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Chirala

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Chirala is one of the larger towns of Prakasam district, in Andhra Pradesh. It is also one of that district’s administrative sub-divisions or mandals, as well as a municipality. The town is situated at a distance of about 100 kilometers south of Vijayawada, the third largest city of Andhra Pradesh, and about 350 kilometers from Hyderabad, the capital city of the state. As of the 2001 Indian census, Chirala had a population of 85,455 (it becomes 166,877 if town extensions are included). The sex demographics are evenly split, with 50% male and 50% female. Literacy is also good, with an average of 65% which is markedly higher than the national average literacy rate of 59.5%. Chirala is a coastal town with an average elevation of just 4 meters above mean sea level.

Earlier known as “Small Bombay” because of the huge varieties of saris that are produced there, Chirala was originally named Kshirapuri, which is translated to “Here the sea looks as white as milk.” The foundation for the present-day town was laid in 1604 by Minchala Papaiah and Minchala Peraiah. The town came out of Sudhanagaram, whose original name was Patha Chirala, which itself was given by the Minister of the Kakatiya king Goparaju Ramanna to Chirala Anantharaju in 1145. It was Anantharaju’s descendant, Chirala Venkata Krishnudu, who leased the present Chirala to the Yadavas in order to establish a new township.

In time, the new town grew as people settled in. In the early 17th century, several temples were built such as the Venugopalaswamy and Malleswaraswamy. When the British colonized the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century, Chirala became a health resort, with a medical facility set up in 1906, with the opening of the Edward VII Coronation Memorial Hospital. In 1912, an American doctor, Dr. Baer, opened the Dr. Baer Missionary Hospital. These helped Chirala and its neighboring villages at a time when the nearest medical facility was located at Guntur.

In 1923, the British as well as the other Europeans who came to India opened a tobacco curing facility which gave jobs to the laborers in the town. With the construction of a railway station that connects the Madras-Calcutta-New Delhi main line, Chirala started to develop as a commercial town, increasing in population. It also became the hub of the handloom industry, providing employment to at least 30,000 craftsmen. The wide textile industry in the town caused it to be dubbed Mini-Bombay. In 1959, a cooperative spinning mill was also started. Today, Chirala is a major commercial center between Ongole and Tenali, and lies on the main railway between Kolkata and Chennai.

Chirala is also a very good educational haven, with numerous schools and colleges located in the town. The M. Sc Oil Technology in V.R.S. & Y.R.N. College is considered as among the top colleges in all of India. The Saraswatha Niketanam Library is also a popular library with a collection of about 75,000 books and manuscripts, some dating back to mid-19th century. It also houses a rare collection of 1,000-year-old palm leaf manuscripts of the Upanishads.

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