THE ENTIRE AREA south of Periyar EVR High Road (earlier known as Poonamallee High Road) and the curve of the Cooum river is known as Egmore. This was originally a small village that the East India Company acquired in the late 17th century, as it began to expand its territories. Egmore was also one of the earliest residential localities, where wealthy Company merchants built palatial homes surrounded by luxuriant gardens – the so-called “garden houses” that were extremely popular in colonial Chennai.
The Government College of Arts and Crafts, founded in 1850, stands on Periyar EVR High Road. This striking Gothic building and its art gallery were built by Robert Fellowes Chisholm who was also appointed its superintendent (principal) in 1877. Its first Indian principal, Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhary, was a renowned painter and sculptor in the 1950s. The artists’ village at Cholamandal was established by bis successor, Dr KCS Panicker. Today the prestigious Government College is one of India’s foremost art schools. Its gallery has regular exhibitions of contemporary painting and sculpture by artists and students.
To its west is the Egmore Railway Station, another of Chisholm’s architectural gems. This is a handsome building, constructed in Indo-Saracenic style, with unconventional flattish domes and pointed arches. The station, operational since the early 20th century, connects Chennai with the rest of Tamil Nadu and the south. Today Egmore is the up-market commercial heart of Chennai, a concrete jungle of offices, department stores, boutiques and hotels. On Pantheon Road are the largest showrooms of Co-Optexa unit of the Tamil Nadu Handloom Textiles Cooperative, which sells handwoven silk and cotton saris and fabrics from the state.