From Arikamedu to Pondicherry

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A conference on history at the Alliance française de Pondichéry, by Mr. JBP More threw light on some notions and theories that have been passed over the generations without any evidence.


Arikamedu to Pondicherry

Mr. JBP More is an internationally known historian who is considered as a leading specialist of the French colonial history in India. An authority on the history of Muslims of southern India, Mr. More, who currently teaches at Inseec Paris, has been researching the roots of Puducherry for a very long time.  His book from Arikamedu to the foundation of Modern Pondicherry recounts the long history from its ancient times to the advent of modern Pondicherry.

Since the ancient period, the town and region, which came to be known as Pondicherry, had never been an independent political entity. It had always been part of one kingdom or the other until the French were allowed to establish a factory there in 1673-74. Later in 1683, the French bought Pondicherry town and some adjoining areas from the Raja of Senji. From this period, it became a colony or outpost of France in India. The city has been cited many a times way before François Martin had even set foot on the land. Therefore it is historically erroneous to say that it was the French who founded the city.

The source of the name itself has historic evidence even though the city’s quest for its original identity may have led Pondicherry to change its name to Puducherry by the present government, but new research has now thrown up evidence that this charming French-Indian city was never called Puducherry in the first place. According to author, historian JBP More, Pondicherry is more of a phonetic variation of the word Vandicherry. Possibilities of two phonetic variations one being Vandicherry and the other being Bandicheri have being studied and are seemingly plausible reasons leading to the name source.

In Tamil vandi means bullock cart and cherry stands for hamlet, says the historian.  In the 15th century, Pondicherry was under the administration of Muthu Krishnappa Naik of the Vijayanagar Empire. Naik allowed the Portuguese to build a godown in the city. That was the origin of the name Vandicherry or a place where bullock carts came to load and unload goods. But the Telegu rulers gradually turned Vandicherry to Bandicheri in their pronunciation. This was mentioned in the works of the renowned Arab navigator Sulaiman Al Mahri as Bandikari due to a slight variant in the Arabic alphabet but referring to Bandicheri. This word over the centuries got miss pronounced till it sounded like Pondicherry. Therefore it had nothing to do with Puducherry.

The name Puducherry was a part of the city’s mythical connection with the nearby historical site Arikamedu, long accepted as a Roman trading port and settlement.  Pondicherry’s association with Arikamedu, and the ancient reference of the word Poduca or Podouke by Claudius Ptolemy was revealed by the 19th century French scholars like Jouveau Dubreuil. The European scholars working on the excavation of Arikamedu since 1930’s equated Poduca with Arikamedu and Pondicherry. But there is no literary or archaeological evidence to prove this link. The historian goes further to claim that Arikamedu’s inclusion in the territory of Puducherry was nothing but an accident of history. The local Sultan who was high on debt decided to give away Arikamedu to the French. That is how that region became part of French Pondicherry around 1708. The connection between Poduca, Pondicherry and Arikamedu came into circulation much later in the first decades of the 20th century. There is no literary, epigraphic or other evidence to prove that Arikamedu was a major Roman trading post. It must have been a market place where Roman goods and coins exchanged hands but it was not the way people think about it. Mr. More’s controversial and highly debatable theory in his book on the history of Pondicherry- extends beyond the city’s link with the Roman ruins and questions Arikamedu’s status as a bustling Roman trading port, which it never was, due to its location being on a narrow estuary not big enough to be a port even in those days.


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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...