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Chennai

Chennai is short for Chennapattanam, a town that grew around Fort St. George built by the British in 1640. According to one version, Chennapattanam was named after the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple; the word chenni in Tamil means face, and the temple was regarded as the face of the city. Another version has it that Chennapattanam was named after Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, Nayaka of Kalahasthi and Vandavasi, father of Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, from whom the English acquired the town in 1639.

The former name of Chennai was Madras and it was short for "Madraspatnam", a fishing village located in the province of Tondaimandalam, north of Fort George in an area lying between Pennar river of Nellore and the Pennar river of Cuddalore. Another version on the origin of Madras is that the Portuguese, who arrived in the area in the 16th century, had named the village Madre de Deus, meaning the Mother of God. Another possibility is that the village's name came from the prominent Madeiros family (variously known as Madera or Madra in succeeding years) of Portuguese origin, which consecrated the Madre de Deus Church in the Santhome locality of Chennai in 1575.

Sometime after the English gained possession of the area in the 17th century, the two towns, Madraspattinam and Chennapattinam, were merged, and the English referred to the united town as Madrasapattinam. Gradually, the city grew into a major naval base and became the central administrative center for the British in South India. With the advent of railways in India in the 19th century, the thriving urban centre was connected to other important cities such as Bombay and Calcutta, promoting increased communication and trade with the hinterland. Madras was the only Indian city to be attacked by the Central Powers during World War I, when an oil depot was shelled by the German light cruiser SMS Emden on 22 September 1914, as it raided shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, causing disruption to shipping.

While most of the original city of Madras was built and settled by Europeans, the surrounding area which was later incorporated included the native temples of Thiruvanmiyur, Thiruvotriyur, Thiruvallikeni (Triplicane), Thirumayilai (Mylapore) which have existed for more than 1000 years. Thiruvanmiyur, Thiruvotriyur and Thirumyilai are mentioned in the Thevarams of the Moovar (of the Nayanmars) while Thiruvallikeni in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandhams (of the Alwars)

After India gained its independence in 1947, the city became the capital of Madras State, renamed the state of Tamil Nadu in 1969. The state government officially changed the name to Chennai in 1996. On 26 December 2004, an Indian Ocean tsunami lashed the shores of Chennai, killing many and permanently altering the coastline.

Chennai

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