Friday 27 December 2013

Recce ride tracing the origin of Madras

                   The Recce to Pulicat was at last accomplished on 15th December 2013. Along with fellow cyclist friends we started our ride from Madhya Kailash and reached the National Highway near Padi at around 6.30 am in the so called Chennai's winter morning, from here it was a ride midst the greenery through Puzhal, Redhills and Thachoor where we had a pit stop for breakfast. Taking a right and on to Ponneri we reached Pulicat by 10am, knocking onto few Heritage spots like the Portuguese built St. Antony's Church of 1540 AD, the Dutch Cemetery of 1658 AD and 17th Century Periya Pallivasal (Mosque) but to understand these vestiges of time the history now came into reckoning. 
                   The history of Pulicat can be traced to the Chola Kingdom (10 century AD) when it was major port city. the presence of a Chola period Samayeswarar temple in Pulicat  bears testimony to the region being an active trading port during Chola period. Later Pulicat came under direct rule of the great Vijayanagara Kingdom from 14th- 17th Century, the history of Pulicat available with local Muslims which is written in Arabic Tamil script, reflects the view that Muslims had a major presence in Pulicat for centuries. The start of the 16 century saw Europeans (Portuguese) entering the trading scene. Pulicat acted as the major port of the Coromandel Coast at that time, under direct influence of the capital city of Vijayanagara.  The reason for the decline of Pulicat, from a major trading port city to a place of lesser importance, was the battle of Talikota which took place in 1565 AD. This battle took place between the Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagara and the grand Alliance of the five smaller Muslim Sultanates. This grand alliance defeated the Vijayanagara Kingdom which led to the downfall of the mighty Hindu Kingdom. After this war Vijayanagara was no more the capital and hence Pulicat which was directly under its rule also started to lose its importance. 
                  Around 1609 AD the Dutch landed in Pulicat,when they landed it was not an important trading post as it was before. The Muslims helped the Dutch to set up a factory and start trading from Pulicat. Once the Dutch established their trade links with the city of Pulicat they faced pressure from the Portuguese who wanted to have monopoly of this place. To attain their goal of monopoly the Portuguese attacked the Dutch factory and caused much loss to the Dutch. Feeling threatened the Dutch to consolidate their position in Coromandel they decided to fortify their factory at Pulicat and in 1613 AD a fort was constructed. This was named Fort Geldria.  Soon Pulicat again became an important trading post of the Coramandel coast.The English also tried to establish their position in the  Coromandel Coast but only in 1619 AD the English were allowed to keep a garrison and trade at Pulicat. However after the massacre of Amboyna in 1623 AD, the English were not to be seen in Pulicat for a century. In 1639 AD, the English established Fort St. George a place little southward of Pulicat and of less consequence at that time. 
                       Pulicat became the headquarters of the Dutch Government of the Coromandel Coast in  in 1616AD. The chief of Pulicat was the Governor of the Coromandel Coast. From then on all the official decisions regarding the region were taken at Pulicat. Factories were set up at Nagapattinam, PortoNovo, Devanampattinam, Sadraspattinam and other places. Pulicat maintained contact with all the factories in the region and also with the government at Batavia. The growth of Pulicat was at its peak during the time when it was the head quarters of the Coromandel Coast from 1617 AD – 1689 AD. The seven decades long period saw Pulicat as the most important port city of the eastern coast of India. The fact that Pulicat minted its own pagodas from a mint established as early as 1615 AD, supplied with enough gun powder from the factories to Eastern countries, was one of the major producers of textiles, had a fort garrisoned bear testimony that Pulicat was a major and important port city during the seven decades in which it was the capital. Pulicat was an important city as long as it was the headquarters for the Coromandel Coast. 
                        It lost its importance once Nagapattinam was made the headquarters of the Coromandel Coast in 1689 AD and Pulicat was reduced to a rank of a mere principality. The reason cited for the shifting of the Capital was the advance of Mughal army under Aurangzeb down southwards.In Netherlands the VOC decided to concentrate on Bengal in the Indian coast rather than the Coromandel Coast.  Thmajor factor leading to reduction in Dutch power was the destruction that took place in Pulicat during fourth Anglo-Dutch war in 1781AD and the second Anglo-Mysore war. At that time the troops of Hyder Ali Khan destroyed most of the southern Dutch factories including those in Pulicat. The town was taken by the British in 1795 AD. But during all these times Dutch presence was always there in Pulicat. A peace treaty was signed between United Kingdom and States general of Netherlands united provinces. Through this the Dutch again sought to establish their power in Coromandel with Pulicat as headquarters. But this was not to happen because of the destruction of infrastructure caused during the war. Finally in 1825 AD Pulicat was ceded to the British. Throughout this period when Pulicat was losing its importance for around a century and Madras gained prominence under the growing British power. Pulicat was reduced to a small fishing village and was occasionally used by some British as a tourist place for fishing in Pulicat Lake and hunting in the forests of Sriharikota. The only major addition by the British was the construction of Light House in 1895 AD which later made way to the present Light House constructed in 1980's. 
                  Noting these acts of time we peddled on the new scenic route connecting Minjur halting there for lunch and taking up the challenge posed by the container lorries and potholes we cycled past Manali, Tiruvottiyur, Royapuram and reached Parrys Corner by evening 3pm. The return route through the North Coastal regions of Chennai was indeed an unique experience if not for the roads which proved to be a dampener. With the southern region highly developed to capture tourism its now time to we take care of this poor cousin who too has an history to speak. Till next time ... 

(Reference: Pulicat History, Aarde Foundation)      

At 17th Century Dutch Building (Picture: Sundar Rajan)