Some places speak time. They talk about their past in a silent, humble way. Therefore all we need is a little patience to understand and “listen” to them. However, one such city that has a remarkable history is Pondicherry. Located in the southeast coastline of India, this fancy yet historical city has more interesting stories to share with us. Ready to listen?
Districts of Pondicherry of Pondicherry
Pondicherry, otherwise known as Puducherry, is one among the nine union territories of India which has four main exclaves districts – Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe, and Yanam. Also, the districts of Puducherry and Karaikal surrounded by the state of Tamilnadu, Mahe by the state of Kerala, and Yanam by Andhra Pradesh. Officially known as Puducherry (‘Pudu’ means new; ‘cherry’ means village in Tamil), this city is like a little friend of Tamilnadu. Sharing its boundaries with the neighbor state Tamilnadu, the cultures of both remain similar to each other.
The foundation for the city
Rewinding the city’s quick flashback, the history of Pondicherry starts from “the scene” where the French East India company laying the foundation in 1673. With its first governor Francois Martin in 1674, the aim of transforming a fishing village into a port town began. Then the history fast forwards as the governor established a trading center in Pondicherry, Dutch invasion in 1693, and the arrival of British ‘East India company’ in 1761.
Even after the whole control of India was with the British East India Company during the late 1850s. The control of Pondicherry and its linked regions was allowed to be with the French East India company. Thus, after the Independence of India in 1947, an agreement between the French and Indian governments demanded that the people living in the French regions of India choose their government in the future. Lately, in 1954, the French regions were united with India and in 1963, Puducherry was constituted as a union territory with the four districts mentioned before. “Flashback” ends.
The settlement pattern of Pondicherry
Now, taking a bird’s eye view, the city has rectilinear planning with five major roads connecting the streets including the beach. The settlement of Pondicherry is divided into two main quarters – the French Quarter and the Tamil quarter, with the grand stormwater canal in between. The French Quarter, which is located in the eastern part of Pondy has buildings of European architectural style. However, in the Tamil quarter, the buildings follow a local vernacular style. Inspirations from these two architectural styles resulted in a new style known as Franco-Tamil architectural style. Thus, Franco-Tamil architecture includes architectural elements of both French and Tamil architecture styles.
The French quarter
Flying down the streets of Pondicherry, the architecture takes us to a different world. With bougainvillea bushes here and there, the stunning colonial architectural style of the French quarter gives a feeling of standing in a road of France. The unique feature of French townhouses is their simplicity. It can be seen right from the street light pole to a small piece of furniture inside the house.
Entering a typical French house, the simple yet majestic high compound wall stands welcoming in the entrance. This high compound wall gives an introverted environment inside the house by ensuring privacy. All the ground floor spaces including the entrance garden are literally disconnected from the street which creates a sense of ‘our very own world’ inside the house. The material palette used in typical French houses mostly consists of wood and metal. The minimal monochromatic color scheme with the combination of white makes the architecture of French townhouses more elegant.
The Tamil quarter at Pondicherry
In the Tamil quarter, the vernacular architecture harmonically blends with the local culture. The settlement formed around temples, mosques, and churches for the Hindus, Muslims, and Christians respectively. The houses are mostly wall-to-wall constructed forming a straight passage beside the road for the pedestrians. Here, the entrance has a welcoming space called ‘Thinnai’- a high seating platform. This space is an immediate reflection of Tamil culture in architecture – ‘Virundhombal’ – which means hospitality of the residents towards guests. The thinnai, being a semi-public space, acts as a social element enabling a healthy social life with the neighbors as well as a resting space for the passers-by. Thus, in contrast with the French quarter, the Tamil houses are extroverted in nature. Built using locally available materials, these houses usually two-storied structures. All the Tamil houses have a central courtyard which is an important architectural space in Tamil architecture.
To preserve the exceptional architectural values of the city, a trust called INTACH (The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) formed in 1985 in Pondy. One of their important interventions is the façade control in which the listed heritage buildings have to follow the template of historical façades. The owners of such buildings provided financial assistance to make the changes. The other interventions by INTACH are restoration, streetscapes preservation, etc.,
What more About Pondicherry?
The story is not over yet. Looking around the city, there are more visual treats available, especially for architecture lovers. Therefore Auroville, raising its hand first, is a worth mentioning place in Pondicherry. Also, it is an experimental town in Pondicherry where people from all over the world come to live a self-sustained lifestyle. Maitri mandir is a place in Auroville where architects do experiments in various elements and styles of architecture. However, the Promenade beach is beachfront in Pondicherry that runs up to 1.2 km along the Bay of Bengal. Moreover, many organizations arrange heritage walk to understand and experience the true essence of the historic city.
End of the story
There is a famous quote by Jonathan Edwards which says that there are always two sides to every story. Likewise, Pondicherry holds an outstanding architectural heritage. But, in order to preserve the city’s heritage, it is an inevitable need to protect the cultural, spiritual, and natural heritage values of the city too. Like the architecture enjoys the limelight, all other cultural values are deserving to celebrate. On the other hand, pollution in the name of tourism is also to eliminate. Because architecture is incomplete without its soul, isn’t it?
Khushro Ansari is an Architect. While juggling between college submissions and research deadlines he finds time to write about architecture and founded archEstudy. He is a passionate individual with a penchant for architectural design, innovative design, and creative writing. He aspires to bring design activism and sustainability to the forefront in all his professional endeavors.