CHENNAI: The Poonamallee High Road, or EVR Periyar Salai, stretches east-west, almost from one end of the city to the other. It is one of the longest, broadest and oldest roads in our part of the country. It has been named after the historic village of Poonamallee mainly because it was initially meant to connect many areas within the city to this village. According to scholars, the name Poonamallee is derived from the Tamil term Poo Virunda Malli (Arabian jasmine) alluding to the profuse cultivation of this flower in the region.
Throughout the medieval period, Poonamallee was an important settlement because of its strategic location not too far from many significant villages and towns including Sriperumbudur. The region was ruled by a local dynasty called the Nayaks. These chieftains were under the suzerainty of the Raja of Chandragiri who in turn, was a representative of the famous Vijayanagar emperor who ruled large parts of South India. Thus, it was Venkatadri Nayak, the ruler of Poonamallee, who, in 1639, granted permission to the British to establish a trading factory that later evolved into Fort St George. Later, the Nawab of Arcot acquired Poonamallee and granted it to the British.
During the British rule, the Poonamallee High Road was one of the two main arterial roads of the city, the other being Mount Road or Anna Salai. Both of them ran parallel to each other. The British modeled both these roads on the famed ‘High Streets’ in several American and European cities. Both these roads were initially designed as broad avenues lined with large trees
At one time, the western gate of Fort St George led to the Poonamallee High Road and thus, this road was a vital link between the Fort and the outlying areas southwest of the city. During those days, the eastern end of the road, close to the Fort, was the most crowded as it housed a large number of public buildings.
According to historians, the location of the General Hospital on this stretch was primarily because neighbouring George Town was considered too congested and unhygienic for housing a large hospital. When the Royapuram Railway Station, built in 1856, was considered too far from the city centre, the railway line was extended further south and the Central Railway Station was built on Poonamallee High Road in 1873. This station is located almost equidistant from Fort St George and George Town, the two most important localities of the city those days.
A building to house the administrative offices of the Railways was erected at the intersection of Poonamallee High Road and Walltax Road in 1922. The Victoria Public Hall (1887) initially conceived as a Town Hall of the city and the Ripon Building (1913) housing the city’s Municipal Corporation are the other important landmarks west of the Central Station. Around the same period, the Ramaswamy Mudaliar Choultry and the Siddique Sarai were built on the other side of the road. Both these buildings were designed to be rest-houses for the travelers using the Railway Station.
Further west, at one time, several villages such as Egmore, Vepery and Purasawalkam flourished to the north and south of the Poonamallee High Road. Gradually, each of these villages merged with the city. In recent decades, several new residential colonies have emerged towards the western end of the road.