French Institute of Pondicherry

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Coordinates: 11°56′13″N 79°50′10″E / 11.937025°N 79.836131°E / 11.937025; 79.836131

Institut français de Pondichéry
Institut Français de Pondichéry (logo).png
TypeFrench Research Institute
Established21 March 1955
DirectorDr. Pierre Grard
LocationPondicherry, Puducherry, India
WebsiteFrench Institute of Pondicherry

The French Institute of Pondicherry (French: Institut français de Pondichéry) UMIFRE 21 CNRS-MAEE is a French financially autonomous institution in Puducherry, India, under the joint supervision of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). It is a part of the network of 27 research centres connected with the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. It is also part of the research unit 3330 "Savoirs et Mondes Indiens" of the CNRS, along with the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH) in New Delhi. It is a branch of the Institut français en Inde, based in Delhi.


Established under the terms of the Treaty of Cession of French Territories in India, the French Institute of Pondicherry was inaugurated on 21 March 1955 under the name "Institut Français d'Indologie". It was engaged, under the leadership of its first director (Jean Filliozat), in the study of Indian civilization and culture, and more particularly in the history and the religions of South India.

In the 1960s, a department of ecology was created to collect information on the conditions and evolution of the environment in South India (vegetation, soils, climate changes, etc.) with its focus on the Western Ghats, one of the world’s 34 hotspots for biodiversity.

With the setting up of the department of Social Sciences in the 1980s, the institute extended its interest to the evolution and dynamics of the Indian society.

The Laboratory of Applied Informatics and Geomatics (LAIG) was set up in the 1990s.

The institute has a Centre for Documentary Resources (CDR), which came into being as the result of a major restructuring of three research libraries in Pondicherry. The centre holds data of the research conducted at the IFP, which is augmented every year through an acquisition policy. The CDR is open to the public.

From Tradition to Modernity, a document released on the 50th anniversary of the IFP, traces the history of the institute from its inception to the present.

Dr. G. Thanikaimoni, whose scientific contributions have been recognised worldwide in the field of palynology finds mention in Eminent Indian Botanists Past and Present. He directed the palynology department for over 20 years and assembled one of the largest collection pollen morphology slides in the world. Dr. Thanikaimoni was a proponent for the conservation and protection of mangroves in Asia.

Fields of research[edit]

  • Indology: Indian Society, History and Culture: Sources and Resources
  • Social Sciences: Contemporary Social Dynamics
  • Ecology: Environment and Sustainable Development

Research departments[edit]

  • The Department of Indology (historical department) focuses its attention on classical India, namely its religions, its literature, its languages (Tamil, Sanskrit, etc.) to better interpret and study the foundations of modern India.
  • The Department of Social Sciences promotes research on the major questions of society and on the relations between human societies and their environment: social management of water, urban development, demography and social mobility, finance and debt, impact of industrialization on rural systems, diffusion of new technologies, traditional health care systems, health problems related to the spread of transmittable diseases, etc. In the framework of the USR 3330, it also engages in research on economics, international relations, and socio-political issues.
  • The Department of Ecology concentrates its research on biodiversity and notably on the functioning of fragile ecosystems (forests, mangroves, etc.), by considering man as an important parameter in their evolution. It conducts research that aims to understand and evaluate the biological diversity of natural ecosystems as well as those affected by human impact. This research activity has the related aim of contributing to the establishment of schemes for conservation and sustainable management of natural resources. The high priority accorded to research on palaeoenvironments has yielded a rich and varied collection of pollen.

Scientific orientations and projects[edit]

The institute hosts research projects spread over ten orientations:

  • Indology
    • Indian analyses of Sanskrit language and literature
    • History of religions
    • Tamil studies
  • Social Sciences
    • Health and societies
    • Economy and societies
    • Environment and societies
  • Ecology
    • The palaeo-environments of South India
    • Application of new information technologies for strengthening of taxonomic expertise
    • Biodiversity elements in the Western Ghats
    • Usage of biodiversity and ecosystems modified by human activity

Support structures for research[edit]

Two "transversal structures" support the research departments:

  • A Laboratory of Applied Informatics and Geomatics, which applies its expertise in the following areas: digital mapping, use of satellite imagery, geographic information systems and modeling, multimedia promotion. It deploys its computer resources and information technologies in the institute. Its documentary collection consists of 3000 maps and several databases.
  • A Centre for Documentary Resources. The computerized collection comprises 60000 books; 800 journals, of which 250 are regularly subscribed; 8500 palm-leaf manuscripts (the largest collection of texts on Saivasiddhanta in the world and registered as such in the "Memory of the World" register of the UNESCO, with the IFP being regarded as a "Manuscript Resource Centre" by the National Mission for Manuscripts of the Government of India); 1144 transcripts; and a collection of 140000 photographs, of temples and edifices in South India notably.

Other missions[edit]

Promotion of knowledge: The scientific knowledge at the IFP is made available in forms including publications, expertise, scientific events, library, information, and exhibits.

Training: In the framework of its research projects, the IFP welcomes PhDs and Masters level trainees of different nationalities (French, Indian, European and others).


The IFP's research results are circulated in publications:

  • In journals to supervisory committees and in the proceedings of national and international congresses
  • By the institute: book series and multimedia CD-ROM; position reports or evaluations; maps with notices on the soils and vegetation of South India.

The institute publishes a news bulletin Pattrika in collaboration with the CSH in Delhi and the EFEO (three issues per year). The institute organizes scientific events.

The manuscripts[edit]

With respect to its branch of research in Indology, the French Institute of Pondicherry has a collection of 8,600 Hindu religious manuscripts and similar records, forming part of India’s National Mission for Manuscripts. Comprising 8,187 ancient palm-leaf bundles, 360 paper codices and 1,144 recent paper transcripts, it is the largest collection of manuscripts primarily transmitting texts of the Saiva Siddhanta tradition of Hinduism.

The collection was started in 1955 by the institute's founder-director, Jean Filliozat, who desired to explain the Hindu temple and what happens in it. The manuscripts were gathered from collections of temples, priests and monasteries across South India and brought to the institute with the intention of preserving, transcribing and translating them. Four volumes of a catalog describing in detail the contents of 4,000 texts transmitted in 475 of the palm-leaf bundles were published in 1986, 1987, 1990 and 2002. Cataloging has continued using flatbed scanning and digital photography technology in conjunction with a computerized database.

Contents of the collection[edit]

  • Canonical texts of Saivism (Saiva Agamas, also known as Tantras): 1,900 codices
  • Mantra/ritual manuals: 1,890
  • Devotional hymns and legends of holy places (stotra/mahatmya): 1,360
  • Hindu astrology (Jyotisha): 435
  • The literary epic about Rama (Ramayana): 192
  • Other Sanskrit epics, myths and legends (Puranas): 230
  • Traditional South Indian medicine: 198
  • Vedas: 187
  • Literary works in Sanskrit: 160
  • Tamil devotional literature: 1,350


The collection was registered in the World Memories of the UNESCO in July 2005 and was declared a national treasure of India by the Indian government. The institute was declared a "Manuscripts Resource Centre" in 2004.


  • Pollen slide collection (Dr. Thanikaimoni pollen reference slide collection): 22,000 slides in 15,000 tropical plant species.
  • Library collection consists of 60 000 books, 300 theses, over 1000 articles and 800 journals of which 260 are received currently.
  • Herbarium is internationally recognized and indexed index herbariorum [1] housing nearly 23,000 specimens.
  • Photographs — nearly 136,000 that are a resource for visual information about South India in the second half of the 20th century, particularly its temple art.
  • Nearly 3,000 maps on India and South and Southeast Asia, around 1,200 topographic maps of the Anglo-Saxon scale (1 inch/1mile) dating from the first half of the 20th century and an equal number of topographic maps at the metric scale (most of them 1/50,000 and nearly 200 sheets at 1/250,000) obtained from the Survey of India and covering most of the Indian subcontinent. Around 500 thematic maps of other South and Southeast Asian countries (vegetation, soil, geology, meteorology, etc.) at highly varying scales, mainly from the 1950s, are preserved.


The personnel of the IFP consist of about 80 persons:

  • Expatriate personnel on temporary assignment from the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE)
  • Indian researchers
  • Research assistants (engineers and technicians)
  • Administrative and service personnel (archivists, secretariat, maintenance personnel)

The institute welcomes researchers and research assistants on project contract and financed by outside sources, and experienced researchers and students of all nationalities, associated with projects of the institute and carrying out resident study.

Partnership agreements[edit]

Agreements with French institutions: In addition to the agreements with the CIRAD, the CNEARC, the EFEO, the EHESS, the EPHE, the ENGREF, the INALCO, the INRA, the IRD and the Universities of Aix-Marseille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Paris (I, III, IV, VI, VII, X, XII), Rennes and Rouen.

Agreements with Indian institutions: There are agreements with universities, research institutes and the technical departments of governments (of forestry and of environment): Calicut University, Indian Space Research Organization, Jawaharlal Nehru University, National Mission for Manuscripts, National Remote Sensing Agency, Physical Research Laboratory, Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture, etc,

Other cooperation agreements: The IFP works in collaboration with European teams (from Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, etc.), as with teams from America and South and South-East Asia (Bangladesh, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan): American Institute of Indian Studies, Washington and Lee University, University of Jaffna, University of California, University of Michigan; Swarthmore College; Eastern University of Sri Lanka; University of Toronto; Autonomous University of Barcelona; Dartmouth College; Durham University; Facultés Universitaires Saint Louis; Harvard University; Institut Universitaire d’Etudes du Développement; Institut de Ciencia i Tecnologica Ambientals; Kyushu University; National Herbarium Nederland; National University of Laos; Oxford University; Pontifica Universita Gregoriana; Ruhuna University; University College; University of Copenhagen; University of Heidelberg; University of Kent; University of Leiden; University of Minnesota; University of Sussex; and Victory University.

Means of operation[edit]

Part of the support for research projects is given by external resources: Indian (universities, National Mission for Manuscripts, National Remote Sensing Agency, CEFIPRA); French (universities, IRD, CIRAD, EFEO, CNRS, ANR, ANRS, MEDD); international (European and American universities, European Union, World Bank, ILO, Ford Foundation, AUF).

The budget of the IFP is made up of subsidies (mainly from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and external resources (contracts, etc.). The scientific programmes are in majority self-financed, the basic subsidy being unable to support them anymore. The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) provides intangible resources (electronic library, lever effect in calls for proposals, etc.).

On a usable area of 3 000 m2 divided between a building dating from the 19th century, which was recently renovated, and a wing constructed in 2002-2003, the institute has 26 offices; three laboratories (computer, palynology, botany); two herbaria; one reading room with 30 seats; one conference room with 40 seats; rooms for the storage of documents, one of which is for the preservation of valuable collections (manuscripts and photos) and one map library; one photographic laboratory; one exhibition hall; four guest rooms.

The IFP has three vehicles; two of them are "cross-country" vehicles.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Official website
  • India-France 1956 Treaty establishing De Jure Cession of French Establishments in India (Indian Ministry for External Affairs[1])