Pondicherry - Attracting for its History, Heritage & Spirituality

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Pondicherry - Quick Facts

Area: 19.46 Sq. Km.
Population: 654,392
Altitude: 2,159 m above sea level
Temperature: (Min 20 Max 350C)
Clothing: summer-Cotton Cloth Winter-light Woollen
Rainfall: 1254.4 mm average
Languages: Malayalam,Tamil,Telugu, English& French
Best time To Visit: Oct-Mar

Situated in four coastal enclaves in South India, Pondicherry has been attracting tourists for its history, heritage and spirituality. With its roots near the Gingee river, Pondicherry’s main territories include Karaikal, which lies in proximity to the Cauvery; Yanam, which is 900 kms away north in the lap of Kakinada district of Andhra Pradesh; and tucked away on the other side of the Peninsula of the mouth of river Mahe is the small enclave of Mahe in Kerala. This gives Pondicherry a unique character, one that embodies the whole of South India. Though Pondicherry was discovered in by the Romans, it was the Portuguese to make commercial impact when they built a factory in the 16th century. Around the 17th century, the Dutch also marked their presence, but eventually it was the French who made Pondicherry their own in 1654.

In spite of being a relatively small territory, Pondicherry – also referred to as Pondi – attracts a bulk of the tourists that head towards India. Pondicherry has magnetized about 0.5% of the total foreign tourist arrivals. This amounts to 33 times the national average of tourist density. Last year about 11,500 foreign tourists came to Pondicherry from as far as France, Germany, the UK, the Us, Australia, Switzerland and other countries. French tourists account for one-fourth of this number.

History and Heritage
With a recorded history that dates back as far 200 B.C., Pondicherry’s rich heritage has a district French flavour. The French first arrived in Pondicherry in the 17th century. At that time, India, was the dream destination for many a sailor. The French, competing for their share in the great bounty of India, had already set up trading posts in Chandernagore, Musulipatnam, and Mahe. Sher Khan Lodi, the Governor to the king of Bijapur in Tanjore, invited the French to set up a trading centre in Pondicherry. The French grabbed the opportunity and in 1654, French power began taking root in Pondicherry under the leadership of Francois Martin, who worked for the French East India Company.

Pondicherry was a rare Indian territory to take part in the French Revolution, though in a much more restrained manner. Democracy made a beginning in Pondicherry much the same time as in France. Pondicherry offered shelter to many who raised their voice against colonialism. A revolutionary turned philosopher, Sri Aurobindo settled in the safe enclave of Pondicherry.

This French influence is seen throughout Pondi. The road plan, for instance, is built in typical French style: a grid-like structure where streets meet each other at left angles. The names of the streets also mirror this influence as a lot of streets are named in French. “Rue Damans” being one many such streets. The local language has also infused French into itself; phrases like “Bonjour Monsieur” are a part of everyday slang.

Pondicherry – The Spiritual Retreat
The relatively quieter, calmer and therefore more peaceful surrounding of Pondi have attracted visitors for a long time. The spiritual allure that Pondi has is unique. People come here to find solace, inner peace and discover their true self. People like Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

The Matri Mandir, for instance, and its awe-inspiring meditation hall is one such place where people throng to every year. And the Aurobindo Ashram is a part of a unique global community that practices the art of living. Pondicherry is also home to the unique Sari Temple – the only temple dedicated to the Lord Saturn. Thousands make their way to Pondi every year for the “Sani Peyarchi” festival.

Pondi also plays host to the International Yoga Festival. People from all over India and abroad take part in this unique event that embodies peace and spirituality.

Architecture – the French Connection
The architecture in Pondi has a distinctive French stamp. The French built houses in their own architectural style, while incorporating features suited to the Indian climate and environment.

For instance, the flat roof commonly used in India was incorporated in the front and backyardsin their house plan. The home décor is usually a fine amalgam of the occident and the orient. Paintings in golden frames, chandeliers of Belgian crystal, clocks and mirrors from France are typical of this architecture. Hand painted silk panels, lacquered folding screens, living spaces. The French relied on local carpenters for their furniture. As a result of all this, a unique “Franco-Pondicherrian” style of furniture evolved.

By Air
Nearest airport from Pondicherry is Chennai 162 km. One can take flights for most of the important Indian cities as well as abroad.

By Rail
Pondicherry is connected through a meter gauge railway line with Villupuram (36 km). There is only one railway station between Pondicherry and Villupuram i.e. Villianur.

By Road
Pondicherry is well connected to most of the major towns of southern India by road. Pondicherry and Chennai are well linked through road. Bangalore-320 km.

Sri Aurobindo ashram
Sri Aurobindo was a greatly respected freedom fighter and philosopher who settled in Puducherry and established this Ashrama in 1920. His philosophy and teachings found many followers here, and this Ashrama became one of the centers of Vedic and philosophical studies. The place is a peaceful community developed over the years by the active participation of members that include people from all countries, casts, and communities. The ashrama is a great example of unity in diversity and promotes world peace in a very subtle way, emphasizing on the learning of world religions. The ashrama is also known for the samadhi (memorial) of Sri Aurobindo and Sri Ma (mother). Besides, there are farms, gardens, cottage industries, library, and various other manufacturing units that cater to the day to day requirements of the ashrama.

Puducherry Museum
This museum exhibits interesting artifacts related to the history of Puducherry that goes back to the 1st century AD. The most interesting exhibits are the Roman articles discovered at Arikamedu. The French section showcases the history of French colonization in Puducherry. The museum also has a nice collection of sculptures, paintings and sea shells. The colonial structure is one of the important places to visit in Puducherry.

This is one of the most visited parts of the city and major tourist attraction. The 1.5 kilometer long stretch faces the Bay of Bengal and offers a wonderful getaway from the daily chores, to the locals and tourists alike. The statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a War memorial are the important things to watch here.

Chunnambar Resort
This place is known for its fantastic beach and the water sports opportunities. This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Puducherry.

Anglo - French Textile Mills
This is a historic place and must be visited as part of the historical tour of the city. The fabrics manufactured at this mill are still known for their quality and tourists are given rebates on purchases here. There are numerous other tourist attractions in Puducherry. These include the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Bhartidasan Memorial Museum, the botanical garden, and the mansion of Ananda.

Located about 58 kilometers from the town of Puducherry, Chidambaram is a famous temple town greatly revered by the local folk and pilgrims. The chief deity and attraction of Chidambaram is Nataraja, the dancing form of Lord Shiva. The temple complex is dedicated to the art of dancing, as the details of natya shastra, an ancient text on dancing in India, are engraved on one of the gates. Magnificent sculptures depicting the different poses of Bharatnatyam, a form of classical Indian dance adorn the interiors of this temple. The ancient temple is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist spots that can be visited by embarking on excursions from Puducherry. During Shivaratri, a famous occasion in India marked by offering prayers to lord Shiva, this temple becomes the venue of a renowned dance festival.

This is a beautiful spot located about 40 kilometers from Chidambaram. This used to be one of the largest ports in ancient times. Poompuhar is also known as the place where two famous works of ancient Tamil literature, namely, Silapathikaram and Manimekalai were composed. A splendid art gallery located here strives to present the ancient ambience of the region by resorting to 2nd century décor. For those with an interest in history and literature of South India, Poompuhar is an attractive destination that can be visited during tours of Puducherry.

This is yet another temple town that can be visited as part of excursions from Puducherry. It is situated about 107 kilometers from Puducherry and is famous for the Arunachaleshwara Temple, which holds special importance as one of the most prominent Shaivite temples in South India. The ashrama of Sri Ramanna Maharshi, a famous and respected saint, is also among the places to visit here.

Auroville is also called the city of dawn. This city is still being built. Work on it started in 1968 under the guidance of Sri Ma, the companion of Sri Aurobindo, the great spiritual leader and freedom fighter. The city is a unique venture. It strives to be a model city where people from all communities from around the world will forget their differences and live in harmony as part of the same community. At present the city spreads over 50 square kilometers and is inhabited by about 1700 people, though the capacity is of 50000 people. A circular cover of green surrounds Auroville. The center of the township is marked by the Matri Mandir (temple of the Mother). It serves as the spiritual center of the town. The chief feature of the structure is a 30 meter high globe. The town of Auroville is divided into industrial, residential, cultural, and international zones. Two areas are marked as Green area and Peace area. Auroville is one of the highlights of tourism in Puducherry.

The culture of Pondicherry (as a UT) is synonymous with the culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh due to the scattering of the regions of the UT in these states. Fairs and festivals are essential part of Pondicherry’s age old culture. Festivals ranging from spiritual to cultural and even gourmet or food are celebrated all through the region with great fervour and enthusiasm.

Pondicherry’s tradition of art & crafts has been evolved under different colonial era. The creativity is seen among the local people involved in making items related to Miniature Paintings, Batik, Screen printing; producing Incense Sticks, Candles, Greeting Cards, Dinning Mat and Wooden serving mat etc are among other products. Some traditional artisan groups are also involved in making Hammocks, Bags, Garments and Hand knitted woolen garments, etc.

Although the French influence is apparent in Pondi cuisine as well, the overall feel is a cosmopolitan one. Restaurants serve authentic Vietnamese, Chinese, North Indian, South Indian, and Chettinad and of course, exclusive French dishes.Patte defoie, poulet, poisson provencale, creole crevette are some of the mouth-watering French delicacies that feature on the menu. Some bakeries also make French baguette bread, scrumptious pastries and French desserts.But what makes eating in Pondicherry really special is its multi-cuisine splendour. It’s no wonder that the annual food festival, “Gourmet” held every year in January receives enthusiastic response from tourists and Pondicherry alike. Some of the hot favorite cookery items in Pondicherry are:

•        Coconut Curry
•        Tandoori Potato
•        Soya Dosa
•        Podanlangkai
•        Assad
•        Curried Vegetables
•        Stuffed Cabbage
•        Italian Baked Beans

The crafts of Pondicherry include beautifully crafted dolls and toys made from terracotta, papier mache, and Plaster of Paris. The union territory of Pondicherry is almost a byword in the south. For the dolls made in Pondicherry have become famous in surrounding Tamil Nadu, for instance, as Puducheri Bommai (dolls from Pondicherry).

Once ruled by Frenchmen, Pondicherry has a surprising number of striking crafts in so small a geographical area. The oldest craft in Pondicherry is of bronze casting that dates back to the 8th century AD. Puja lamps made from five metals and known as kamatchi villakku are prized items of prayer with a large number of families in South India. Then there is handloom cloth in traditional designs, hand-woven carpets, hand-woven woolen pile carpets, hand printed textiles (both Kalamkari and batik), cane furniture, handmade paper, and hand rolled incense sticks from the Sri Aurobindo Society.

Festivals and celebrations are quite common and can be found every where. International Yoga Festival (4-7 January), Pongal (14-16 January), Masi Magam during mid march, Vishnu festival in Yanam, Villiayanur Lourdes festival (April 17-27), Chitrai Kalia Vizha a summer festival, Villiayanur Temple Car festival during the middle of May, The Mangani festival dedicated to Karaikal Ammaiyar, Bastille Day(14th July), French food festival of August, Virampattinam Car festival, Birth Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo (15th August), Fete De Pondicherry (15th-17th August), St. Theresa festival (5th-21st October), Isai Vizha (1st week after Vijayadasami), Drama festival (13th-19th November), and Shopping festival (22nd-31st December) are some of the festivals that the people of Pondicherry celebrate.

When everything else in Pondi has a unique charm, why should shopping be any different? Places like the Auroville provide a “different” shopping experience to stay the least. Here one can find exclusive hand-made gifts and novelties like candles, jute bags, pottery, ethnic Jewellery and other handicrafts. Pondicherry is also known for its unique Indo-French style furniture, which is famous for its design and finish. Hidesign and Casablance are well-known lifestyle stores that are a must-visit attraction for all shoppers.

Puducheri is the favourite stomping ground of the passionate shopper. It's an octroi - free destination for everything from cars to consumer goods. In addition, there is an enticingly low incidence of sales tax. Shop - hoppers will also relish the pleasant ambience of the boutiques in puducherry, which cater to a wide range of tastes, offering stylish garments, semi - precious stones, perfumes, hand - made incense, candles embossed with real petals, marbled silks and aromatherapy products. One can also find a variety of handicrafts from Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Karnataka, Kashmir, Tibet and puducherry of course.

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