Pondicherry (पॉंडिचेरी in Hindi), currently undergoing a name change to Puduchery, is the name of a union territory and its capital in the south of India. The name "puduchery" means "new village" in Tamil. The French spelt it "Poudichéry", which is the closest French approximation to the Tamil pronunciation. At some point, the hand-written 'u' was mistaken for an 'n', and the misspelling stuck.
Pondicherry consists of four small unconnected districts: Pondicherry, Karaikal, and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and Mahé on the Arabian Sea. The first two are by far the larger ones, and are both enclaves of Tamil Nadu. The territory has a total area of 492 km²: Pondicherry (city) 293 km², Karaikal 160 km², Mahé 9 km² and Yanam 30 km². It has 0,97 million inhabitants (2001).
- See also: French India
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, of the early 2nd century AD, mentions a marketplace named Poduke (ch. 60), which G.W.B. Huntingford identified as possibly being Arikamedu, about 2 miles from the modern Pondicherry. Huntingford further notes that Roman pottery was found at Arikamedu in 1937, and archeological excavations between 1944 and 1949 showed that it was "a trading station to which goods of Roman manufacture were imported during the first half of the 1st century AD".1
The French took control of Pondicherry and the surrounding territory at some point in the mid-1700s.
On January 16, 1761, the British captured Pondicherry from the French, but the Treaty of Paris (1763) returned the city to the French. It was taken again by the British in 1793 amid the Wars of the French Revolution, but once again returned to France in 1814. It remained a part of French India until 1954.
The independence of India in 1947 gave impetus to the union of France's Indian possessions with former British India. An agreement between France and India in 1948 agreed to an election in France's Indian possessions to choose their political future. The de jure union of French India with the Indian Union did not take place until 1962, although de facto, the bureaucracy had been united with India's in 1954. It was organized as a union territory in 1963.
People in the city of Pondicherry today speak both French and English in addition to Tamil.
The city is protected against the sea by a 1.25 mile long seawall, first completed by the French in 1735, which reaches a height of 27 feet above sea level. The sea wall protected the city from the tsunami spawned by the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake as the waves reached only 24 feet above high tide.
Famous people who have lived in Pondicherry include Sri Aurobindo and Subramanya Bharathy who took part in the Indian independence movement. Hollywood film director M. Night Shyamalan was born in Pondicherry. It is also the birthplace and home of the titular character in Yann Martel's Life of Pi, before he emigrates to Canada.
The city houses Sri Aurobindo's Ashram, a spiritual community dedicated to The Mother and Sri Aurobindo's teachings and vision.
- Note 1: The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, transl. G.W.B. Huntingford (Hakluyt Society, 1980), p. 119.