the Fort. To this new town, the name Chennapatnam was given. Thus we may say that the village of Madraspatnam had existed under that name even prior to the English settlement of 1639-40; and the site of Chennapatnam was that of modern Fort St. George. The original village of Madraspatnam lay to the north of the site of the Fort; and within a few years of the founding of Fort St. George the new town which grew up round the Fort came to be popularly known to the Indians as Chennapatnam, either because Damarla Venkatapathi and Ayyappa wished it to be called so or because the site might already have borne that name; more likely, the former was the truth. The intervening space between the older northern site of Madraspatnam and the new southern plot of Chennapatnam, came to be quickly built over with the houses of the new settlers as the town expanded, so that the two villages became virtually one town.

The English preferred to call the two united towns by the name of Madraspatnam, with which they had been familiar from the first, while the Indians chose to give it the name of Chennapatnam. In course of time, the exact original locations of Madraspatnam and Chennapatnam came to be confused and even reversed as it was done by W. Hamilton. Madraspatnam was regarded as the site of the Fort and Chennapatnam as the Indian town to the north.

Source: This article is originally from “The History of the City of Madras”.

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