Explore India’s French Connect – Puducherry : Festivals @ Puducherry

golden-globe-394133_1920Puducherry was a small fishing village which turned into a big port city by the 18th century. It was occupied by Portuguese, Danes, Dutch, English and then finally in the year 1670 the French occupied it and ruled it till the year 1954 – yes Puducherry became the part of India 8 years after the independence. “Puducherry” is the French interpretation of the original Tamil name “Puducheri” meaning new settlement.

A trip to Puducherry is like a journey back in time, a vibrant city always celebrating its nostalgic heritage. Visit the city and it looks that the time has stood still since 1954, nothing much has changed. The colonial past of the city is hard to miss-symmetrically aligned streets, cafes, old French style houses and many more such things transport the traveller to any other French city.

Puducherry is not just a heritage city, it is heritage itself. One can see it as a conglomerate of different cultural influences which find expression in its architecture, streetscapes, people, visitors and even festivals, giving it the subtle but peculiar “Pondy” feel.

There are many ways in which one can be the part of the lovely “Pondy”. An interesting way to understand the city, its culture and completely immerse in the “Pondy” flavour is to explore the city during various festivals. The cultural potpourri of Puducherry can be seen in the festivals too. One has a variety of options to choose from – from the regular festivals, to festivals with Tamil flavour, to national festivals, to festivals from the French land, to some very unique “Pondy” festivals. These festivals can be enjoyed across the year.

Pondicherry Heritage Festival

A cultural extravaganza and not to be missed event. This event is in its 3rd year now and this year (i.e. 2017) it has grown bigger – from 5-26 February. Visit http://pondicherryheritagefestival.org/ for details.

Mother’s birth anniversary (February 21)

Mirra Alfassa (Feb 21, 1878-Nov 17,1973) was the spiritual collaborator of Shri Aurobindo. She was born in Paris to Turkish Jew father and Egyptian Jew mother. She was considered as an incarnation of the Mother Divine by Sri Aurobindo who used to call her as mother. She was the one who had founded the Aurbindo International Centre of Learning, Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi, Mother’s International School. She helped create Auroville (around 10 km north of main Puducherry), a model universal township with a view to enhance the forces of evolution and to initiate a new renaissance in India and the world.

Thousands of devotees visit Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Auroville for Darshan during her birth anniversary; the darshan consists of a visit to the Mother’s room.

Staying at Auroville and being part of the activity during this period would be like experiencing the magic itself.

Maasi Makam

A festival celebrated by the Tamil Hindus. It is celebrated in the Tamil month ‘Masi’ during the Magam nakshtra. Maasi Makam is celebrated not only in India but also in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. The temple idols on this day are taken in a procession for the ceremonial bath in a water body. This is followed by devotees taking the bath in the same water body to get rid of their sins.

Enjoy the festival in Tamil quarters of the city and also at Veerampattinam.

Villianur Temple Festival

Be a part of the Brahamostavam, the 10 long festival at Villianur temple or Sri Gokilambai Thirukameshwara Temple. This is a very old temple (completed in the 12th Century during the Chola period). Observe the annual Temple Car Festival where a 15 meters tall chariot is pulled through the streets by a large crowd of devotees.

Bastille Day (July 14)

The French National Day (Le Fete Nationale/Le Quatorze Juillet) which is celebrated on 14th July. Puducherry the erstwhile French colony is the venue for Indo French gala on this day.

Veerampattinam Festival

A coastal village around 7 kms from Puducherry city centre which is the host to 6 week long Car Festival at Shri Sengazhuneer Amman Temple (a local folk deity). The Car Festival has a tradition where the festival is inaugurated by the Head of the State, a practice which was started during the French era, the village resident had helped the French retaliate a British attack, the French governor asked them what the French can do in favour, the request was simple – the governor was requested to inaugurate the temple car festival.

Fete De Puducherry (August 15)

Festival of Puducherry coincides with Liberation day and Independence Day. It’s a cultural extravaganza where the free cultural presentations are organised across the city in the evening.

Shri Aurobindo’s birth anniversary (August 15)

Birth anniversary of Shri Aurobindo, an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi, guru, poet and founder of Aurobindo Ashram is celebrated with lots of fervour at the Ashram in Auroville.

Staying at Auroville and being part of the activity during this period would be like experiencing the magic itself.

Karthikai Deepam

A festival observed in the month of Karthikai (mid November – mid December) as per Tamil calendar. It essentially a festival of lamps (oil lamps aka deepam). Rows of deepams can be seen at every house, street and temple in the evening on the day of the festival. It is quite similar to Diwali but falls post Diwali and unlike Diwali which is related to the victory celebration of Lord Rama, it is related to a legend of Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma where Lord Shiva had cursed Lord Brahma.

So one can enjoy two festival of lights here in Puducherry.

Apart from these some other interesting celebrations in Puducherry include celebration of:

  1. Republic Day (26 January)- one can enjoy the illuminated beach road, Raj Niwas and Chief Secretariat building along with the ceremonial parade by the police in the Indira Gandhi stadium in the morning.
  2. Shivratri – Another Hindu festival to celebrate the marriage/convergence of Lord Shiva and Shakti.
  3. Good Friday – Be a part of this holy event and observe the impact of different regions of Europe.
  4. Vinayagar Chaturthi (Ganesh Chaturthi) – the 10 day long festival which ends with the immersion of the idol of Lord Ganesha.
  5. Navratri – a 9/10 day long festival which is celebrated twice a year (once in the month of Chaitra and other when Sharad starts – this one ends with the Dusshera celebrations)
  6. Ayudha Puja – celebrated on the Maha Navmi day (a day before Dusshera, on the same day when Saraswati Puja is done as per South Indian traditions), traditionally weapons were worshipped on this day, but now people worship their tools, instruments and vehicles.
  7. Diwali
  8. Christmas and New Year eve

Planning a trip around this festival will not only help in seeing the important sights of the city, but would also give the traveller a taste of the rich cultural heritage and traditions of Puducherry.

How to reach:

By Air:  The closest airport to Puducherry is the Chennai International Airport.

By Train : One can take direct trains to Puducherry from Chennai, Bangalore, Howarah, Yeshwantpur, Delhi, Mumbai, Mangalore, Bubneshwar which pass through various major cities in India.

By Road : Puducherry is well connected with all major cities in the Southern region of India. Chennai is at a distance of 173 kms from Puducherry by road and Bangalore is around 323 kms by road.

Where to stay:

Puducherry provides a traveller with a variety of stay options – from luxury chain properties to mid range and budget options. One can enjoy the local heritage (Tamil and French) feel in many heritage options including some very good BnB (Bed and Breakfast options) in all price range. For the unique accommodations at any price point in Puducherry one can also use options provided on www.heybnbworld.com.

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