Today marks the 25th year of the change in name of Greater Chennai city from Madras to Chennai. This historic announcement, a celebration of Chennai and Tamil Nadu’s culture and civilisation as opposed to being a legacy of British rule, was made by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi, on September 30, 1996.
This was the date on which the chief minister released the Government Order on the decision which was hailed by lovers of Tamil and history. Earlier, in 1969, the then chief minister C N Annadurai got the name of the State changed from Madras to Tamil Nadu. Similarly, the name of the capital too was changed on September 30, 1996.
‘Dharumamigu Chennai’ was how Vallalar described the city, which he considered a spiritual abode. This is true as the city is a fountainhead of Tamil culture and religious literature of the Bhakti movement featuring the Nayanmars and Alwars. Various saints have visited the city and fine arts, especially music and dance, has contributed to the evolution of the city. Numerous inscriptions stand testimony to the historicity of the city.
Recognising the need to send the message of indigenous culture as against the attempt to perpetuate memories of the British Raj by a small band of people, Karunanidhi gave recognition to the voice of the indigenous Tamil people. In other districts of the State, the capital was always mentioned as Pattanam or Chennai, short for Chennaipatnam. People in other parts of the State even to this day call the capital Chennai or Pattanam, not Madras (the name Madras was used by a small-section of English-speaking elite).