Pondicherry Heritage Festival comes to an end

Dignitaries at the closing ceremony held at the French Consulate. T. Singaravelou

Dignitaries at the closing ceremony held at the French Consulate. T. Singaravelou   | Photo Credit: T. Singaravelou

One of the significant outcomes of the event is the initiation of a process to make a bid for Unesco world heritage city status

After stirring the melting pot of Franco-Indian culture over an event-packed three weeks, the sixth Pondicherry Heritage Festival 2020 drew to a close on Tuesday, with a reception hosted by the French Consulate, a posthumous honouring of a French historian, and a changing of guard that will see youth drive the future editions of the festival.

PHF 2020, which was launched on January 25 with a bio-play, Bharathi Yaar based on Mahakavi Subramania Bharati, who had sought refuge in the city during the freedom struggle, had featured an eclectic mix of events. The experience included events focused on the natural heritage of the city, ranging from heritage quiz and painting contests for children, heritage walk, cycle rides in town and out to the suburban waterbodies, street play, food trail, music and dance.

One of the significant outcomes of the festival was the initiation of a process to make a bid for Unesco world heritage city status.

The process of framing a dossier kicked off with a preliminary meeting involving Chief Secretary Ashwani Kumar, Unesco Director Eric Falt, Town and Country Planning secretary Mahesh Kumar and architect Rabindra Vasavada, who was involved in Ahmedabad’s Unesco application exercise.

“It’s a long journey ahead, but an important first step nonetheless,” said French Consul General Catherine Suard.

“From next year, we would like to raise PHF to the level of a regional festival involving not just Puducherry but Auroville, Villupuram and Cuddalore,” said Sunaina Mandeen of PondyCan.

It is also proposed to maintain a continuum of heritage-based events through the year, she added.

Since 2015, when the People for Pondicherry’s Heritage, PondyCan and INTACH joined hands to conceive the first festival as a community-involved effort to preserve the city’s unique heritage, the festival has grown in terms of volunteer proportions, diversity of experience and community outreach. The Department of Tourism, French Institute of Pondicherry and the Alliance Francaise have been supporting the effort.

The idea of the PHF was triggered by the fall of the 144-year-old Mairie, a French-era seat of municipal administration in 2014, and the urgency to evolve a collective campaign to preserve the city’s heritage from ruin, she noted.

“The festival has been a volunteer-driven effort and it is heartening to see the involvement of so many youngsters coming up with imaginative ideas and work tirelessly to manage the events,” Ms. Mandeen said.

One of the high points of the evening was the awarding of the ‘Guardian of Pondicherry’s Heritage’ plaque.

In the presence of Ms. Suard, Janine Deloche received this year’s plaque awarded posthumously to her spouse and historian Jean Deloche from V. Nallam, the title’s first recipient.

The citation presented by Kakoli Banerjee of People for Pondicherry’s Heritage, summed up the contributions of the luminary.

Jean Deloche, who was senior associate member of Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO) (French School of the Far East), and French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), and later the Director of Alliance Française of Madras, was conferred with the Hirayama Prize by the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, Paris.

His first publications focused on the history of traffic in India (chariots, boats), and especially that of transport routes, including a memorable study on Indian bridges. For the place he called home, the historian created a CD documentary, ‘Pondicherry Past and Present’, detailing the history of the former French enclave since its creation in the 17th century to the present day with texts, illustrations, photos and maps preserved in French archives.

Textile centre

It summarises the history of erstwhile Pondicherry from the struggle between the French and British in establishing colonial empire in India, the territory’s dazzling growth as a modest textile centre to its subsequent denigration by the British in 1761.

On the creation of Pondicherry, he showed that the city grew according to a rigorous urban plan designed by a Dutch mapmaking engineer in the late seventeenth century. The final part of the CD details the efforts taken by the government and other institutions in preserving the rich heritage of the tiny former French enclave and the territory’s emergence as an important tourist destination in the country today.

The documentary is now a valuable inventory of monuments and a guide for the residents, domestic and foreign tourists.

Jean Deloche’s second field of research concerned the history of Indian technology. His meticulous research on transportation techniques, cars, boats, bridges, has been the subject of an extensive synthesis published in French and English and partly reproduced in Volume II of History of Technology in India. Finally, it should be noted that, based entirely on the use of iconographic material, his investigations of military techniques in the Hoysala period, the harnessing of the horse, and daily life in the Nayaka period represent a methodological novelty.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 2:12:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/pondicherry-heritage-festival-comes-to-an-end/article30804958.ece

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