Settled in the early 1700’s by the French East India Company. Pondicherry was the largest French colony in India and was the base for the Carnatic Wars between the French and English East India Companies.
Even though France relinquished control of the territory to India in 1954, there is still a strong French influence in the city, especially in the old quarters, with Rues and Boulevards lined with Mediterranean style houses and bakeries, and French still widely understood. It creates an interesting contradiction however as despite this, the city remains very much Indian.
Known as the French Riviera of the east, Pondicherry makes for a very pleasant mix of East and West, although it can seem a little strange to see the policemen with their French inspired red Kepi’s (caps) outside a swarming Hindu temple dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant God with a real live elephant at the entrance.
Pondicherry is predominantly known for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, set up by Sri Aurobindo Ghose, a Bengali, in the early 20th century. The Mother (Mirra Alfassa), born in Paris of Turkish and Egyptian parents, arrived in Pondicherry in 1920, proclaimed Sri Aurobindo as her master and took over the ashram in 1926. The Ashram owns around 400 properties in Pondicherry.
Set up by the Mother in 1968 as an experimental living society, Auroville, on the outskirts of Pondicherry today attracts residents from all over the world. The President of India himself attended its opening when delegates from 121 countries poured a bag of their native soil into an urn symbolising the unit of mankind.
Covering an area of some 870 hectares, Auroville forms a circular shape with different zones, at the centre of which is the temple – the Matrimandir. Inside the meditation hall is the largest crystal in the world – a 70cm crystal ball.
Today there are around 2200 residents from 45 different countries around the world. Around 40% are Indians, more than 15% are French and 15% are German.
Visit Pondicherry on our South Indian Odyssey Tour.