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Founders' Day, Madras

Tomorrow, August 22, has for some years now been considered Founders' Day, Madras, by those organising what is a commemorative week of participatory celebrations by the citizens of the city. I have, however, been asked by a historian or two whether it shouldn't be July 22. It is in that context I narrate the following tale.

After the Battle of Talikota in 1565, the defeated Vijayanagar kingdom moved its headquarters to Chandragiri from where the erstwhile emperor ruled his abbreviated southern kingdom through several governors — many of them local chieftains — titled Naiks. Naik-governed territories included Madurai, Thanjavur, Gingee and, closer to the subject of this story, Poonamallee. Damarla Venkatadri (aka Venkatappa and Venkatapathi) Naik, described as the `Lord General of the Carnatica' and `Grand Vizier of the Emperor', was in charge of Tondaimandalam — an area marked in the east by the coast from Pulicat to just north of San Thomι and stretching westwards to a little beyond Wandiwash, his capital. His brother Aiyappa, put in charge of the coast by Venkatadri, had his headquarters in Poonamallee. It was with Aiyappa Naik that Beri Thimmappa, dubash to Francis Day, an East India Company factor in Armagon (Durgarayapatnam, near Nellore), initially negotiated for the grant of a piece of land on this stretch of coast to which Day could move from non-profitable Armagon.

The East India Company agency on the Coromandel Coast was at the time headquartered in Machilipatam, and it was here that Thomas Ivie arrived on July 22 to take charge as Agent, having on his way authorised Day to go ahead and find a new settlement. When Ivie arrived in Machilipatam, he found that Andrew Cogan had arrived there on July 19 to take charge as Agent. The confusion was eventually sorted out in Cogan's favour on September 3. Day, who had arrived a few days earlier to participate in the voting that swept in Cogan, handed over his report to Cogan in person. And that's where the confusion on dates starts.

The report is dated "27th July, 1639" and together with it was handed over to Cogan "the firman granted Mr. Day for priviledges in Madraspatam by the Nague Damela Vintutedra." The firman was dated "22nd July 1639", and the reference to "Madraspatam" the first found in the British records. A closer reading of Day's report, however, reveals this statement: "I had your Consent to make a Voyage to the Nague, and therefore sett sayle for those parts on 23rd July and arrived the 27th... " Given those dates, Day could not have received a grant dated "July 22nd". As Col. Henry Davison Love, that meticulous recorder of early Madras history, says, "July appears to be an error for August". And agreeing with that view, the catalysts of the Madras Day-Madras Week celebration decided to stick to August 22 as Founders' Day. And every time they meet they wonder what they can do to have the founders, Beri Thimappa, Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, remembered forever in the city


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