In December 2015, a group of Puducherry citizens got together to take their union territory’s rich heritage to more people. They came up with a line-up of events to celebrate the region’s cultural, architectural and natural heritage. Today, Pondicherry Heritage Festival (PHF) has grown in scale, and the organisers, People for Pondicherry’s Heritage (PPH), Pondicherry Citizen’s Action Network (PondyCAN), and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), step into their ninth edition with events spread across February and March.
This year, according to Sunaina Mandeen of PondyCAN, a citizen’s action network, the theme is Responsible Tourism. “As there is an influx of tourists to the region since more people have started travelling after the pandemic, we thought our focus should be on this aspect,” she says, adding: “We are looking at moving out of the central zone towards the natural heritage around Pondicherry.”
Sunaina explains that there are events and a roundtable on this topic on March 15. On February 12, for instance, there is a boat ride at Thengaithittu before which participants will be introduced to mangrove forests. The heritage festival also features cycle tours, during which participants can soak in the beauty of the quiet town’s small lanes and hear stories about them from experts.
Puducherry is known for its quirky design ideas and as a nod to its many creative minds, PHF presents Made in Pondy, an event in which products by designers and artisans of the town, as well as Auroville, will be on sale. “This will include clothes dyed with colours derived from flowers, pottery, blockprinted fabrics and more,” says Sunaina, addding that the Crafts Council of Puducherry will be presenting Pudhu Vanam, a sale by artisans from across the country.
PHF will also feature a series of workshops and events on Tamil games, silambattam, and kolam, apart a symposium based on the writings of yogi Sri Aurobindo in light of his 150th birth anniversary. Sunaina says that 2023 being the International Year of Millets, there will be a Local Food Systems festival with a focus on millets. Her team is adding events to the festival as we speak. “We are planning to host Street Play Pondicherry that aims to reclaim street life,” she says. “People young and old can register to enjoy two hours of playing traditional games and eating snacks on the thinnai at Kamatchi Amman Kovil Steet, that will be free of motorised traffic for the day.”
Then there is a discussion highlighting the contribution of women to culture. “This year, we have performances by Anita Ratnam and Meera Das from Odisha, as well as a concert by Amrit Ramanath,” adds Sunaina.
Pondicherry Heritage Festival is on from February 1 to March 15. For details, visit https://www.pondicherryheritagefestival.org, @pondicherryheritage on Instagram.