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Life in Chennai

Updated on: Apr 15, 2013
Living in Chennai About Chennai City About the history of Chennai Things to do in Chennai Entertainment in Chennai Culture and food in Chennai Schools in Chennai Transportation in Chennai Languages spoken in Chennai Cost of Living in Chennai Chennai Education

Living in Chennai

Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu. Originally named Madraspatnam (or Madras Patnam), the city has a population of 46,81,087 (in the Chennai District), as of the 2011 census. Situated by the Bay of Bengal on the Coromandel Coast, Chennai was established in 1639, though the history of the area goes back much further. Over 2,000 years ago, Greek, Phoenician, Roman, Babylonian and Chinese traders visited the Chennai area. The Portuguese built a port in Chennai in 1522, and in 1612 the Dutch settled there, followed by the British East India Company in 1639. The city came to be briefly under French rule in 1746, before being taken over again by the British. Britian developed the Port of Chennai over time, with piers built in 1861. The construction of the Jawahar dock was completed in 1964 after Independence.

Tamil Nadu is famed for many historical monuments and temples, some of which have been recognised as heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). One site near Chennai is the group of monuments at Mahabalipuram from the seventh and eighth centuries built by Pallava kings. Recognized as a heritage site in 1984, it is known for its mandapas (cave sanctuaries) and rathas (temple chariots). The monuments also include open-air rock reliefs and temples built from stone.

Chennai became the capital of the Madras State in 1947, which only came to be called Tamil Nadu in 1969. The seventh most populous state, it is also the eleventh largest state in India. The city's name was officially changed to Chennai from Madras in 1996. Today, Chennai is the fourth largest metropolitan city in India, with the metropolitan area covering 1,189 square kilometers.


The city has a variety of attractions for students, including shopping malls, discotheques and cinema halls. There are also zoos, parks and historical sites. A few malls in Chennai include Express Avenue, Spencer Plaza and The City Centre. Spencer Plaza was one of the largest malls in South Asia when it was built. Several nightclubs are a part of the environment of the city's cultural life, including one club serving tapas, or Spanish snacks.

Chennai is the home of Kollywood, the Tamil film industry. Kollywood is named for its location in Kodambakkam, Chennai. Students have the opportunity to visit many movie theatres in the city, including Sathyam Cineplex, PVR Cinemas, AVM Rajeswari, Woodlands Multiplex, Sathyam Complex and Rohini Movie Park.

Things to do

Chennai has many other interesting sites and events, including historical monuments, festivals and performances. Historical sites in Chennai include Fort St. George, the Fort St. George Museum, the Ripon Building, the Madras High Court Building, Valluvar Kottam and the Theosophical Society. Fort St. George is the first British fortress in India. Valluvar Kottam is a structure dedicated to the poet Thiruvalluvar. Its auditorium is possibly one of the largest in Asia, seating 4,000 people. Drawing many visitors every year, the building's granite columns building are inscribed with the 1,330 verses of the epic Thirukkural. This epic is estimated to be from the fifth century A.D.

Chennai Historical Monuments

Pancha Mandapams is another important site in Chennai, consisting of five memorials (Gandhi Memorial, Kamaraj Memorial, Rajaji Memorial, Bhaktavalsalam Memorial and the Martyrs Memorial). Bharathiyar Illam is the house where the Tamil poet Subramanya Bharti spent some of his life. One of its attractions is a letter from Mahatma Gandhi. The Theosophical Society is a 100-hectare retreat that includes a library, gardens, a Hindu temple, mosque, church and a Buddhist shrine. The garden has a 400-year-old banyan tree. Other monuments in Chennai include Kamaraj Memorial House, Vivekananda Illam, Anna Square, Senate House, Doveton House, Madras War Cemetery and the Free Mason's Hall.

From December to January, the dance and music festival called the Margazhi Festival of Dance and Music draws audience members together for over 300 concerts. Instruments such as veena, flute, nagaswaram, ghatam, thavil, mridangam and gottuvadhyam are featured during the festival. Later in the year is the Thyagaraja Music Festival (Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival), taking place in Tiruvarur, outside of Chennai. In the realm of dance, there is the Natyanjali Festival, held near Chennai in Chidambaram every year in February or March to coincide with Maha Shivratri. The festival takes place at the historic Chidambaram Temple. Other festivals in the city include the Chennai International Film Festival, which takes place in December, and The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Festival, taking place in August. The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Festival is put on by the theatre company evam. The oldest English theatre group in India is The Madras Players, which has performed plays by Shakespeare, Anton Chekov, Jhumpa Lahiri and Girish Karnad, among others.

The Government Museum Chennai houses paintings and sculptures. These range from traditional painting schools of Tanjore, Rajput, Moghul, Kangra and Deccani. The museum also has a Rock and Cave Art Gallery.

Chennai is also known for its beaches: Marina Beach, Elliot's Beach and Covelong Beach. Marina Beach is the longest beach in India, and second longest in the world at 13 kilometers. Elliot's Beach is situated near Besant Nagar, and is a popular place for spending an evening, especially for younger people. Covelong Beach is 40 kilometers away from the city, and attracts visitors for swimming and windsurfing.

Cost of living

Student costs in Chennai may vary. Select groups and sub-groups for basic costs are drawn from the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers by the Govt. of NCT of Delhi. Consumer price indexes measure the increase or decrease in prices based on previous average prices.

COL Base


June 2012

Cost index by category


Cost of living



Clothing, bedding and footwear

Medical care

Education, recreation and amusement

Transport and communi-cation

General index











Delhi Government Portal


Chennai's international airport, Chennai International Airport (MAA) is located 14.5 kilometers south of the city. From the airport, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to reach the city center. Many trains are also available to and from Chennai via Chennai Central (MAS) Railway Station and Chennai Egmore (MS) Railway Station. Within the city, suburban railway stations also offer an option for commuters. Other transportation in Chennai includes buses, taxis and auto rickshaw. Chennai is expecting the addition of a Metro Rail service to begin in the city around April 2013.

Chennai Local Transportation

The city

Chennai is a very urban city, housing a culture blending languages, cuisines and traditions. With many available cultural events and sites such as music, dance, architecture and art, students can experience an enriching environment for their education.

Chennai has an average literacy rate of 90.33 percent, compared to the national average of 74.04 percent. Both rural and urban areas of Tamil Nadu have enjoyed increases in literacy over the past ten years. Software, banking and telecom sectors have been important in Chennai since the early 1990s. About 25 percent of India's IT worforce of 18 lakh is in Chennai. Software exports are a significant part of the economy for the city. Other industries in Chennai include hardware manufacturing, automobile, technology, computer, health care and financial services industries.

Chennai City for living


The primary language of the city is Tamil, though English, Hindi, Urdu and Malayalam are also spoken. Other languages of Chennai include Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Punjabi. Tamil, the main language of Tamil Nadu, has literature dating to the third century BCE. A Dravidian language, Tamil has about 65 million speakers worldwide. There is a large difference between informal spoken Tamil and the written language, making it a diglossic language.

Culture and food

A classical dance form in Chennai is Bharatnatyam (or Bharat Natyam). Karagattam and Mayilattam are types of folk dance also performed here. Bharatnatyam today has a large scope worldwide, in the 2012 London Olympics, a Chennai Bharatnatyam troupe was invited to perform. Possibly over 2,000 years old, this South Indian dance's sources date to Bharata Muni's Natya Shastra. An important textual source for technique in this classical dance is the Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikesvara. The repertoire and setting of Bharatnatyam have changed over time; today wide-ranging dance sequences are usually accompanied by mridangam, violin or veena, flute or cymbals and a vocalist. The nattuvanar recites the dance composition, sitting alongside the musicians. Bharatnatyam is performed by men and women.

Chennai Historical Temple

Mayilattam (or Mayil Attam) is a dance performed by girls dressed as peacocks. The costume is operated by the dancer, the beak opening and closing. A particularly difficult aspect of the dance is that dancers perform on stilts, or tall pieces of wood. Karagattam (also known as Karagam) is a folk dance accompanied by music that incorporates balancing decorated pots. While clay pots were once used, bronze and stainless steel pots are used today. The two types of Karagattam are Aatta Karagam and Shakti Karagam. Shakti Karagam is mainly for entertainment, while Aatta Karagam is only performed in temples. Karagattam is also performed by both men and women.

Prominent festivals and religious events in Chennai include Pongal, Navarathri, Deepavali, Rama Navami, Krishna Jayanthi, the Teppam festival, Ramzan, Bukrid (Bakri Eid), Muharram, Christmas and Easter. Pongal is a popular harvest festival in South India. A three-day Hindu festival held on the winter solstice, boiling rice in milk is one of the major symbolic parts of the celebration. Also added to the pongal is jaggery, raisins, cashews and cardamom. Coloured and plain rice flour is used to draw kolams, decorations for the floor of a house. Pongal is prepared on the kolam. The annual Mylapore Teppam float festival takes place at the Kapaleeswarar Temple, in addition to biweekly Pradosham festivals.

Some notable Hindu temples in Chennai include Vadapalani Temple, Kapaleeswarar Temple, Kandaswamy Temple, Maangadu Temple, Parthasarathy Temple, Thiruneermalai Temple, Astalakshmi Temple, Kalikambal Temple and Thiruvidanthai Temple. Chennai is also home to the Thousand Lights Mosque, built in the nineteenth century. A few historic churches are also located in the city, such as St. George's Cathedral and St. Andrew's Church.

Chennai is home to the Wallajah Mosque, or Big Mosque, built in 1795. Made out of granite, the mosque has architecture characteristic of the medieval period. The Triplicane Labbai Jamaath Masjid was built in 1889. Food for Ramzan in Chennai includes nombu kanji and haleem, stuffed kheema rotis, biryani, shami kebab and khubani ka meeta.

The city houses a few historic art institutions, including the Kalakshetra Foundation and Cholamandal Artists' Village. The Kalakshetra Foundation is a famous arts academy in Chennai that was started in 1936 by Rukmini Devi. The dance institute was also connected with the Theosophical Society when it was established; Rukmini Devi's husband George Arundale was the third president of the society from 1934 to 1945. Another historical institution in Chennai is the Government College of Arts and Crafts. Established in 1870, it is one of the earliest art institutions in India. Another art institution in Chennai is the Cholamandal Artists' Village. It is an important centre for the arts as well as a popular site for tourists; Cholamandal is a self-supporting artist commune. The Madras Art Movement began in the city during the early 1960s, eventually giving rise to today's Chennai having more than 20 art galleries.

Chennai's food includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes centered around the staple of rice. Idli, dosas, upma, sambar, rasam, and papad (appalam) are all important foods in the capital. Traditional meals are often served on a banana leaf. A few multi-cuisine dishes include puliyogare (a masala eaten with rice), parotta (paratha) made from maida with kothu (minced vegetables), pongal (a rice dish), aviyal or avial (vegetable curry) and thayir sadam (curd rice). Sweet dishes include kesari (cooked semolina), sweet pongal and payasam. Payasam is generally made with milk, cooked rice flakes and sugar. Many variations, such as jackfruit, banana or coconut, are eaten in Chennai for the Malayali festival of Onam. Non-Indian food in Chennai includes pizza, seafood, Chinese, American (such as Quiznos), Italian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Persian, Korean, Mexican and Thai.


Traditional sports and games of Tamil Nadu include kabadi and jallikattu. Jallikattu is a sport involving the taming of bulls. Silambattam is a regional martial art of Tamil Nadu. Cricket is a popular sport in Chennai, with the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium for cricket seating 50,000. The Tamil Nadu Cricket Assocation (TNCA) is based in Chennai, as is the Chennai Super Kings cricket team. The TNCA conducts league tournaments, national tournaments and tournaments for various age groups under 25. TNCA oversees cricket in Tamil Nadu. A Chennai hockey team has also been started recently to play in the World Series Hockey (WSH).

Motor racing is also a major sport in Chennai, with the Madras Sports Club having over 50 years of history in the city. National Racing Championships and National Motorcycle Racing Championships are held there. Other sports in Chennai are tennis, squash and sepak takraw. The Aircel Chennai Open is India's largest tennis event. The tournament takes places in late December through early January. Squash players from Chennai recently won the women's crown at the Asian Team Championships in 2012.

Local school listings

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