Kavita Kishore speaks to historian J.B.P More, and takes a trip down history, to find out how Puducherry got its name

The popular story that Puducherry was the original name of the town may not hold water anymore, according to historian J.B.P More.

The first mention of the name Puducherry or ‘Puduchera’ appeared only after the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1600s, where Joao de Barros, a historian, in his writings, mentions the name. Before that, all references to the town seem to indicate that it was known as Pondicherry.

The first reference to the town is in the transcripts of an Arabic geographer, Sulaiman Al Mahri. He travelled along the coasts of India and listed the various coastal towns. In this listing, next to Cuddalore, he notes a town name ‘Bandikari’, which cannot be any other place than Pondicherry, Professor More says.

Before this, there is no historical mention of the town itself in any of the temples that surround the area. Even the temples in the Boulevard Area are of a much later date, indicating that Pondicherry was probably only inhabited during the 15{+t}{+h}Century AD, he adds.

Amongst the Tamil settlers, the town was known as ‘P-ah-ndicherry’ and the Telugu people referred to it as ‘B-ah-ndicherry’, which was possibly convoluted to become ‘Bandikeri’ in Al Mahri’s writings, he says.

According to him, there are two plausible explanations of why the town came to be known as Pondicherry. One, which is probably the most likely, comes from the bullock carts or ‘vandi’, which was called ‘bandi’ in Telugu. Most of the transport in those days was done using these carts, which could be one reason for the name.

The other explanation is that the Portuguese set up godowns in the area. Muthukrishnapa Naicker, who was the ruler of Gingee at the time, invited the Portuguese to set up these godowns in the area that is now known as Puducherry. In Tamil, the word for godown in ‘pandasalai’ and in Sanskrit it is ‘pandigasala’, which is possibly where ‘Pondicherry’ or ‘P-ah-ndicherry’ as it was known, got its name.

Once the French arrived, they changed the name to ‘P-oh-ndi-sheri’, which the British then converted to ‘Pondicherry’, which was the name of the town until very recently, Prof. More explains.

Prof. More has detailed the story of Puducherry from Arikenmedu till the formation of the modern Pondicherry in his new book titled From Arikamedu to the Foundation of Modern Pondicherry , that was released by Union Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy, recently.

He is currently working on the sequel of the book, which deals with the later history of Puducherry, which will be released in a year’s time, he said.