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Pondicherry at a glance

Known as the 'French Riviera of the East', Pondicherry history has a mix of both Hindu kingdoms and European rule. If you think that the French were the first European connection to have linked with the city, then knows that this is not the case. The history of Pondicherry takes you back to the first century. Historians and archeologist suggest that the city had long established trade routes that connected to Rome and the region close to the city of Pondicherry. With a distinction of being a flourishing trading center, Pondicherry was the most sought-after region after by several monarchs. The Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Emperors contributed to the growth and development of the place in the fields of art, culture and economics. Like few selected regions in the continent, Pondicherry escaped from the autocratic rule of the Muslim rulers. By mid 1600's, Pondicherry was dominated by the French, the Dutch and the English officials, each trying to outclass themselves in the rat-race only to emerge as the leaders on the commercial front in the Indian trade. Towards the 18th century, the French refused to cower down by the powerful British army despite being overpowered several times. Several years after India's independence, Pondicherry merged with India and later became a union territory. Scroll down to know more about the history of Pondicherry. Pondicherry History Early Period According to the fable circulated by the local inhabitants, the place was visited by a powerful erudite known as Agastya who founded an ashram known as Agastiswaram. The writings on the Vedhapuriswara shrine also indicate that the belief of the local people was not altogether untrue. The excavations in the year 1940 that took place in Arikamedu close to the city is said to shed light on a different perspective to Pondicherry's history. The wide variety of ceramic artifacts found in the region bears the impressions of Roman designs that only go to show that the place was possible trading post through which goods were imported from Rome. In the following centuries, the place came under the dominance of several powerful Tamil dynasties that played a dominating factor in giving the city a local language, literature, beliefs and culture of its own. European Period The impact of the European rule in Pondicherry changed the political and cultural scenario in the district. In 1674, when the French invaded the place, the town became a French colony in India. The enormous profits from this trading route attracted other European settlers like the Dutch and the British to the region. As a result, the area soon became overpopulated by several foreign officials with each desperately wanting a sizeable share from the benefits of trade in India. This led to a fall out in the region that later ended in a combat among the European countries. The period from 1693–1793 witnessed a frequent change in the reigning supremacy in the province. Towards the second half of 1850, when the English rulers had become the undisputed rulers in the sub-continent, they decided to let the French retain Pondicherry under their rule. After the British and French agreed for an armistice in the region, Pondicherry went on to be ruled under the governance of the French East Indian Company till the year 1954. After Independence In spite of India gaining independence from the British in the year 1947, the city of Pondicherry remained under the hands of the French command. The campaigning against the anti-French rule started right from the year 1857. Over the years, the protest took different forms such as the trade union strife, anti-French movements caused by students, party workers of Indian Congress and a monthly periodical known as 'Swatantram' that also supported and joined the rally against the French. Despite all these efforts, India continued to remain unsuccessful in merging the French boundaries to Republic India. In 1954, the Indian Government was determined to settle matters with the French Government by holding several ongoing negotiations and meetings. It was only in the year 1956 did India see positive signs of its former efforts of its dealings with the French foreign dignitaries. The country went on to sign a cession contract in the same year. Although the cession truce was signed before, it was only in 1962 was the treaty validated and France relinquished complete and absolute autonomy of its Indian occupied territories. On July 1, 1963, other districts close to the city such as Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam merged with the city of Pondicherry and eventually the province became a union territory. Until recently, the city was referred as Pondicherry. However, in 2006 the name of the territory underwent a change based on linguistic lines. Henceforth Pondicherry was renamed as 'Puducherry', which deciphers as a 'new village' in Tamil.

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  • Area 480 sq.km
    Capital Pondicherry
    Population 1,247,953
    Official Languages Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, English and French
    Boundary Pondicherry is bounded by the Bay of Bengal in the East and by Tamil Nadu on the other three sides.
  • Fair & Festival

    Pondicherry is an abode of temples dedicated to Lord Sulramaniar and various forms of ammans viz, Muthumariamman, Angalamman etc. The famous fire walking and Sedal festival are generally the most important festivals of these temples.

  • Fire Walking

    Those who vow to take part in the fire walking ordeal observe 40 days fast and wear saffron coloured clothes and after a purificatory bath, walk through the fire stretch to the astonishment of the spectators.

  • Sedal

    The famous sedal is understood to mean self-imposed physical torture undertaken by devotees who pierce small silver hooks and spears in their body or tongues in fulfillment of some vow. It is said that as many as 100 needles are pierced over their body. They then go in a procession after a bath, clad in turmeric stained clothes.

  • Mascarade Festival

    Mascarade or Mask festival is celebrated sometime during March-April in Pondicherry. It reflects one more facet of the French sense of humor. With unique masks and fancy costumes, revelers go round the streets in joyous merriment indulging in a kind of gimmick dance, to the accompaniment of beating accordion and trumpets.

  • Masi Magam Festival

    Masi Magam Festival, Pondicherry Another important festival is 'Masi Magam Festival'- on the Full moon day of the 'Magam' asterism in the Tamil month of Masi (Feb-March). Thousands of people in good faith go the sea shore in the early morning to have a holy dip in the sea for ablution of their sins. Deities from as many as fifty temples in Pondicherry and from the outlying areas of Tamil Nadu are brought in ceremonial procession to the sea-shore with accompaniment of Nadhaswaram near Kuruchikuppam in Pondicherry municipal area for the symbolic immersion. Pondicherry will wear a festive galore from early morning to the late night of the day. The deities which are taken to the shore early morning make their return journey to their respective places in procession along the streets of Pondicherry in the evening. In Thirukannapuram village in Tamil Nadu area there is a saying that deity of Sowriraja Perumal married a fishermen community woman and hence the moment the deity enters the village fishermen take charge of the deity, and after the festival is completed the charges are replaced.

  • Summer Festival (Chitrai kalai Vizha)

    Department of Art & Culture, Government of Puducherry organizes Indian Classical music and dances in various places of Puducherry during Summer festival held during March- April.

  • Villianur Temple car festival

    The architecturally splendid Sri Gokilambal Thirukameswara Temple at Villianur, 10kms from Pondicherry, holds a ten-day annual festival (Brahmotsavam) during May-June. On the 9th day of the festival, the bedecked massive 15m tall temple chariot, taken out on a procession by a devout crowd, is a remarkable sight.

  • Heritage & Culture

    The people of Pondicherry are multi-national and multi-ethnic by nature and thus have a cosmopolitan culture but still they have a strong hold to the native tradition of the region. One of the characteristic feature native to the territory of Pondicherry is that they have a diverse culture and thus resulting in a secular attitude. When it comes to the music and the dances of the people of Pondicherry it is a very visible picture of the extension of the southern styles of classical music and dance. The classical music mainly follows the southern style of Carnatic and the dance forms include Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi. Despite its French character, Pondicherry is a perfect example of Indian culture.

    All the festivals are celebrated with great excitement and enthusiasm by the people of Pondicherry like elsewhere in the country. The month of March witnesses the festival of Mascarade or the Mask Festival where the people parade on the streets merry making and it is more like the French version of Holi in North India. Masimagam is another major festival celebrated by the people of Pondicherry in February-March, during which the idols from various neighborhood temples are taken out for immersion in the sea. The people line up in the seafront and witness the spectacle. Apart from the celebration of the Independence Day on 15th August, the people of Pondicherry also celebrate Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Anniversary on 15th of August. On this day, devotees queue up at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for paying homage to the great soul. The Aurobindo Ashram is also the ground for the International Yoga Festival which is celebrated every year in the months of March-April. Indo-French war pageantry is presented on the eve of Bastille Day, a French commemoration. Once in every three years the people of Pondicherry celebrate the Sani Peyarchi Festival and the Panguni Uthiram in the months of March-April every year.

  • Cuisine

    The Union Territory of Pondicherry boasts of a sumptuous cuisine that shows strong French and Tamil influences. But the Pondicherry Cuisine reflects a happy blend of the cuisine of the neighboring Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka also.
    Freshly baked baguettes and crisp croissants with a steaming cup of coffee constitute the breakfast of most of the people in the union territory. This is a French legacy. This is not to suggest that the many south Indian delicacies--such as Masala Dosa, Sambar Vada, and Idli--are not savored and enjoyed at the breakfast time. They are equally, if not more, popular food items eaten at the time of breakfast in Pondicherry.
    Other delicacies of the Indian origin that find much favor in Pondicherry are: Coconut Curry, Tandoori Potato, Soya Dosa, Podanlangkai, Assad, Kadugu Yerra, Curried Vegetables, Stuffed Cabbage, Palpayasam (Sweet Milk).
    Kadugu Yerra is an incredible curry made with prawns cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with potatoes, vinegar, fenugreek and mustard paste and creamy coconut milk. Curried Vegetables, another local delicacy, is a delicious vegetarian dish. Filled with various nutritious vegetables, this food item is highly colorful in look and lovely in taste. This lip-smacking vegetarian dish is very healthy and wholesome as well.
    A common trait of the various local delicacies made in Pondicherry is that they are usually made using very less oil, are high on and are rather easy to digest. No wonder, the Cuisine of Pondicherry much delights the epicure, and adds to the tourist appeal of the pristine natural beauty that is, well, Pondicherry.

  • Leather craft

    The leather craft of Pondicherry is well known and feature amongst the most sought after products for tourists. The various leather products that are available in the city include bags, shoes, writing pad holder, passport holders, address books, and brief cases of various shapes and sizes. Most of these leather goods are exported to the international market.

  • Textile

    Textile holds the next significant position in Pondicherry handicrafts. There are remarkable production of textiles and linens available here. The government emporiums of Pondicherry are occupied with lovely garments of various textiles such as poplin, satin, twill, chambray, oxford, corduroy and cambric. Moreover, Khadi is another textile, which is very popular. The specialty of this fabric is such that it is locally made by people of Pondicherry. Pondicherry textiles come in various shades of bright colors and are mostly soft and comfortable to use. South Cotton saris of Pondicherry are also common and loved by everyone coming to visit the place. Most of these saris are designed with a zari border.

  • Pottery

    The significance of Pottery as an important craft of Pondicherry is another well-known fact. The pottery found here is distinct and have shiny finishing. These pots are used for household as well as decorative purpose. The craftsmen always experiment with new designs for these potteries.

  • Wood Carving

    Wood Carving, another interesting craft showcases the great talent of the artisan’s of Pondicherry. The best of this wood carving work can be seen in the temple doors and other objects. The craftsman creates some elegant and exquisite designs from wood, which these days can also be seen in people’s houses. Toys made out of wood are also a famous craft in Pondicherry. Figures of animals like elephant are made with wood as toys that look very beautiful. Other household things like wooden vegetable cutters, grinders, ladle holders, wooden serving spoons, containers and wooden kitchenware etc., are made in woodcarving.

  • Clay & Terracotta

    Crafts made of Clay & Terracotta are also found in Pondicherry. The terracotta artists here create excellent designs out of clay and terracotta. Utensils, jewelry as well as decorative pieces are made out of these materials in Pondicherry. These days, clay and terracotta are also used to make tableware, jewelry, figures and figurines, lampshades, dolls, plant pots, vases, tea and coffee sets, and various other products.

  • Jewelry

    Brightly colored ornaments or jewelry made of gold, silver, other metals or even made of terracotta are liked and used by most women here. Most of the traditional jewelry is coated with multi colored stones.

  • Jute craft

    Jute is a natural fiber and Jute craft in Pondicherry makes use of jute to knead carpets, rugs, foot wear, jewelry, carry bags, handbags, wine bottle bags, wall hangings, decorative articles and showpieces. Products made of jute are extremely coveted in the international market.

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