Affectionately known as Pondy or Puducherry, Pondicherry is the regional capital and largest city of the Union Territory of India, rather than a state. Historically known as Pondicherry, the territory changed its official name on 20th September 2006 to Puducherry, which is a Tamil name meaning “New Town”. The city was formed out of four exclaves of former French India (1815 – 1954).
The history of Puducherry goes back to the excavations at Arikamedu that endorsed the arrival of Romans to this town around 1st Century AD for trade (dyed textiles, pottery and semi-precious stones), the findings of which are displayed in the Puducherry Museum.
Puducherry witnessed the rule of various dynasties, including the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas and invasion of Muslim Rulers. However, factually, the history of Puducherry started with the arrival of the French in the first half of the 16th century. After the establishment of English and Dutch East India companies (in 1600 and 1602 respectively), the first French factory in India was established in 1668 in Surat and the second factory was established in Masulipatam in 1669.
In 1673-74, the French laid the foundation of Pondicherry and commenced French Administration and the town, which was once a small fishing village gradually transformed into a flourishing port-town. However, the French remained under the frequent conflict with the Dutch, who captured and fortified Puducherry in 1693, which was regained again by the French in 1699 through a peace treaty.
From the first half of the 16th century – until 1741, the French acquired Yanam on Andhra Coast in 1723, Mahe on Malabar Coast in 1725 and Karaikal in 1739 and eventually Mahe, Yanam, Karikal and Masulipatam, together with Chandannagar or Chandernagore, formed the French India and consequently Puducherry expanded and transformed into a rich town under the rule of competent Governors from 1726-1754.
Puducherry was razed by British in 1761 and gradually French lost their hold in South India. However, the town was returned to France in 1765 through a peace treaty with British. The infrastructure of the town gradually improved and eventually, on 1st November, 1954, the French possessions including the four enclaves of Pondicherry, Yanam, Mahe and Karikal were transferred to the Independent India and Puducherry became a Union Territory, still combining the four coastal enclaves.
The rule of French on Puducherry for over two centuries divided this town into two sections: the French Quarter (White town) and the Indian quarter (Black town). The French Quarter comprises of colonial style buildings, with long compounds and stately walls, whereas, the Indian Quarters consists of houses lined with verandas and with large doors and grilles. There are many signs and menus in Puducherry that can still be seen written in French language.
Apart from monuments pertaining to the French period, Puducherry has a number of residents, with French Passports, who are generally descendants of residents who chose to keep their French citizenship.
The fusion of people, culture and festivals together augments the spirit of the Union Territory of Punducherry and large number of tourists and people from all around visit Puducherry, especially during the International Yoga Festival, Fire Walking festival and Masquerade or Mask festival.