When not exploring the city’s past and future, Pondicherry Heritage Festival promises access to beautiful French homes
PEND the first week of February scratching beneath the stereotypical image of Pondy as the second edition of the ‘Pondicherry Heritage Festival’ takes you beyond the charming rows of colonial buildings by the sea and the mingling of French and Indian sensibilities on every street — to discover how its rich past is inextricably tied up with its shifting present. While the maiden edition highlighted lesser-known buildings of heritage value which doubled up as venues, the second edition has attempted to cover multiple aspects of heritage including natural, architectural, visual and performing. Sign up for heritage walks, talks by conservationists, performances by local artistes and find out how literary sparks have been kindled here. People driving down can opt to stay at the Palais de Mahe (Details: 0484 3011711) or guest houses like Gratitude (0413 222 5029), which are also the cultural partners for the event.
Partnering with a host of institutions and organisations, the heritage festival is the collaborative effort of INTACH, People for Pondicherry’s Heritage (PPH) and PondyCAN, supported by the Department of Art and Culture, and Puducherry Tourism. Organisers hope the festival will evolve into an international calendar event. “We want a larger audience to see Pondicherry for what it is, but right now we hope to build a sense of identity in Pondicherrians so they can take pride in what they have,” says Kakoli Banerjee, a founding organiser. “It is only by nurturing a sense of pride in our city that we can take care of it better,” adds Sunaina Mandeen, organiser.
Listen to acclaimed conservationists like KT Ravindran, Arun Menon, Shikha Jain and Philippe Toussaint discuss their best practices in restoration, preservation and rebuilding with traditional materials, on Friday (Chamber of Commerce, Rue Suffren, 10 am). The iconic Mairie (18th century town hall), whose fall a year ago triggered the birth of the heritage festival, is the focus of a panel discussion by experts (IFP, 2 pm) where INTACH will also reveal its restoration plans. Ashok Panda of INTACH takes heritage enthusiasts on a special tour of the city’s heritage properties, with access to a few private colonial villas (sign-up event on Sunday).
Words and images
Artistes including Bharatnatyam exponent Anita Ratnam, Koumarane Valavane of Indianostrum theatre, Odissi danseuse Rekha Tandon, and Aurelio of Svaram explore Pondy’s ties with music, dance and theatre on Saturday (La Maison Tamoule, Vysial Street, 2 pm). On Sunday afternoon, hobnob with the city’s sculptors, studio potters and photographers on Pondy’s impact on contemporary visual arts in India (25 Rue Dumas, 2 pm).
This event is a great opportunity to get a guided tour of Golden Bridge Pottery (Thursday, 10 am), or listen to Caribbean soul and jazz by French singer Erika Lernot at Alliance Francaise (next Saturday, 7.30 pm). And don’t miss the Adishakti concert at the Cluny Embroidery Centre on Romain Rolland.
Inauguration this evening at Gandhi Thidal by Shigeru Aoyagi, UNESCO director. From February 5 to 7. Free entry. Register at meetup.com/Pondicherry-Heritage/events. Details: pondicherryheritagefestival.org
Head to the new Craft Bazaar near Chunnambar to catch up with a multimedia resource (accessible by a to-be-launched app) of geotagged heritage spots in the city. Curated by children as part of the Pondicherry interactive mapping project, expect photographs, sketches, poems and memoirs uploaded by the children on these spots. Children can engage and explore heritage through art, music and storytelling at the interactive centre set up at the bazaar.
Restoring the sandy beach — fondly remembered by locals — back along the Promenade, is the focus of the panel discussion on Pondicherry’s Natural Heritage on Saturday. Experts including Nityanand Jayaraman, PondyCan’s Probir Banerjee and Ramana Murthy of National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) weigh in (Chamber of Commerce Hall, 10 am). Sign-up to accompany forest officials on a rare urban forest walk in the woods adjoining the Swadeshi Mills (Saturday, 6.30 am) or go bird watching in Ousteri or Bahour on the outskirts of the city (Sunday, 6.30 am).
— Olympia Shilpa Gerald