Tamil Nadu (tămˈəl näˈdō) [key], formerly Madras mədrăsˈ, mədräsˈ, state (2001 provisional pop. 62,110,839), 50,180 sq mi (129,966 sq km), SE India, on the Bay of Bengal. The capital is Chennai (formerly Madras). On a low-lying plain bounded by the Eastern Ghats in the north and Nilgiri and Anai Malai Hills on the west, the state has large fertile areas along the Coromandel Coast, the Palk Strait, and the Gulf of Mannar. Agriculture is the chief occupation. The main industries are food processing and the manufacture of cotton and silk cloth; madras, a uniquely dyed cloth, is the most famous product. There are irrigation canals and hydroelectric stations along the Kaveri River and a nuclear power plant. An extensive rail network linking Madras and the coastal cities with inland areas facilitates overseas trade. Most of the population is of Dravidian stock, speaks Tamil, and practices Hinduism. An ancient center of Dravidian culture, the region has the finest remaining examples of S Indian art and architecture. Coastal areas of the state, particularly along the Coromandel Coast, suffered destruction and lost of life from the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. Tamil Nadu is governed by a chief minister and cabinet responsible to a unicameral legislature and by a governor appointed by the president of India.
Tamil Nadu was the seat of the Chola empire (10th–13th cent.). Muslims swept away the Hindu Vijayanagar kingdom in the 16th cent. and controlled the area for about a century. The Portuguese established trading posts in the 16th cent., followed by the Dutch, French, and British in the early 17th cent. After a struggle (1741–63) with the French and with Haidar Ali and Tippoo Sahib, the British emerged victorious. Under Great Britain, the territory controlled from Madras city was considerably enlarged.
After independence its Telugu-speaking areas were transferred to Andhra Pradesh in 1953, and in 1956 the Kannada-speaking areas were transferred to Mysore (now Karnataka), and the Malayalam areas to Kerala. In 1969 the name of the state was changed from Madras to Tamil Nadu. The Tamils of Tamil Nadu have provided logistical support for the guerrillas trying to establish an independent Tamil state in an area covering the Jaffna peninsula and E Sri Lanka, and some Tamils support the idea of an independent homeland consisting of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil-speaking areas of Sri Lanka and the neighboring Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala.