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Pondicherry is part of the geographic and linguistic-cultural region of the South Indian peninsula. Like the other South Indians, the people of Pondicherry are primarily Dravidians. The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in three states of South India. It includes the coastal towns of Pondicherry and Karaikal in Tamil Nadu, Yanam in Andhra Pradesh and Mahe in Kerala.
Pondicherry is 160 kms. South of Chennai. Karaikal is situated 150 kms. further down south from Pondicherry. While Pondicherry and Karaikal and Yanam are on the East coast bound by the Bay of Bengal, Mahe is on the West coast bound by the Arabian Sea. Pondicherry is surrounded by South Arcot District, Karaikal by Thanjavur District Yanam by East Godavari District and Mahe by Kannur District. The Pondicherry region is intersected by the deltaic channels of River Gingee and Ponnaiyar.
It is also interspersed with lakes and tanks. The thick alluvium near Pondicherry is indicative of the place having been part of an extensive lagoon. Karaikal is part of the fertile Cauvery delta. Yanam region is skirted on the east and south by the Godavari River. The region is divided into two parts by the separation of the Godavari and Coringa Rivers. The Mahe Region is divided into two parts by the west flowing Mahe River. It is bounded in the south west by the Arabian sea and in the north by the Ponniyam River. While Pondicherry and Karaikal regions receive rain mainly from the North East monsoon, Mahe and Yanam regions receive theirs from the South West monsoon.
Puducherry is a Union Territory of India
rather than a state, which implies that governance and
administration falls directly under federal authority. However,
along with Delhi, Puducherry is one of two union territories in
India that is entitled by special constitutional amendments to have
an elected legislative assembly and a cabinet of ministers, thereby
conveying partial statehood.
The Centre is represented by the lieutenant governor, who resides at the Raj Nivas at the Park, the former palace of the French governor. The central government is more directly involved in the territory's financial well-being unlike states, which have a central grant that they administer. Consequently, Puducherry has at various times, enjoyed lower taxes, especially in the indirect category.
Legends associate old Pondicherry with the great Hindu sage Agastya. It is believed that Agastya established an Ashram there and the place was known as Agastiswaram. An inscription found near Vedapuriswara temple built and rebuilt many times lends credibility to this legend. There is also mention in the Bahur Plates of the existence of a Sanskrit University in the place during early times. Indeed, the place was considered to be a seat of traditional learning and Vedic culture. Excavations in the region of Arikamedu, south of Pondicherry town, indicate that there was a Roman settlement there between 2nd Century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. Ancient Roman scripts make mention of Poduca or Poduke as one of the trade centres along the Indian coast. Historians and geographers have identified it as the present Pondicherry.
Pondicherry was part of the Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram from about the 4th Century A.D. It came under the Chola dynasty of Thanjavur in the 10th Century A.D. and later under the Pandya kingdom in the 13th Century. Still later it came under the Vijayanagar Empire which controlled the whole of South India until early 17th Century. In the meantime, at the beginning of the 16th Century the Portuguese had established a factory in Pondicherry. The Portuguese had to leave when the Sultan of Bijapur came to have sway over Gingee in the 17th Century. Thereafter, the Danes, the Dutch and the French followed and set up their establishments/trading posts. It was in 1673 that the French Period of Pondicherry began. Franois Martin, the first French Governor developed Pondicherry into a flourishing port town from a small fishing village that it was. In 1693, the town transferred hands to the Dutch who fortified it.
It was transferred back to the French in 1699 by the trait� de Ryswick. Fran�ois Martin who was appointed Administrator following the trait� of Ryswick, brought stability to Pondicherry and developed the town further. Dumas, who succeeded him, followed in the footsteps of Fran�ois Martin. In the Eighteenth Century Pondicherry was laid out on a grid pattern and it grew considerably. The French obtained Karaikal from the King of Thanjavur in 1738 and Mahe from the ruler of Badagara in 1721. Yanam came into their possession in 1731. Under Governor Dupleix (1742-54), Pondicherry expanded further in size and became very prosperous. But, Dupleix was recalled to France when his hopes of creating a French colonial India were thwarted by Robert Clive of England. In the course of the Anglo-French wars (Carnatic wars) Pondicherry was destroyed in 1761. Thereafter, over the next fifty years Pondicherry changed hands between the British and the French frequently in the course of wars and treaties. After 1816, the French obtained permanent control over Pondicherry.
The next 138 years witnessed rebuilding of Pondicherry with significant developments in the areas of infrastructure, education and law. The French retained Pondicherry even after the British left India in 1947. In 1954, Pondicherry passed hands from the French to independent India and became a Union Territory with headquarters at Pondicherry. In May 1956, the treaty of transfer was signed in Delhi. Several thousands in Pondicherry opted for French nationality at the time of independence. A large number of Tamil residents in Pondicherry still have French Passports, having chosen to remain French nationals. Today, nearly 20,000 Pondicherry people live in France and nearly 14,000 French nationals live in the Territory of Pondicherry. Many Pondicherrian French still look to France for their future and direction. There are also some who feel that the French of Pondicherry are a kind of nowhere people, neither French nor Indian. Continued bonds with France and Pondicherry have made the Union Territory rather unique.
The Net State Domestic Product of the UT is Rs.3828 crore (2002-03). The per capita income is more than twice that of the country Rs.38,162 as against Rs.18,912. Unlike in other parts of India, agriculture is not the largest source of occupation in the UT. It forms around 25% of employment. The remaining 75% of the employment are predominantly from services and marginally from industries. In the rural areas more than a third of the population depends on agriculture. Rice, sugar cane, coconut, ground nut, pulses and cotton are the major crops.
The total production of food crops is 3.27 lakh tonnes of which sugar cane accounts for 2.38 lakh tonnes, paddy about 60,000 tonnes and pulses about 4,000 tonnes. The status of employment of women in the UT is conditioned by these aspects of the economy. Over 80% of the net area sown in the UT is irrigated by canals and tube wells. In Pondicherry region, there are several artesian and semi artesian aquifers. The ground water is fairly intensively exploited. Ground water exploitation is Karaikal region is mainly done by deep tube wells and filter points, as water quality is not good at shallow depths.
In the Mahe region, while ground water is accessible at fairly low depths, the problem of salt-water intrusion is encountered, especially during summer months. In Yanam region, groundwater is accessed through filter points within a depth of ten meters. Agriculture in the UT is predominantly small holding based. The proportion of the holdings which are less than one hectare is 78%. The UT also lends itself for meaningful marine and inland fishery activities with 45 kms. of coastline, about 700 sq.kms. of inshore waters and some brackish water areas. While poultry development has not been significant, animal husbandry development has received much attention. Cross breeding programmes have been effectively carried out over the last two decades. Milk production is of the order of 37,000 tonnes. Majority of the industrial units are small scale enterprises. There are a few textile mills and sugar factories. Road connectivity which is very crucial for socio-economic development is 100% in the UT, compared to 78% in the country as a whole.
In terms of the Human Development Index and Gender Disparity Index , the UT holds the 6th and 5th ranks respectively. Social sector expenditure in the UT is 37% as against the Central Government figure of 15% (1997-98). Nonetheless, expenditure on women as a proportion of Net State Domestic Product is only 0.049% (2001-02). This proportion in the case of children is 3.5% . Per capita expenditure on women�s development is Rs.18.94 and in the case of children it is Rs.1,176.18 (2001-02) . The per capita expenditure on women�s development has trebled between 1993-94 and 2000-01. It has also exceeded the Central expenditure in this regard marginally in 2000-01. The per capita expenditure on child development in Pondicherry has doubled since 1993-94. Since this year, it has all along been twice as much as the per capita expenditure at the Centre.
Languages, Religion and Culture
The main languages spoken in the Union Territory of Pondicherry are Tamil (in Pondicherry and Karaikal), Telugu (in Yanam) and Malayalam (in Mahe), apart from French which continues to be spoken by many. Hinduism, Christianity and Islam co-exist in Pondicherry.
The Hindus have scores of ancient temples in Pondicherry famous among them being Varadaraja temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Villianur temple dedicated to Thirukameshwara and Thirunallar temple dictated to Planet Saturn, Sani. Karaikal is the Gateway to various places of worship in the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu. Velankanni and Nagore the two famous places of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims respectively are near Karaikal. For the Muslims, Masthan Saheb Darga (dedicated to Masthan Syed Buhari, a Sufi Saint) is very sacred.
The Christians have half a dozen famous churches Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Notre Dame des Anges and the Villianur and Ariankuppam Churches.
The typical Hindu way of deifying the woman power (Sakthi) is reflected in the worship of various forms of ammans Muthumariamman, Angalamman, Draupadhi Amman etc. The Hindu festivals also are reflective of the deification of the woman. Thiraiyattam dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathi, the Mangani festival dedicated to Karaikal Ammaiyar (believed to have been a Shaivite Saint elevated to the status of Goddess), the Kandoori festival dedicated to Karaikal Durga etc. are examples. During festivals, fire walking and Sedal (devotees piercing their body and tongue with silver hooks and Vels) are practised by some in the belief that these practices lead to self purification. There are hosts of Saneeswara (Lord Saturn), Women and Matrimony The Saneeswara (Lord Saturn) temple at Thirunallar is believed to be the only one in the country dedicated to this God. Those who are troubled by vicissitudes in life and wish bright future go on a pilgrimage to pay obeisance to Lord Saturn. Often, those afflicted by Sade Sathi (seven-and-a-half-year affliction), especially girls, around the time desired for the conduct of their marriage are taken to this temple. More than two thousand pilgrims visit this temple everyday. The Sani Peyarchi festival is the Kumbh Mela of Pondicherry attracting lakhs of devotees. other festivals, famous among which are Masquerade (Mask) festival (of French tradition) and the International Yoga festival.
Shri Aurobindo Ashram was founded by Shri. Aurobindo in 1926. The spiritual tenets of the Ashram combine Yoga and modern science. The offshoot of the Ashram, the Auroville1 was inspired by the evolutionary vision of Shri. Aurobindo and founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfaasa, known as the Mother. It was meant to be an experiment in international living where men and women could live in peace, progress and harmony with each other, remaining above all creeds. Pondicherry is also reputed for its Shaiva Sidhanta (Shaivite philosophy) tradition. The French institutions of research in Pondicherry are home to a collection of 11,000 manuscripts concerning this philosophy. An Indo-French Project in collaboration with the government�s National Mission for Manuscripts is now under formulation. Aayi is believed to have been an exemplary woman of Pondicherry in the 16th century.
The story about her is that she razed her house to the ground to construct a reservoir for soldiers to quench their thirst. It was also from this reservoir that Napolean�s men quenched their thirst 300 years later. It is said that Napolean, charmed by this story, ordered construction of a monument for her. The Aayi Mandapam at the centre of the Government Park in Pondicherry is said to be this monument. The old French colony has retained its Indian character, but the French influence in Puducheri as it is called now, can be found in the red kepis (military caps) of the police officials, French spelling on signboards and traffic signs and some buildings and old stones. Streets are referred to as rue. Married women are addressed as Madame and men as Missieur. Creole food, basically rice and non-vegetarian preparations, is characterized by French restraint. The status of women in Pondicherry has been considerably influenced by the teachings of the Mother. She believed in the equality of sexes and wanted same education and training to be given to boys and girls.
Life expectancy of the people of Pondicherry, like in Tamil Nadu, has been generally above that of the people in the country as a whole. Pondicherry India Currently it is 69.7 for females against 67.0 years for males. Thus, life expectancy in the UT exceeds the All India figures by about 2 years in the case of women and by 3 years in the case of men. The figure of gender gap in life expectancy in Pondicherry is more or less comparable to the All India figure. The proportion of population above 60 years of age is higher in Pondicherry (7.23%) compared to 6.70% for All India according to the 1991 data. In rural areas, the proportion of males above 60 years is lower than All India but higher in the case of whole of Pondicherry compared to All India. In the case of females also, the proportion of those above 60 years is lower in Pondicherry as a whole compared to the urban areas but significantly higher than All India in the urban areas. Old age dependency ratio in the UT is 11.22% in the case of men and 12.42% in the case of women.
Pondicherry has a health care infrastructure superior to that in existence in the rest of India despite the logistical problems that the UT has in facilitating access to medical services. The people live in habitations spread over 261 villages, many of them falling in the distant enclaves of Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam, located 130 kms., 650 kms. and 950 kms. respectively from Pondicherry. It has also been estimated that more than 40% of the patients accessing medical care in Pondicherry are from the adjoining States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Access to medical care is available for the people of the UT within an average distance of less than 1.18 kms. That the UT is significantly better off in provision of health access facilities. Pondicherry also ranks quite high compared to India as a whole in terms of fulfillment of national norms in respect of several health infrastructure indicators