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History

"There stands Francois Dupleix. Not too far away is Joan of Arc. It’s a trip down France as one crosses symmetrically aligned streets in Puducherry."

 

The Portuguese have been here. So have the Dutch, The Danes, The English And the French.


By 18th century this tiny fishing village had turned into a grand port city. The French first set foot here in 1670 and left a part of them when their undisturbed rule finished in 1954. Not much has changed since. The history has become punctuated. The air filled with nostalgia and the present is living up to a heritage that speaks so much. A trip to Puducherry is like a journey in time with a vibrant present celebrating its interesting past. “History goes back to the Roman times, but factually started with the arrival of the French in 1963, who founded the town and built it in its present form, during the two and a half century they occupied it.”

“Puducherry” is the French interpretation of the original name “Puducheri” meaning “new settlement”. Many pilgrims have shared the town’s hospitality on their way to the temple town of Rameshwaram, thus enriching its culture.

Early Period

Early Period

The known history of Puducherry dates back to the beginning of our era. Puducherry also had a flourishing maritime history. Excavations at Arikamedu, about 7 kms to the south of the town, show that Romans came here to trade in the 1st Century AD.


The trade included dyed textiles, pottery and semi-precious stones. The findings are now displayed in the Puducherry Museum. Ancient Roman scripts mention one of the trade centres along the Indian coast as Poduca or Poduke, which refers, historians affirm, only to the present Puducherry.


Before this period nothing is known with certainty. The "Bahur Plates", issued in the 8th century speak of a Sanskrit University which was here from an earlier period. Legend has it that the sage Agastya established his Ashram here and the place was known as Agastiswaram. An inscription found near the Vedhapuriswara Temple hints at the credibility of this legend.


History continues at the beginning of the fourth century A. D. when the Puducherry area is part of the Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram. During the next centuries Puducherry is occupied by different dynasties of the south: in the tenth century A.D.


The Cholas of Tanjavur took over, only to be replaced by the Pandya Kingdom in the thirteenth century. After a brief invasion by the Muslim rulers of the North, who established the Sultanate of Madurai, the Vijayanagar Empire took control of almost all the South of India and lasted till 1638, when the Sultan of Bijapur began to rule over Gingee.

Foreign contacts

Foreign contacts

Unlike the Arab merchants, who had been sailing the coasts of India since times immemorable, the impact of European contact had far reaching consequences in terms of establishments and in the end the occupation of the entire Subcontinent.


In 1497 the Portuguese discovered the route to India and began to expand their influence by occupying coastal areas and building harbour towns, which soon extended more than 12.000 miles of coast-line.


The Portuguese established a factory in Puducherry at the beginning of the sixteenth century, but were compelled to leave a century later by the ruler of Gingee, who found them unfriendly. After that the Danes shortly set up an establishment, and likewise the Dutch. The latter set up trading posts in Porto Novo and Cuddalore. The French, who had trading centres in the North, Mahe and Madras were invited to open a trading centre in Puducherry by the new ruler of Gingee to compete with the Dutch.

In 1673, February 4th, Bellanger, a French officer, took up residence in the Danish Lodge in Puducherry and the French Period of Puducherry began.In 1674 Francois Martin, the first Governor, started to build Puducherry and transformed it from a small fishing village into a flourishing port-town.

In 1693 the Dutch took over and fortified the town considerably. But four years later Holland and France signed a peace treaty and the French regained Puducherry in 1699. In the 18th century the town was laid out on a grid pattern and grew considerably.

Able Governors like Lenoir (1726-1735) and Dumas (1735-1741) and an ambitious Governor Dupleix (1742-1754) expanded the Puducherry area and made it a large and rich town. But ambition clashed with the English interests in India and the local kingdoms and a period of skirmishes and political intrigues began. Under the command of Bussy, Dupleix's army successfully controlled the area between Hyderabad and Cape Comorin. But then Robert Clive arrived in India, a dare-devil officer who dashed the hopes of Dupleix to create a French Colonial India. After a defeat and failed peace talks, Dupleix was recalled to France.


In spite of a treaty between the English and French not to interfere in local politics, the intrigues continued. Subsequently France sent Lally Tollendal to regain the French losses and chase the English out of India. After an initial success they razed Fort St. David in Cuddalore to the ground, but stategic mistakes by Lally led to the loss of the Hyderabad region and the siege of Puducherry in 1760. In 1761 Puducherry was razed to the ground in revenge and lay in ruins for 4 years. The French had lost their hold in South India.


In 1765 the town is returned to France after a peace treaty with England in Europe. Governor Law de Lauriston set to rebuild the town on the old foundations and after five months 200 European and 2000 Tamil houses had been erected. During the next 50 years Puducherry changed hands between France and England with the regularity of their wars and peace treaties.


Only after 1816 the French regained permanent control of Puducherry, but the town had lost much of its former glory. Successive Governors improved infrastructure, industry, law and education over the next 138 years. In 1947 the English left India for good, but it lasted till 1954 when the French handed Puducherry over to an independent India.

After Independence

After Independence

On November 1, 1954, the French possessions in India were de facto transferred to the Indian Union and Puducherry became a Union Territory. 280 years of French rule had come to an end. But only in 1963 Puducherry became officially an integral part of India after the French Parliament in Paris ratified the Treaty with India. In the year 1963, the Parliament enacted the Government of Union Territories Act which provides for Legislative Assemblies and Council of Ministers in the Union Territories. In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 239 of the Constitution of India and Section 46 of the Government of Union Territories Act 1963, the President of India has framed the Business of the Government of Puducherry (Allocation) Rules, 1963 etc..

The Centre is represented by the Lt. Governor, who resides at the Raj Nivas at the Park, the former palace of the French Governor.Puducherry still has a large number of Tamil residents with French passports, whose ancestors were in French Governmental service and who chose to remain French at the time of Independence. Apart from the monuments pertaining to the French Period, there is the French Consulate in Puducherry and several cultural organisation, and even the Foyer du Soldat for war veterans of the French Army.   Of the cultural organisations the French Institute, the Alliance Francais and the Ecole Francais d'Extrème Orient are noteworthy.

Page updated on 31/12/2012 13:00 IST