History of Puducherry

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Puducherry was mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 1st century CE.

The City of Puducherry on the southeast coast of India does not have a vishva history from antiquity. Puducherry has history recorded only after the advent of the colonial powers such as the Dutch, Portuguese, English and the French. Nearby places such as Arikamedu, Ariyankuppam, Kakayanthoppe, Villianur, and Bahur, which were annexed by the French East India Company over a period of time and became the Union Territory of Puducherry after Independence, have written histories that predate the colonial era.

Early period[edit]

Vishva jewellery from Suttukeni, Puducherry, 2nd century BC. Musee Guimet.
Child with bird, a classical Greco-Roman motif, Virampatnam, Arikamedu, 1st-2nd century. Musee Guimet.

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, of the 1st century, mentions a marketplace named Poduke or Poduca (ch. 60). G.W.B. Huntingford identified this as possibly being Arikamedu (now part of Ariyankuppam), located about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the modern city of Pondicherry. Puducherry was apparently an important destination for Roman trade with India. Huntingford further notes that Roman pottery was found at Arikamedu in 1937. In addition, archaeological excavations between 1944 and 1949 showed that it was "a trading station to which goods of Roman manufacture were imported during the first half of the 1st century AD".[1]

At the beginning of the 4th century AD, the Puducherry area was part of the Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram. During the following centuries different southern dynasties controlled Puducherry: in the 10th century AD. the Chola of Thanjavur took over, only to be replaced by the Pandya Kingdom in the 13th century. After a brief invasion by the Muslim rulers of the North, who established the Sultanate of Madurai, the Vijayanagar Empire took control of almost all the South of India, with their power lasting until 1638, when the Sultan of Bijapur began to rule over Gingee.

European period[edit]

Bellin's plan of Pondicherry, a copperplate engraving

In 1674 the French East India Company set up a trading centre at Pondicherry. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India.

Dutch and British trading companies also wanted trade with India. Wars raged among these European countries and spilled over into the Indian subcontinent. The Dutch captured Puducherry in 1693 but returned it to France by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1699.

The French acquired Mahe in the 1720s, Yanam in 1731, and Karaikal in 1738. During the Anglo-French wars (1742–1763), Puducherry changed hands frequently. On January 16, 1761, the British captured Puducherry from the French, but the Treaty of Paris (1763) at the conclusion of the Seven Years' War returned it.[2]

The British took control of the area again in 1793 at the Siege of Pondicherry amid the Wars of the French Revolution, and returned to France in 1814. When the British gained control of the whole of India in the late 1850s, they allowed the French to retain their settlements in the country. Pondicherry, Mahe, Yanam, Karaikal and Chandernagar remained a part of French India until 1954.

The independence of India in 1947 gave impetus to the union of France's Indian possessions with former British India. An agreement between France and India in 1948 stipulated that the inhabitants of France's Indian possessions would choose their political future. The de jure union of French India with the Indian Union did not take place until 1962. On a de facto basis, the bureaucracy had been united with India's on 1 November 1954. It was organized as a Union Territory in 1963. Puducherry is now a part of India.

Separation from France[edit]

Cession of Pondicherry and Karaikal[edit]

From the time India gained its independence from British rule in 1947, it raised the issue of the French settlements on the continent with the Government of France. It took seven years for Puducherry to effectively unite with independent India. Political agitation to achieve this goal began earlier.

In 1787 and 1791, farmers of Karaikal agitated against the heavy land tax imposed by the French. The rebellion of 1857 had an effect in the French settlements but it did not attract the attention of the rulers, as the incidents were few and considered as local. People employed legal means to fight against the French. In 1873, an advocate, Ponnuthammbi Pillai, convinced a Paris court of his cause. He won the case in which he was fined by a French magistrate in Pondicherry for walking into the court with footwear.

Student protests in 1927 and 1930 expressed their desire for an end of French oversight. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak visited Pondicherry and its other enclaves and addressed the meetings. In 1934, Swatantram, a monthly, was started by veteran independence activist and trade union leader V. Subbiah for the cause of workers and the country.

Police control, which warranted trade union unrest, further increased civilian agitation against the colonial government. In the late 1930, grassroots organizations known as mahajana sabhas were started in Pondicherry and Karaikal. These groups, along with trade unions, organized the Non-Cooperation Movement. During the Second World War, Puducherry supported France with men and materiel. Deaths among French-Indian soldiers caused unrest in the enclaves.

In 1946, the French India Congress was formed with the objective of integrating the French possessions with India. Later the following year, the French India Students Congress adopted a resolution on merger. In January 1948, the French People's Convention passed a resolution expressing its determination to merge the French possessions with India. The Communist Party asked the people to accept only the merger.

The post-independence government under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was anxious to integrate the French Indian territories with the country. India signed an agreement with France in June 1948 which gave power to the people to determine the political status of their land. Accordingly, municipal elections in Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam were held in October 1948. All municipalities except one elected representatives of the French India Socialist Party, a pro-French group. The new councillors at a meeting accepted the autonomy offered by the French Government.

The Indian Government continued to press for unification, pledging a distinct status and help for Puducherry after its merger with India.

As the unification movement gathered momentum under Subbiah, the pro-French leader Edouard Goubert switched his loyalty to the pro-merger camp. A momentous event in the freedom movement of Puducherry occurred on March 18, 1954, when the members of the executive council and mayors of Pondicherry and seven adjoining communes proclaimed their decision to merge with India without a referendum. All the communes in Karaikal also followed suit. This decision was to be confirmed by the Representative Assembly. When the Socialist Party was preparing to move the merger resolution, the French governor scuttled it by postponing the session. Provoked by this, the Socialists planned to capture the outlying communes one by one and move to Pondicherry. The Communist Party was also ready to launch a campaign of direct action to merge Puducherry with India. Accordingly, the leaders of the Socialist Party hoisted the Indian national flag atop the Nettapakkam police station on the last day of March in 1954. Subsequently, many villages in Mannadipet and Bahour communes came under the sway of the pro-merger forces. In the Karaikal region, all the communes and Karaikal municipality passed a resolution in favour of merger. The National Youth Congress began a Satyagraha. An independence activists' procession was charged by police using lathi and the flags carried by the processionists were seized and torn by the French Indian Police.

India and France, following talks, issued a joint statement on October 13, 1954 announcing a procedure for deciding the status of the French settlements. Five days later, on 18 October 1954 the elected members of the Representative Assembly and the municipal councillors of Pondicherry and Karaikkal took part in a referendum at Keeloor. Of the 178 members voting, an overwhelming majority of 170 members favoured the merger of French Indian territories with the Republic of India. Three days later, an agreement on the de facto transfer of the French territories to India was signed in New Delhi between the two countries.

A treaty of cession was signed by the two countries in May 1956. It was ratified by the French parliament in May 1962. On August 16, 1962 India and France exchanged the instruments of ratification under which France ceded to India full sovereignty over the territories it held. Pondicherry and the other enclaves of Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam came to be administered as the Union Territory of Puducherry from July 1, 1963.

Cession of Chandernagore[edit]

See also: Chandannagar

Under the Indo-French Agreement of June 1948, the first municipal elections were held in Chandernagore in August, elections in which the Congress Karmaparishad won 22 of the 24 seats. The new municipal assembly overwhelmingly voted for merger with the Indian Union but it took until June 9, 1952 before the Government of India took control. Later, Chandernagore became part of the Hoogly district of West Bengal.

Cession of Yanam[edit]

Conditions became intolerable in Yanam after its mayor and other representatives of Yanam adopted the merger resolution. The mayor, deputy mayor, and over 200 people took refuge in the adjacent areas of the Indian Union. Police and hired vigilantes from Yanam assaulted refugees on Indian soil. The refugees marched into Yanam under the leadership of Dadala Raphael Ramanayya and took over the administration. After hoisting the Indian National Flag, they adopted a resolution declaring Yanam "liberated".

Cession of Mahe[edit]

Close on their heels in Yanam, in Mahe, the Mahajana sabha under its president, I.K. Kumaran began a picketing programme. Some days later, hundreds of volunteers marched into Mahe to stage a demonstration in front of the administrator's residence. They were joined by citizens of the enclave. On July 16, 1954, Kumaran took over the administration from the French administrator marking the end of 224 years of French rule in Mahe.

Date of Events[edit]

French India
Colony Liberation de facto transfer Treaty of Cession de jure transfer Merger
Chandernagore 26 June 1949 28 February 1951 9 June 1952 1 October 1954
Pondichéry 1 November 1954 28 May 1956 16 August 1962 1 July 1963
Karikal 1 November 1954 28 May 1956 16 August 1962 1 July 1963
Yanam 13 June 1954 1 November 1954 28 May 1956 16 August 1962 1 July 1963
Mahé 16 June 1954 1 November 1954 28 May 1956 16 August 1962 1 July 1963

List of French Governors in India[edit]


Monument to Joseph François Dupleix in Puducherry

Gouverneurs Généraux:

  • Second British occupation, August 23, 1793 – 18 June 1802 <-- Treaty of Amiens (1802)

Inde française became a Territoire d'outre-mer for France in 1946.


de facto transfer to Indian Union

High Commissioners:

  • Mr.Kewal Singh November 1, 1954–1957
  • M.K. Kripalani 1957–1958
  • L.R.S. Singh 1958–1958
  • AS Bam 1960
  • Sarat Kumar Dutta 1961–1961


  1. ^ The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, transl. G.W.B. Huntingford (Hakluyt Society, 1980), p. 119.
  2. ^ Chand, Hukam. History Of Medieval India, 202.

External links[edit]