- By Radha R.
- Published 06/10/2007
Known as the French Riviera of the East, the Indian Union Territory of Pondicherry, a former French colony, is unique for the sheer number of influences that have shaped its culture. The French were the undisputed masters of this region for centuries, but the Danes, the English, the Portuguese and the Dutch all stopped by, giving rise to a heady mix of European flavors allied with the local Tamil culture. There is strong evidence that the Romans came to Pondicherry for trade in the 1st century AD. The venerated sage Agasthya established his ashram here, leading to the town being named as Agastiswararm. After the 8 the century AD, Pondicherry passed hands into various dynasties of Southern India including the Cholas, the Pandyas as well as Muslim rulers of the North before finally ending up as part of the territory of the Sultan of Bijapur. In 1497, the first Europeans set foot on Pondy soil in the form of the Portuguese who set up a trading post in the 1600s. The Danes and the Dutch followed before the French period of Pondicherry began in 1673. After a scuffle with the Danes, the French regained control of the area and 1699 and proceeded to establish it as a well planned and rich town. When the rest of India gained independence in 1947, Pondy still lay in French hands. Merger with India would not come till 1954 when the French ceded control although a formal treaty enforcing the cession was signed only in 1963. That year, Pondicherry officially became a Union Territory of India. Today, this former bastion of the French empire in India is a site of spiritual pilgrimage, the focal point of which is the Aurobindo Ashram.