Crux of Jean Deloche’s invaluable work on five French settlements on display

In his writings, French historian-researcher Jean Deloche has projected erstwhile Pondicherry as the crown jewel of the Coromandel coast, “a small Versailles” which evoked the admiration of visitors.

It was Deloche’s lifelong mission to delve into, and memorialise the shared Franco-Indian heritage of the settlement that were built by French merchants and local people, traders, fishermen and boatmen.

A crux of his invaluable work on the five French settlements — Pondicherry, Chandernagore, Mahe, Karaikal and Yanam — has been showcased at an ongoing exhibition at the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP).

Deloche’s work serves both as an introduction to the history of old French establishments in India as well as an inventory of vanished monuments.

A series of 27 panels present a nuanced understanding history of the French settlement as recorded in 18th century plans, of which a rich watercolour collection is maintained at the French archives at Aix-en-Provence and Paris and sources including FRANOM archives in France, Dutch plans and survey reports of the field work of Jouveau-Dubreuil (who excavated the place where the Bharathi Park now stands).

The French establishments until the middle of the 18th century when they came under British onslaught, were prosperous fortified towns, with administrative buildings, warehouses, markets, temples and churches. A little-known fact is that the French once also controlled territories (loges) in Eastern India such as Patna and Machilipatnam that were relinquished to the British in 1816.

Until the arrival of the French in 1673, Pondicherry was nothing more than a small weavers’ centre. From that point on and before the place was taken by the Dutch, the French managed to set up a factory, build a fort, attract craftsmen and create a fairly large and prosperous settlement.

The fall of Pondicherry to the British in 1761 saw all the fortifications razed to the ground as well as warehouses, churches and choultries, built by the local people. Deloche notes that during the periods of misfortunes as well as prosperity, Indian inhabitants shared the fate of their French neighbours.

“The town in which they lived had been built jointly by the Company’s staff and the local population, merchants, farmers, fishermen. It is thus a shared heritage that should be better known and although it no longer stands above the ground, it should be considered part of the collective memory of present-day society”, observed Mr. Deloche, who was a senior member of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient and academic at the IFP.

The historian, who died in Puducherry which was his second home in 2019, saw in the Ananda Ranga Pillai mansion, the only building to fortuitously escape destruction in the invasion, the enduring example of this expression of two cultures to which the great dubash belonged.

As the seat of French rule, Pondicherry’s past is represented over five periods.

The 1673-1700 (urban development) phase concerning the Dutch geometric layout for a new town with rectangular blocks of houses separated by straight streets intersecting at right angles, 1700-1761 (urban expansion, defence works, major constructions) that saw a pentagon-shaped Fort Louis with five bastions and a moat modelled on the French Fort constructed by military engineer Vauban in Tournai, construction of a new St. Louis Chapel and a Government palace, a hospital and a mint.

The 1761-1778 phase focuses on the post-1761 reconstruction of the town literally from scratch by the new governor Law de Lauriston while the 1777-1778 period is on development of the White Town precinct, 1761-1825 on outer fortifications and Boulevards, the 18th century French showcase the Hotel Lagrenee de Mezieres and the Ananda Ranga Pillai mansion.

The event, hosted as part of the Pondicherry Heritage Festival, is supported by the Alliance Française, the city chapter of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and the Tourism Department.

The show is on till January 28 (9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.)

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 5:45:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/crux-of-jean-deloches-invaluable-work-on-five-french-settlements-on-display/article33651676.ece

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