Pondicherry – The French Connection

The 17th-18th century headquarters of the French colonial possessions in India, this serene township even today carries a distinct French flavour, which, combined with the sea and laidback air of the place, add up to an irresistible charm. Pondicherry was laid out on the sea front of the Bay of Bengal and stands out for its neatly planned parallel roads that intersect at right angles. During colonial times the town was divided into French quarters and Tamil areas, separated by a canal that has since been covered. The oldest part of the town is ranged along the Seashore Boulevard, and has streets still carrying their French names and their pasts with them. Strolling here among old elegant buildings, churches and leafy parks fill one with a lazy delight.

Churches – One of the most beautiful churches in the city is the dramatic, Gothic, Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus located on South Boulevard. Noteworthy here are the three stained-glass panels which show scenes form the life of Jesus. The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (1865) has a marble-like white exterior that was achieved by mixing limestone with the white of eggs. It’s the proud possessor of an oil painting of Our Lady of Assumption that was donated by Napoleon III. A famous church festival in Pondicherry is the annual June festival of the Eglise de Notre Dame de Lourdes, on the outskirts of Pondicherry, which attracts people across religions. This church is patterned on the Basilica at Lourdes in France.

Beach – On its eastern front, Pondicherry is flanked by a one and a half-kilometre long beach, a dean stretch ideal for sunbathing and swimming. There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a War Memorial on the beach. Further down the beach is a 150-year-old lighthouse.

Aurobindo Ashram – Pondicherry is today best known for the Aurobindo Ashram, which is a serene retreat shaded by trees. In the early 20th century, Sri Aurobindo, the Bengali philosopher-poet, took refuge in this French territory to escape the British and in 1926 established his Ashram. The residences of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (Mirra Alfassa, a French disciple of Sri Aurobindo who carried on in his tradition till her death in 1973) are the main buildings of the Ashram. The Samadhis (memorials) of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are in the courtyard and are the main points of interests for the visitors. apart from the most intense and unparalleled quietitude

Auroville -This “universal town” is about 10 km north of Pondicherry. The Mother, Mirza Alfassa, dreamt of international community living in unity, peace and harmony transcending caste, creed, religion, or nationalities. The famous international commune is a self¬sufficient settlement growing its own food, running its own schools, a beacon to others on how to try and live in harmony with humanity and the Earth. French architect Roger Anger gave an interesting architectural shape to this concept, especially to the ‘Matri Mandir’ which symbolizes the birth of a new human consciousness.

Temples – Amidst all its French flavour, Pondicherry retains memories of the time it was under the Chola dynasty between the 10th and 12th centuries. The Manakula Vinayaka Temple is also very popular with both the locals and visitors for it is believed that Lord Ganapathy blesses his devotees with success. In February-March, the Masi Magam festival is held here. The 12th century Varadaraja Temple is another ancient shrine.

Pondicherry Museum – The Museum is located near the Government Park on Rue St Louis and was opened in 1984. There is an impressive collection from the French colonial period which includes a bed used by Joseph Francois Dupleix, the most famous of the French governors in India. Also, do not miss the rare bronze and stone sculptures from the Pallava and Chola period.

For more information on Pondicherry visit http://tourism.pondicherry.gov.in/

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