Pondicherry is a city of reckoning where the East and the West meets, and much like other colonial cities of India it retains the amalgamation of cultures.
The city’s easy-going happening cafes, restaurants and nightlife coupled with old world french villas and the attraction of the sea draws tourists. However, this historic town has much more to offer than these plain, simple pleasures and this is what is celebrated in ‘Pondicherry Heritage Festival’.
Every year, the erstwhile French capital in India decks up for a month-long festival starting in the middle of last week of January to the last week of February to showcase all things that’s Pondicherry.
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Making of the City of Contrasts & Symphony
The town became popular when the French East India Company came here for trade in 1674. In fact, this is one of the oldest colonial towns of India other than Goa where the Portuguese landed. The Portuguese also took part in trade here but was ousted by the French.
The French retained 2 colonies in India – Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu and Chanda Nagar near Calcutta. Pondicherry was part of the French colony until 1954 and till date the citizens of this land are citizens of France and India. They survive on dual culture of Tamil Nadu and France.
Before the French landed in Pondicherry, it was an undocumented region of the Pallava and Chola dynasty that ruled the south. So, Pondicherry’s heritage shows a mix of French lineage, architecture, food and Tamil Nadu culture.
In the French town region we get the picturesque bright yellow coloured French villas and cafes by the sea. The Basilica Saint Heart Church is the iconic heritage structure of that era which is often highlighted during the festival.
And obviously the finest museum of India – Pondicherry Museum with its iconic Chola and Pallava dynasty artifacts is a sight to behold.
The world renowned global peace city venture ‘Auroville’ is another rich heritage of Pondicherry that seeks to build a harmonious society and offers coexistence for all.
But it’s not just these popular heritage places and exotic beaches with scuba diving experience that’s the USP of this place. It’s the rich heritage and culture of the city which often remains unexplored on our travel pursuits.
Heritage Festival – Creating Pondicherrians
So, every year the people of Pondicherry indulge in a month long festival to preserve and showcase their cultural roots in the esteemed Pondicherry Heritage Festival
Into its 5th year currently, the festival celebrates and creates a world of Pondicherrians who have the same belief and love for the city. Originally started as an avenue to highlight the dying architecture of the city, the festival now explores all ways of life in Pondicherry.
This year too the festival was marked with equal fervor but albeit in a Covid safe way. So most of the events were online this time.
The inaugural event gave thorough insights into the French colonies of India like Chandan Nagar and Pondicherry, showcasing how the French differed from the British.
The point of interest of this year’s festival is the Thinnai photo exhibition and discussion which explores the lost art of Thinnai traditions.
Thinnai are raised platforms of Tamil houses in Pondicherry where people can sit and have discussion or read newspapers. It is an old way of living where a culture developed on Thinnai.
Discovering The Streets of Pondicherry
This year’s theme of the festival was Talking Streets of Pondicherry which took people through the books and corners of the city, discovering its past.
Although a French colony, Pondicherry is as much a Tamil culture as the rest of Tamil Nadu and this was showcased through various heritage walks to explore the Tamil architecture on the streets of Pondicherry.
Historian Jean Deloche was honored and his illustrious work on Pondicherry showcased many aspects of the city.
Then there were cooking contests, food fairs organized to get a taste of Tamil-French cuisine that Pondicherry carries and is known for.
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Capturing the Natural World of Pondicherry
Even the wetlands and water bodies weren’t left out as a wetland photography contest was held to make the people spot the known-unknown ‘Wetlands of Pondicherry’.
The wildlife of Pondicherry is also quite robust as you get a glimpse of beautiful flamingos here which are gradually diminishing day by day. So, the organizers thought it to be a good issue to discuss and celebrate the flamingos of Pondi.
The Music of Peace
A beautiful concert was led by Auroville’s legendary pianist Pushkar Carlotto, who enthralled people with Bach and Schubert on a 100 year old piano. Carlotto has been a recognized phenomenon in Tamil Nadu for his works with AR Rahman.
Indian classical music was also showcased by artist Shobha Ramesh.
The Art, The Craft, The People
A UNESCO heritage site, Pondicherry also showed the best of its crafts with a plethora of dedicated local crafts men’s work in the ‘Made in Pondy’ segment.
Obviously when speaking about Pondicherry, we can’t leave out its endemic fishing community which has and is known for certain skill and technique. This was all celebrated and documented in a public exhibition of the fishing community of Kuruchikuppam and Vaithikuppam villages.
Pondicherry is decked with some beautiful street art and graffitis which were celebrated grandly on this festival.
Passing Down the Legacies
The festival had a unique strategy of empowering visitors and locals by means of different workshops. This included workshops for civil engineers on the architecture band heritage buildings of the city, natural dyeing workshops showcasing dyeing techniques etc.
So that’s how the Pondicherry Heritage Festival celebrates the true spirit and fervor of this classic Indo-French town. The festival organizers rightly say that Pondicherry is much more than just an erstwhile French colony and people of the world are slowly opening up to it, specially in times like these.
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