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The British plot - Chennai ArchitectureBy Niveditha Ravikumar
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Without the advent of the British, there is no guarantee our country 'India' would be the way it is now. Or perhaps, to be more positive, there are even chances our 'developing' economy would be 'developed' by now. Even though the nation is moving towards faster growth and development, the past is always permanent and one shouldn't forget that. India is a country, where, even if attempted to ignore the past, eventually would prove to be impossible.
This is because of the wide variety in it – from Shah Jahan to Kejriwal.
The initial times of the intermediate period majorly witnessed the British settling along the east coast of the country, for 'trade' purposes, which the history claims to be true. The accepted fact is Gandhi came to be known as 'Mahatma Gandhi' and 'Gandhiji', during this period and because of this period.
How many of us would be knowing Gandhiji without the freedom struggle? The freedom struggle did not last for a year or two to get over with, but it lasted for decades together which undoubtedly showed the potential of the British to make the present Indians call those times an 'Era', the 'British Era.'
'A combination of close dots makes a line.' - this was followed flawlessly by the British in India that their 'line' continued undisturbed till 1947. But, how, when and where were the first dots plotted?
The East India Company in Chennai
The East India Company entered India around 1600 AD for trading activities and had begun licensed trading at Surat, which was its centre. Then, commercial interests in spice trade created a necessity of a port closer to the Malaccan Straits -the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. However, in 1626, English East India Company decided to build a factory on the east coast and selected Armagon (Dugarazpatnam), a village some 35 miles north of Pulicat as its site. It was essential for any overseas trading centre to be fortified against the possibility of an attack. After realizing that the location was unsuitable for trade purposes, Francis Day and Andrew Cogan managaed to purchase a piece of coastal land lying between river Cooum and Egmore river, originally called (Chennirayarpattinam or Channapatnam) from a Vijayanagar chieftain named Damerla Chennappa Nayaka, where the Company began the construction of a harbor and a fort. The fort was completed on 23 April 1644 and hence named Fort St George, (St George's birthday) faced the sea and some fishing villages, and it soon became the hub of merchant activity.
It gave birth to a new settlement area called George Town. This later enveloped villages around and led to the formation of the city of 'Madras.'
FORT ST GEORGE:
The original settlement was the nucleus of the present Fort St. George.
Earlier, the fort is divided into two sections:
St Mary's Church – The oldest Anglican Church in Asia built in 1680.
Fort St George Museum – Housing the relics of the British personnel who inhabited the port.
But, a group of buildings were built at different times within the Fort according to the increasing needs of the East India Company.
In the beginning, the Fort had a simple plan. The Governor's house was at the centre and there was an outer fortification. The space between the castle and the outer fortification was occupied by the English families. Soon a flourishing settlement of native weavers, painters and other workers of cloth grew up to the north of the outer fortification.
A huge grey structure with numerous block columns which was located in the centre of the enclosure towards the east, was the first Fort House of the British.
The fort grew as the trade grew, but much against the wishes of the East India Company. It showed signs of collapse and rebuilt further east which took two years. The core of the present Secretariat building still retains a part of the structure. By this reconstruction,St. Mary's Church acquired the title of the oldest building in Madras. By 1710, the Fort had filled up with proper houses organized in north-south orientation of the main building.
It was a three-storied structure with the Governor's residence in the uppermost floor and rooms for the Council in the lower ones. In 1790, the Exchange building, now called the Fort Museum, was constructed. The Fort was now self-sufficient.
Till 1825, the fort saw no further additions and then wings appeared on either side of the western portion of the building overlooking the Parade Square behind. In 1910, to enhance the facade, a second floor over the wings and the magnificent Assembly Hall to the east with numerous black columns were added. This ornately decorated Assembly Hall continues to function effectively till date.
On the whole, the fort is currently inclusive of:
The Fort House (Tamil Nadu Secretariat main Building), St Mary's Church, Fort residences, Clive's house, The Grand Arsenal, King's Barracks, The Exchange House (Fort Museum).
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