History of Pondicherry

The Excavations at Arikamedu:

Pondicherry’s earliest recorded history dates back to as early as the 2nd century.

Arikamedu

In the early 2nd century, a marketplace named Poduke was mentioned by the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. G.W.B Huntingford comments that this place is Arikamedu which is now a part of Ariyankuppam in Pondicherry. Arikamedu is archaeologically proved to have trade relations with the Roman Empire.

Remains

The remains of the ancient city of Arikamedu was located at the mouth of the Ariyankuppam River which runs through Pondicherry and empties itself into the Bay of Bengal.

In 1741, the French Astronomer and Explorer Guillume Le Gentil (1725-1792) discovered ruined walls and found remains of old terracotta ring wells at Arikamedu.

Old map of Pondicherry

Old map of Pondicherry

It is also to be noted that in 1937, Roman Pottery was found at Arikamedu. Pottery, Dyed textiles and semi-precious stones were materials that were traded. The proof for this is available in the Pondicherry Museum.

In some of the Ancient Roman scripts, it is mentioned one of the trade centres along the Indian Coast as Poduca or Poduke. Historians comment that Poduke is only the present Pondicherry.

The archaeological excavations that took place between 1944 and 1949 bears testimony to the fact that Arikamedu was a flourishing trading station that imported goods manufactured in Rome. The excavations says that the trading happened somewhere during the first half of the 1st century AD.

 

Agastiswaram:

Saint Agastya

Saint Agastya

In the plaque of a Sanskrit University in the 8th century, the ‘Bahur plates’ were found. The legend says that Agastya established his Ashram thereby it was named as Agastiswaram.

This story is given a lot of credibility because of the fact that Vedhapuriswara temple has an inscription which affirms this.

Pallava & Pandya influence:

During the 4th century AD, the Puducherry area was a part of the Pallava kingdom of Kanchipuram. During the next few centuries, Puducherry was occupied by different dynasties of the south. The Pandya Kingdom was replaced in the 10th century by the Cholas of Thanjavur. The Muslim rulers of the North invaded it for a while. Till 1638, the Vijayanagar empire took control of the entire South of India and the Sultan of Bijapur began to rule over Gingee.

The impact of European contact had a lot more far ending influence than other conquests like that of the Arabs.

European Conquests of Puducherry:

Portuguese discovered the route to India in 1497 and spread their influence by occupying coastal areas and building towns that were near the harbours. A factory in Pondicherry was started by the Portuguese in the 16th century and they ruled over the place for more than a century before they were sent out by the ruler of Gingee as he found that they were not very affable.

The Danish shortly set up an establishment and also the Dutch. The Dutch set up trading posts in Cuddalore and Porto Novo.

To act as a competitor to the Dutch, the ruler of Gingee persuaded the French to set up a trading position in Puducherry. During that time, the French had trading centres in the North of India, Madras and Mahe.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert formed the French East India Company in 1666. He established a settlement in 1668 at Surat and another in 1674 at Pondicherry.

French dominance:

The capital for the French posts was made as Pondicherry by Francois Martin (The First Governor), the director of the French East India Company.

The other unconnected enclaves of the Union Territory were found at separate dates. Mahe was founded in 1725. Yanam and Karaikal were founded in 1731 and 1739 respectively.

Francois Martin holds the distinction of transforming Puducherry from a fishing village to a flourishing port town.

Rue Francois Martin pondichery

Rue Francois Martin

Pondicherry was taken over by the Dutch in 1693 after which Holland and France signed a peace treaty and the French regained Pondicherry in 1669.

The city was constructed in a grid pattern and it was beautified considerably. More credit should be given to the Governors of Pondicherry like Lenoir (1726-1735) and Dumas (1735-1741) and Governor Dupleix (1742-1754) who made it a large French town. Their big dreams clashed with the British Empire’s fledging interest in India thereby creating a huge conundrum with the local kingdoms and led to political scuffles.

French & English fight for Puducherry:

The area between Hyderabad and Cape Comorin was successfully controlled by Dupleix. The dreams of Dupleix to create a French colonial India were thwarted by Robert Clive, Major General of the British Empire who arrived in India. Dupleix was recalled to France after failed talks and defeats.

Even though a treaty between the English and French required them not to interfere in local politics, the intrigues continued. To get back the hold on certain Indian territories, Lally Tollendal, a Catholic Irishman of the French empire was sent to India to chase the English out of India.

British-French Wars

British-French Wars

Fort St. David (part of the British Empire) in Cuddalore was razed to the ground, but the French had to face losses in the region of Hyderabad and Puducherry in 1760. In 1761, Puducherry was decimated and lay in ruins for more than 4 years and subsequently the French’s hold on South India had been lost.

The French and England had a peace treaty in Europe in which France were to get back Pondicherry. This treaty happened in 1765. In a major overhaul, the Governor Law de Lauriston rebuilt the town in a matter of only five months where 200 Europeans and 2000 Tamil houses were erected. Unfortunately, for the next 50 years, Pondicherry changed hands between the French and English, thanks to wars and peace treaties.

French institutions multiplied in Bengal with Chandernagore as centre, under the aegis of Joseph-Francois Dupleix who worked as the General Director from 1742.

In 1769, the company was abolished and there were only a few French settlements in India. It came under the authority of the local kings after the abolition. There were only five settlements of moderate size that was left of the French settlements.

Those five settlements are:

  1. Chandernagore in Bengal.
  2. Yanam at the mouth of Godavari River.
  3. Pondicherry.
  4. Karaikal in the Coromandel Coast, as is Pondicherry.
  5. Mahe in the Malabar Coast.

 

Pondicherry town and its enclosure

Pondicherry town and its enclosure

The English conquest of India lessened the commercial activity in the French settlements. They were occupied by the English in 1778 and again in 1793, but in 1816 they were returned to France. The Second Republic of France granted them local government and representation in the French parliament. Under the Second Empire of France, commercial liberalism and Anglo-French understanding gave these settlements a fleeting moment of prosperity.

Pondicherry a French territory finally:

The French gained permanent control of Pondicherry only in 1816, but by then Pondicherry had lost much of its glory. Infrastructure, Law and Education was improved over the next 138 years till which the French ruled.

Puducherry a part of India:

De Facto transfer Stamp

De Facto transfer Stamp

Chandernagore became a part of India in 1951. De facto transfer of the four remaining French possessions to the Union of India took place on Nov. 1, 1954, and de jure transfer (according to law) was completed on May 28, 1956.

Instruments of ratification were signed on Aug. 16, 1962, from which date Pondicherry, consisting of the four enclaves, became a union territory of India. The territory formally took the name Puducherry in 2006.

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