Interview with Puducherry Minister

Interview with Thiru P Rajavelu, Minister for Tourism, Puducherry

“French dreams of an Indian empire began and

ended with Puducherry”

Minister Thiru P Rajavelu who holds the portfolios of Tourism, Welfare, Labour and Employment in the Government of Puducherry spoke at length to Muruganandam Mandjiny who represented India Empire in a freewheeling interview that covers a spectrum of issues

On the history of the union territory of Puducherry…
Puducherry U.T is a former French colony, consisting of four non-contiguous enclaves—Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam. The history of Pondicherry can be traced back to the 2nd Century AD. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea of the early 2nd Century AD, mentions a market place named Poduke which G.W.B. Huntingford identified as possibly being Arikamedu (now part of Ariyankuppam), about 2 miles from modern Pondicherry. Huntingford further notes that Roman pottery was found at Arikamedu in 1937, and archaeological excavations between 1944 and 1949 highlighted that it was a trading station to which goods of Roman manufacture were imported during the first half of the 1st Century AD. 

Legendary associations trace the origin of this city to Rishi Agastya, the revered sage of the south. Puducherry has been the theatre of many battles between the British and the French, and was the capital of French India before it attained Independence in 1954. French dreams of an Indian empire began and ended in Puducherry. The contest with the British was like a ping pong game that started with the siege and destruction of the town in 1761 and ended in 1815 when the French got it back for good. The British made sure that the French flag was lowered in all but a few enclaves in India, of which the city of Puducherry was the major jewel.

Muruganandam Mandjiny (left) presents a copy of India Empire magazine to Thiru P Rajavelu, Minister for Tourism, Government of Puducherry. The magazine had in its June 2013 edition featured the French department of Guadeloupe Islands in the West Indies

The legacy of the French cannot be ignored in the well-planned town, neatly laid roads, wide and vibrant beaches, beautiful promenades, architecturally imposing churches and public buildings and the statue of Joan of Arc.

Among the notable French personalities who left their indelible mark on Puducherry, four names stand out. Francois Martin, who was appointed the administrator after the Treaty of Ryswick, brought stability and was responsible for its growth. Dumas, who succeeded him, built on Martin’s foundations. The third notable Frenchman was Joseph Francois Dupleix, the Governor of French India from 1742 - 54. 

The fourth French personality who made an impact on modern day Puducherry was “The Mother” (Mirra Alfassa), a Paris-born painter-musician and Sri Aurobindo’s close companion from 1920 until his death in 1950. She was responsible for developing the Ashram as it is today. She was also the brain behind Auroville, the City of Dawn. 

Auroville is a living experiment in human sociology. People from all over the world come here to live and work together in universal peace and harmony. Auroville is an attempt at creating a self-sufficient city that teaches co-existence and the benefits of an organized society that has its common roots in meditation and prayer.

The enclaves, viz. Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam joined India about 50 years ago, and the French touch survives everywhere, making the cities unique in India. The police wear red caps, the bakeries and restaurants feature French specialties, and the quiet streets of the old French quarter, many still named after French heroes, are noteworthy. The cuisine is another dead giveaway of the French inheritance. French Creole is widely available in the town replete with large lashings of good French bread and butter and the appropriate fuss while providing masses of cutlery and plates.

The language also lives and breathes in Puducherry. Turn a corner too fast and you might find yourself a little disoriented when you bump into two old people exchanging pleasantries in chaste Parisian French. The Alliance Française and Lycée Français have been instrumental in promoting the French language in the city. Pétanque, a typically French game, is another French tradition that has become part of local culture. 

In September 2006, the official name was changed from Pondicherry to Puducherry.

On tourism at Puducherry...
On an average about 10 lakh domestic tourists visit Puducherry every year. Among the foreign tourists, major portion comprises of French nationals who visit this destination frequently. Major portion of the Weekend Domestic Tourists throng from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. But there is also a considerable number of tourist inflows from across the southern region. 

Category 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
International Tourists 53,073 52,720 55,666
Domestic Tourists 8,62,810 9,21,261 9,94,346

On NRIs of Puducherry...
A large number of NRIs residing at Pondicherry are French nationals. After serving in the French regiment as “soldat” (soldier), they settled down at Pondicherry in their later years after completion of service. The French Government in recognition to their duty rendered privileges such as citizenship, voting rights, pension, medical assistance for their life time.

On why people should visit Puducherry...
Especially for seeking spiritual salvation, as Puducherry boasts Aurobindo Ashram and International Township “Auroville”, brainchild of the Mother (Mirra Alfassa) conceived to reiterate universal brotherhood which is situated 12 km from Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. 
Puducherry is a charming little town filled with history, spirituality, French heritage, beautiful beaches, calm and well planned white town streetscapes, handicrafts and unique life style. Pondicherry is divided into quiet and tranquil White Town and active Indian Town wherein architecture and streetscapes completely differ.

On events organized by the Tourism Department and upcoming Tourism projects in Puducherry...
Tourism department regularly conducts International Yoga Festival (4th – 7th January), Vintage Car Rally, Freedom Jam (Pondy-Music Festival), South Indian Dance Festival, World Tourism Day, Rural Art Festival, Theatre Festival, New Year eve programme. 
The upcoming Tourism Projects are:
a) To develop beach areas into attractive tourist spots.
b) Improvement of heritage sites.
c) Development of Arikanmedu (archaeological site).

—For more details:
Muruganandam Mandjiny is Director of Zen Development Services Pvt Ltd and Representative of Conseil General Ille et Vilaine, France in India which signed a MoU with the Governement of Puducherry. This year the project involves Sustainable Eco-tourism at Chinna Veerampattinan coastal village with the cooperation and support of Tourism Directorate and Ministry.

September 2013

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