A Glimpse of Pondi

Edited By: Aditi Jain (UG 22)

There’s a charm about the city which is present in every gust of wind that blows gently, shuffling your hair. Puducherry is the place to be for a Vipassana experience, calming and soothing for the mind and body. This quiet town in the southern part of India is an embodiment of diverse cultures which proves that acceptance of varied cultures can go hand in hand with the observance of the local culture. The French touch is evident in the architecture, the cathedrals, cafes, the promenades and the presence of people originally from France. At the same time, on coming across aesthetically built temples in almost every street in the town and the houses portraying the intricacies of Traditional Tamil architecture, one is reminded that they are in Dakshin Bharat. The local houses are simple, yet majestic. The striking feature in all of them are the doors. They are made entirely of intricately carved wood with a brass handle that bestows upon them a royal look. These doors and the ‘thinnai’ or portico is what mainly differentiates the houses from those in the French colony.

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A Thinnai or portico which opens into the main house. 

The real essence of a place is captured on foot and Puducherry can be best experienced by walking along the charming lanes, breathing in the culture that resides in every nook and corner of the city.  The Vinayakar Kovil (Ganesh temple in Tamil) is known for its remarkable architecture which is regal and exudes positive vibes. All around the temple, there are sculptures of various gods- each one unique and distinct in its own way. However, it is not the intricately carved idol that draws one to the temple, but it is Lakshmi who steals your heart. Lakshmi is an elephant adopted by the temple who blesses everyone who enters, with her majestic trunk. One look in her mellow eyes will transport you to a utopian world- a world of blissful happiness. 

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A peek inside the splendour of the Vinayakar Kovil (Ganesh temple). 

Pondi is incomplete without ‘white town’, the locality where the French quarters are. The architecture is simple with neat lines. The structure is a cuboidal building with rectangular windows which are mostly painted in bright mustard yellow. The houses look like cozy little boxes reminiscent of a ‘Jane Austenian’ setting with a family of 4 or 5 children bustling about the house. 

 

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A mustard yellow building in white town. 

There is a serene and peaceful feeling one experiences while walking along the lanes that run parallel to each other. It is a common sight to see grandmas cycling on the lanes with baskets of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They look adorable in their long skirts, peddling away with youthful energy. I am quite sure that many of our peers would be defeated in a race with the Puducherry grandmas!!

There is no beach in Puducherry, but a barrier of rocks is created along the Bay of Bengal and we can walk along the entire stretch. The breeze that blows when we walk on the path along the river is comfortably cold. It is refreshing to see the local specialties of the place untouched by commercialisation and standardisation. There are ladies who put up stalls, selling authentic and traditional food items like ragi (finger millet) balls, bajji (pakoda) and their version of bhel (sweet, sour and spicy snack with puffed rice) which is served with hot ragda (a spicy gravy made with white peas). Apart from the local food, there is an array of cafes selling wood fired pizzas to relish. The pizzas are thin and crisp, with the right amount of sauce and cheese, and their subtle flavours win over your heart and stomach. Similarly, the artisan and baking culture of the French is evident in the presence of pastry shops at every corner. One of the must-try is the desserts and sandwiches at Hot Breads, one of the most popular bakeries. The top selling items are chocolate pyramid and caramel cake which is well complemented with their Mexican hot dog. The caramel cake has pieces of chikki (peanut brittle) on top, an appealing desi touch to the French dessert. The gastronomic pleasure experienced is so divine that it is common to see people taking a quarter of an hour or more to eat their dessert, relishing and savoring every morsel. They breathe a sigh of satisfaction mixed with disappointment at the ephemeral nature of the sublime food affair when leaving. 

A visit to Auroville is a must on everyone’s agenda. Apart from the beauty and magnificence of the Matrimandir, their effort to promote local craft and weaves and provide employment to many is commendable. They display a wide range of clothes made of traditional Indian fabric and dyes which serves as a treat to the eye.  They also conduct classes and workshops where they teach the art of papermaking, stitching. They contribute towards educating children which deserves immense appreciation. The entire atmosphere exudes a positive and pleasant vibe which is an embodiment of The Mother’s personality. 

Cultural diversity is inclusive of a ‘religious melange’ as well. Other than the numerous temples at every corner, Puducherry sports a number of cathedrals. There is a lot of similarity between the practices in a cathedral and those in a temple. Churches usually do not have many colourful statues, apart from a single statue of Jesus. However, most cathedrals in Pondi have intricately carved statues of angels, Jesus, and Mother Mary dressed in colourful clothes and adorned with flowers. Many also have diyas lighting up space instead of candles. Despite the differences in religion, the local culture is retained through small similarities. Usually, devotees do not remove their footwear in Churches. Although, in Pondi, they follow the practice of going barefoot in a sacred space because of the culture prevalent in the south.                         

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A striking and picturesque Cathedral. 

Puducherry welcomes everyone with warmth and open arms; a place for those seeking a calm and peaceful experience, for the food lovers and explorers of diverse tastes, for those enchanted by the charm of Tamilian and French architecture, and for those who wish to travel and visit the city. Pondi is a beautiful blend of liveliness and tranquillity, and a visit to the city is worth every penny. It should be a must in one’s bucket list.