PONDICHERRY CITY GUIDE
a jaded city dweller, Pondicherry is the ideal getaway. Far away from the
mainland and the surging crowds, the rhythm of life here is tranquil. You can
glide along the calm beach side to the music of the murmur of waves and the
rustle of the palms. You can transport yourself to the world of spiritual bliss
at the Aurobindo Ashram, an international institution for the teaching and
practice of yoga. Shop for exquisite hand-made paper and pottery or just take
in the French flavours of the sleepy little town.
Founded by the French, Pondicherry - about 160 kilometres from Chennai, is generally known as the seat of the famous Aurobindo Ashram. Its spiritual aura transcends the tourism potential of the city. There is a French flavour to almost everything in Pondicherry. French is still spoken mostly by the retired and senior citizens. Policemen wear very French ‘kepis’. Streets were well planned by the original French architects. Pondicherry is now a Union Territory which also includes Karaikal in Tamil Nadu, Mahe in Kerala and Yaman in Andhra Pradesh.
Pondicherry was the capital of the French territories in India from 1816 to 1954. It has an ancient heritage and its origin can be traced to 1500 BC. It was a renowned centre of Vedic scholarship. The sage Agastya had his hermitage here. The West came to know of this place when it found mention in the geography described by the Greek historian, Ptolemy in the 2nd century BC. He mentions this place as the Port town of Poduke on the Coromandel Coast. It was then called Puluchery, changed to Puduchery and later to Pondicherry.
Located just west of Goubert Salai and 1 km north of the Alliance Françoise, the Government Place was built in the late 18th century by Joseph Dupleix, who was the governor of the French territories in India. The place also houses the stately Raj Nivas. Raj Nivas is a magnificent French Palace which beckons the visitor with chandeliers in the hall, seen through the gate.
SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM
This place, located on Rue de la Marine, is the most popular attraction in Pondicherry. The Ashram was founded by Sri Aurobindo Ghose in 1926. Sri Aurobindo, the poet philosopher founded the Ashram to help man reach the zenith of his evolution through spiritual exercises and yoga, combined with physical activity and productive work. Thus, the ashram offers maximum employment to the people on its farms. The ashram also runs craft workshops for weaving, embroidery, batik, pottery and incense making. After Aurobindo passed away, one of his disciples, Mirra Alfassa, a French lady called “The Mother”, became in charge of the Ashram, until her death in 1973 at the age of 95. The Ashram has a nice garden and contains the Samadhi (tombs) of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. There are meditation sessions from Mondays to Fridays (except Thrusday) 7.30 p.m. to 7.45 p.m. around the Samadhi. A guided tour of the ashram starts from the main gate at 8.45 a.m. daily. The Ashram is open daily from 8 am to noon and 2 pm to 6 pm. No children under 8 years old are permitted. You need permission to take pictures. For more information about the Ashram, contact the Ashram Reception Service (Ph: 24836), Main Building, Rue de la Marine.
Auroville or The ‘City of Dawn’ is about 10 km north of Pondicherry on the coast road to Mahabalipuram. The French architect Roger Anger gave concrete shape to the Mother’s idea of an international community living in peace and progressive harmony defying caste, creed, religion, politics and nationalities. It is a self-sufficient settlement with its own fruit and herb orchards, schools and some very interesting architectural styles.
THE VARADARAJA TEMPLE
This temple is the most important temple of Lord Vishnu in the town and is located just west of Gandhi Road.
A walk along the sapphire waters of the long beach acts as a balm on those of you drained by the nine to five grind. Swimming is generally not advised but you can get a joy ride in a catamaran in the backwaters of the Bay of Bengal.
CHURCH OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on South Boulevard has some beautiful stained glass windows depicting the life of Jesus.
EGLISE DE NOTRE DAME DE LOURDES
The Eglise de Notre Dame de Lourdes was built in 1876 and contains the statue of Our Lady gifted by France.
MANAKULA VINAYAGAR TEMPLE
Pondichery also has some splendid ancient temples noted for their architecture and sculptural wealth. The Manakula Vinayagar Temple on rue de Orleans is popular with devotees seeking divine blessings for new undertakings.
This is a 10th century Temple, about 25 km from the city. The temple boasts of some granite carvings of Bharat Natyam Mudras (poses).