The Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane, built in the 8th century, is one of the 108 holy abodes of Lord Vishnu. It is dedicated to his avatar as Lord Krishna, ‘Parthasarathy’ in Sanskrit means the ‘charioteer of Arjuna’.
In the four centuries of its existence, Chennai has evolved from a colonial port town into one of India’s largest metros. A host of hardware manufacturing and automobile industries have flourished here, and the robust infrastructure has attracted leading IT firms to Chennai’s shores. Chennai is regarded as the cultural capital of the South, and has one of the most active music, theatre and art scenes in India; its film industry is the second largest in India, and its glitz and glamour add a unique aura. The city’s colonial splendour is preserved in its magnificent public edifices. Century-old beautiful cathedrals, government offices, railway stations and administrative buildings show the pride that its residents take in its history.
Fort St. George, the first British fortress in India, now serves as the administrative headquarters for the legislature of Tamil Nadu, and has the oldest Anglican Church, the tallest flag mast and some of the oldest British tombstones in India. The North is predominantly an industrial area while Central Chennai is the commercial heart of the city. South and West Chennai have been mainly residential, but are now home to a growing number of technology and financial firms as well as call centres.
The city prides itself on its dedicated and talented workforce. Its automotive industry is one of the largest in the country, accounting for 60 percent of the country’s automotive exports. Some of the big names that have set up shop in and around this city include Hyundai, Ford, BMW, Mitsubishi, Saint-Gobain, TVS, Ashok Leyland, Nissan Renault, TI Cycles, TAFE Tractors, Royal Enfield, Caterpillar, Caparo and MRF. Military vehicles are churned out at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi. The Integral Coach Factory manufactures railway coaches and other parts for the Indian Railways. The Sriperumbudur Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is Chennai’s electronics manufacturing hub; almost every global giant has a presence here.
The city is also the research and development base of many global telecom and biotech giants, and is the second largest software hub in India, next to Bangalore, contributing over 14 percent of India’s software exports worldwide. Large gleaming software technology parks now loom majestically over the cityscape, contrasting with Chennai’s older gracious colonial style buildings. Leading international banks and financial institutions have large operations in Chennai, and several have their zonal headquarters here. Known for its good quality hospitals and healthcare institutions such as Apollo Hospitals, the largest private healthcare provider in Asia, Sankara Nethralaya, Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre and MIOT Hospital, Chennai is fast becoming one of the preferred destinations for medical tourism across the globe.
Stretching along over 60 km of coastline, Chennai’s beaches are among the longest in the country. The city’s tourism industry is growing fast, with new spas, restaurants and resorts popping up along the East Coast Road. The East Coast Road (ECR) is a ‘state-of-the-art’ highway that cruises along to the old town of Mahabalipuram and to Chennai’s favourite neighbour, Puducherry. Two more highways, the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and the Grand Southern Trunk Road (GST) have been developed along the lines of the ECR. The two recent jewels in Chennai’s crown are the exchange flyovers at Kathipara and Padi, making the City’s arterial and feeder roads among the most free-flowing and least congested in the country.
Chennai’s premier educational institutions are matchless. Madras University benchmarked educational standards much before many major universities even came into existence in India. The city is home to a large student population, with a large number of colleges dotting the city offering technical, arts and literature courses that are among the best in the country. The famed Indian Institute of Technology, situated in a sprawling verdant campus in Guindy, produces some of the best brains in the country. The Connemara Public Library, built in 1890 is one of the four national depositor centres in India for all published material, and has been declared a UNESCO information centre. Kodambakkam, in the heart of Chennai is the home of the stars.
Cinema paitham (madness) describes the obsession of film fans in Tamil Nadu who worship actors. Seen here issuperstar Rajnikanth whose mammoth cut-out is being anointed with milk by his fans.
Kollywood, the legendary movie industry has woven itself inextricably into the culture of the city. Tamil films, which along with Hindi films constitute India’s widest overseas film distribution, has seen the emergence of global personalities like Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman.
The city has an impressive record in several sports, although cricket is the most popular. The city plays host to the ATP tennis event, the Chennai Open. Chennai has a rich legacy in chess and has produced many well-known chess players, the most notable of them being Vishwanathan Anand, the current World Chess Champion. Motor racing is another long standing sport, producing outstanding racers like Narain Karthikeyan.
Chennai is known for its elegant silk saris of gorgeous hues and its cool cottons. The eponymous Madras cotton, usually favoured in checked designs, is also known as Madras Check. This light, cool fabric, is ideal for the hot summers. Chennai sources silks of vibrant hues from Kancheepuram, about 70 km from the capital. This temple town is the ‘silk city’ where over 5000 families weave silk saris, and some of them can trace back their roots to over 400 years. The saris are inlaid with timeless ethnic motifs of swans, peacocks and mangoes. The creation of a classic Kancheepuram sari can take as long as six months; two weavers work simultaneously - one works on the body, and the other creates the borders.
There are a few pockets in the city such as the narrow bustling alleyways of Mylapore and Triplicane that seem caught in a time warp of their own, with the quality and pace of life remaining unchanged for over a century. It is here that the conventional South Indian images of jasmine garlands, idlis, filter-coffee and temple gopurams live, prosper and abound. Traditional music, dance and art forms are very popular. The months of December and January showcase music and art festivals that draw hundreds of performers and admirers (called rasikas), from across India to participate. It is of course best known for Bharatanatayam, a classical dance that originated in Tamil Nadu. The home of countless scientists, litterateurs, musicians and scholars, every lane in these two temple districts has a story to tell.
The hallmark of a successful city lies in its ability to preserve the old while constantly adapting itself to the new. Chennai’s success in commerce has allowed it to afford its citizens all the modern conveniences of a world class city. The modern glistening city is filled with malls, resorts, highways and high-tech offices that co-exist peacefully with the deep rooted cultural values of its people. With its two facets equally alive and vibrant, Chennai reigns as the Queen of the Coromandel.