This Day in History (22-Aug-1639) – Madras (now Chennai) is Founded by the East India Company

The rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire who ruled the South India, appointed chieftains called Nayaks to rule various regions of the province independently. In 1639, when the Brtish East India Company arrived in the area to establish a factory, Darmala Venkatadri Nayaka, a Telugu king and a powerful chieftain who was in charge of the area, gave the British a piece of land sandwiched between the Cooum River and the Egmore River. The area was known NariMedu i.e. mound of jackals. A factory of brick was built upon the island, and mounted with cannon, and called Fort St. George. This small settlement of the British gradually drew the attention of other East India traders such as the Portuguese and the Dutch who gradually joined the settlement. By 1649, Fort St. George had 19,000 residents due to which the East India Company expanded Fort St. George by constructing an additional wall. This expanded area came to be known as the Fort St. George settlement. According to a treaty signed with the Nayaks, the British and other European Christians were only allowed to colour the outside of their buildings white. Because of this, gradually over time, this area began to be known as “White Town”.

Gradually weavers, washers, painters, and hosts of other artisans, flocked to the spot and eagerly entered the service of the British, and began to set up their looms and to weave, wash, and paint their cotton goods in the open air beneath the trees. A settlement grew up by the side of Fort St. George and soon the Europeans were outnumbered. These non Europeans, mostly Hindu and Muslims, were given place near white town to set up a settlement and a wall was constructed to separate this new non-European settlement from White Town. This new area was known as “Black Town”. Originally, White Town and Black town were together known as Madras, a name derived from ‘Medurasapatnam’, which simply meant ‘chief’s town on the mound’. Fort St. George still stands and is home to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the office of the Chief Minister.



This Day in History (1-Aug-1916) – Annie Besant starts the Home Rule League

Annie Besant, Irish activist in London, fought for the causes she thought were right, such as, women’s rights, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism and workers’ rights. In 1893, Besant became a part of the Theosophical Society and came to India. The society is based in Chennai and is known as the Theosophical Society, Adyar. Besant spent most of her time on the betterment of society and even towards India’s freedom struggle. Annie Besant went on to establish the All India Home Rule League on 1st August 1916, which was a political organization which aimed at self-government, termed as “Home Rule”. The league wanted to secure for India the statue of a dominion within the British Empire, such as countries like Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland then. Besant’s league had an All India character, but was founded on Besant’s Theosophical contacts; it reached its zenith in year’s time with 27,000 members. The Home Rule League organized discussions and lectures and set up reading rooms, also distributing pamphlets educating people of what they sought to achieve through this movement. Members of the league were powerful orators and petitions of thousands of Indians were submitted to the British authorities.

The philosophy of the league was a combination of theosophy, social reform, ancient Hindu wisdom and the claims of achievement of the West which had already been anticipated by Hindu Rishis many years before they happened. The league influenced a lot of people by its philosophy, primarily because the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj had not reached the majority by then. A lot of young men groomed by the home rule movement went on to become future leaders in Indian politics, namely Satyamuri of Chennai, Jitendralal Banerji of Kolkata, Jawaharlal Nehru and Khaliquzzaman of Allahabad, Jamunadas Dwarkadas and Indulal Yajnik, among others.

The popularity of the Home Rule League began declining with the coming of the Satyagraha Movement by Mahatma Gandhi. By 1920 the Home Rule League elected Gandhi as its President and within a year from then it would merge into the Indian National Congress forming a united political front.