Pondicherry consists of four small unconnected districts: Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and on the Arabian Sea. Pondicherry and Karaikal are by far the larger ones and are both enclaves of Tamil Nadu. Yanam and Mahé are enclaves of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala respectively. The territory has a total area of 492 km²: Pondicherry (city) 293 km², Karaikal 160 km², Mahé 9 km² and Yanam 30 km². It has 900,000 inhabitants (2001).
Some of those enclaves are themselves amalgamations of non-contiguous enclaves, often called pockets in India. Thus, Pondicherry district is made of 12 pockets, some of which are very small and entirely surrounded by the territory of Tamil Nadu. For its part, Mahe district is made of 3 pockets. This unusual geography is a legacy of the colonial period since the U.T. of Puducherry has retained the borders of former French India.
"The Ashram has been created with another object than that ordinarily common to such institutions", Sri Aurobindo wrote, "not for the renunciation of the world but as a centre and a field of practice for the evolution of another kind and form of life which would in the final end be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit."
When Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry in 1910, he lived at first with a few associates from the political field. Afterwards a few more joined him and there slowly developed spiritual relations between these young men and Sri Aurobindo. When the Mother returned to Pondicherry on 24 April 1920, the number of disciples began to increase rapidly, and as the Ashram thus began to take shape, it fell to the Mother to organize it. When in 1926, Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion to pursue his yogic sadhana, the whole material and spiritual charge of the Ashram was assumed by the Mother. Under her guidance, the Ashram grew into a large diversified community with almost 1200 members. Including the 400 students of the Centre of Education and the hundreds of devotees who live nearby, the community as a whole consists of more than 2000 people.
Situated in a bustling city of a quarter-million people, the Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat secluded from the world but a vibrant centre of life in a modern urban setting. The dynamic character of the community reflects the life-affirming aim of Sri Aurobindo's Yoga. Work as an offering to the Divine is an essential aspect of the Yoga, and Ashramites do some useful work every day in the various departments.
In the sadhana or spiritual discipline at the Ashram, there are no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations or systematic instructions in Yoga. Each sadhak is left free to determine the course and pace of his sadhana in accordance with his nature. But the general principle of the sadhana is the same for all: there must be a surrender to the Divine and an opening to the Divine Force so that it may work to transform one's being.
The Ashram provides its members with all they need for a decent and healthy life. Various departments have been organised to look after the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter, as well as medical care. The Ashram has farms and gardens, a printing press and a number of small-scale industries. There are also libraries for study and facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits. The Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Auroville is a township near Pondicherry. Inspired by Aurobindo the revolutionary turned spiritual leader during India's struggle forfreedom. The inspiration for Auroville arose in India, stemming from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the encouragement of the Mother. This inspiration lead to the Sri Aurobindo Society, based in Pondicherry, persuading the Government of India in 1966 to accept and support the project, which was then put before UNESCO for its endorsement. Aurobindo called for spiritual regeneration of India as the path for rebirth of India. He started as a spiritual leader in Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Auroville was later founded by The Mother, a French lady whose real name was Mirra Alfassa.
She took Aurobindo's teachings and popularized them for the layman. She founded the city of Auroville based on this philosophy. The city is within a 3 km radius - a multinational, multilingual and multicultural population living within its limits. Auroville has many activities including several schools, research institute and other establishments. The research institute conducts research on energy, agriculture and many other areas. At the center is the Matrimandir, the Spiritual center of Auroville. Auroville mostly uses local resources.
Matrimandir - Meaning "Temple of the Mother" in Sanskrit, this is the geographical and spiritual heart of Auroville. The outside is plated with gold, while the inside is stark white with a gigantic crystal in the center.
Check with the visitor center if you're interested in seeing the inside of the temple - the rules can be very strict, and it may take 2 days or so before you actually get inside (you've been warned!). You'll first need a visitors pass for a little guided tour of one of the meditation chambers, and once you've done that you qualify to visit the inside of the main temple the following day. Saturday and Sunday can be particularly busy and you may need to wait in line for 30-40 minutes. Bags, cell phones and cameras are not allowed in the temple.
If you have a guest card you can get a pass valid for all the days of your stay, otherwise you'll get a one day pass. Aurovilians can also take you in as a guest, though this isn't likely unless you have friends there.
On the surface, Auroville can appear rather incomprehensible. It is an intense and challenging experiment, attempting the seemingly impossible, and one needs to be ready to actively participate in such an adventure. The meaning of Auroville only becomes clearer in the context of the vision of its founders, which has stimulated people from all over the world to join in this ‘laboratory of evolution’.
A trip to Pondicherry is incomplete without a visit to the verdant botanical garden maintained by the French till 1947. Located at the southern entrance of city bus stand, the Botanical Garden of Pondicherry was first opened to public in 1826 by French colonists. It was initially opened as an experiment to analyze the crops that could be grown in the region. Laid down in French architectural style, the Botanical Garden is green with thick plantation interspersed with paved in-garden roads. For the entertainment of kids, there is a small children's train and track in the garden.
The garden is spread across 22 acres, and offers a cool retreat in harsh afternoons when you can enjoy a quiet stroll under the canopy of shady palms, listen to the twittering of birds and look out for rare species of flora. While exploring the garden, you will notice that every tree or plant is labeled with scientific, common and Tamil names, some of them also state the use, the amount of oxygen they emit and their medicinal value. The Botanical Garden is indeed an interesting mix of endangered and exotic species of plants. Take at least an hour in hand for a walk in its sprawling expanse, what with 28 plots dividing the garden and each with a separate theme. The towering shade-giving trees, the lovely flowers and the impressive layout of the garden with well-manicured plants lining the paved walkways, make the park a visual extravaganza. Not surprisingly, tourists and students on study tour flock the Botanical Garden through out the year.
A popular draw to the garden is the flower show hosted during the third or fourth week of February, when the place is a riot of colors. The exhibition of a motley assortment of flowers and plants goes on for the whole day, with sales picking up at the end of the day. It is usually a three-day event.
It was the eminent botanist, Perrottet, who was mainly instrumental in transforming the place into a botanical garden, also called Le Jardin in French, in 1831. You will see his memorial within the premises. With children’s train, an array of fountains, a dancing fountain, Japanese rock, and an aquarium with ornamental fish, the Botanical Garden of Pondicherry is a delight to explore, and bliss for nature lovers.
Karaikal Ammaiyur Temple is one of the most famous temples in Pondicherry. The presiding Goddess of the temple is Punithavati, also known as "Karaikal Ammaiyar". Inside the temple there is also a sanctum dedicated to Lord Vinayaka.
The legend that is associated with the Temple is that Lord Siva disguised himself as a saint went on the streets of Karaikal and begged for alms. On the way he met a lady called Punithavarthi in Karaikal and asked for alms from her. For her deep devotion to Lord Shiva, she received a place of eminence among the 63 holy saints dedicated to the lord. Where this saint lived now stands the glorious temple with the image of this pious lady. Karaikal Ammaiyur Temple is dedicated to the religious and pious lady Karaika Ammaiyar.
Karaikal Ammaiyar temple is situated in Barathiar Street, in the heart of Karaikal in Pondicherry. In the year 1929, Malaiperumal Pillai build Karaikal Ammaiyar temple in honor of the Godess Karaika Ammaiyar.
Mangani Tirunal festival means the festival of the mango fruit is an important festival celebrated in Karaikal Ammaiyar temple. To commemorate the legend of Mother Karaika Ammaiyar giving the Lord curd rice with mango this festival is celebrated. On the day of the festival curd rice with mango is distributed to the needy and devotees of Lord Shiva.
Plage Paradiso (Paradise Beach) is located at Chunnambar which is 8 kilometers away from the main town, along the Cuddalore main road. This part of tropical paradise is a dream destination for every beach lover. You can spend some time here alone in peace, swim in the cool sea water and bask in the sun. Some times you can just find a sea gull as your sole companion. If you are adventurous and sportive in spirit then try this out - put up a comfortable beach tent for yourself and stay here for a night. Staying overnight in the cozy tree-houses on the backwater banks is in itself a great and relishing experience. You can also try out another lovely experience at the Paradise Beach in Pondicherry, India- a short and enjoyable cruise into the sea from where could see the unforgettable and beautiful sight of dolphins in the natural habitat swimming and playing around. Plage Paradiso (Paradise Beach) in Pondicherry is just like what its name suggests a paradise beach in this part of the world. If you are a sun or a beach lover then Plage Paradiso (Paradise Beach) in Pondicherry is one place on this earth that you must come to. A trip to Pondicherry cannot be complete till you pay a visit to these magnificent and stunning beaches. Its cool waves and calm ambience looks forward to welcome and soothe your soul.
This multipurpose museum houses sculpture from Pallava, Chola and Vijaynagara temples. There are Budhha images from Pondicherry/Kirmampakkam and bronzes from the Chola, Vijaynagara and Nayaka periods, arms and weapons. The displayed terracota figures, shards of Arretine and Roulletted ware, amhorae, burial urns, glass beads have been excavated from the surrounding historic environment.Also on view are French period furniture, mirrors, lamps, paintings, porcelain, crockery and curtlery. There is a printing press dated 1820, old journals and books which were published at Pondicherry as well as weapons like guns, swords, spears, lances and cannons.
The Pondicherry museum housing some of the superb collections of sculpture is located in the Bharathi Park. This museum has an excellent gallery with sculptures and has the remains of archaeological findings from the Arikamedu Roman settlement. One can go through the history and legendary French colonial details in the section of the museum.
There is also a very good collection of snail shells brought from the Pondicherry region. Bronze sculptures of god and goddess, a wide gathering of temple lamps, handicrafts and art are also here. Some specimens of Chola and Pallava art from Pondicherry and Karaikal are dispalyed in the sculpture gallery.
One of the most popular beaches in Pondicherry is the Promenade Beach. The beach has a 1.5 km long road, known as Promenade, or the Beach road or Goubert Avenue, running parallel to it. This long stretch has several landmarks such as the War Memorial built by the French, the Statue of Joan of Arc, the Heritage Town hall, the Statue of Mahatma Gandhi, Dupleix statue, the Old Light House, remains of the old pier, and the Old Customs House, which speaks of the grandeur of a bygone era. Here one can relax or take a stroll at any time of the day. The entire city of Pondicherry is in walking distance from the Promenade Beach.
Started by two Australians, Padi Dive Centre has recently opened in Pondicherry. The idea is very new, as both diving and surfing appeared recently in the Bay of Bengal (south east coast), contrary to the west coast where you could find some of these activities. Goa beaches for instance. Opening a centre in Pondicherry was thus an original initiative!
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is actually the world's largest recreational diving membership and diver training organization. Founded in 1966, its corporate headquarters, PADI Worldwide, is located in California, United States of America. But the organization has spread and there are now more than 5000 dive centers and resorts in more than 180 countries and territories. Acknowledged by all diving amateurs, PADI offers various levels of instruction and issues approximately 900,000 certifications a year. The main core of activities is scuba diving, surfing and swimming. EFR courses (Emergency First Response) are also offered (www.emergencyfirstresponse.com ).
Coming from Australia to bring diving and surfing to India can appear as a weird idea. “Sea sports” are traditionally not met much fame in India, where people will prefer activities in which your feet can touch the ground (cricket, football or yoga for instance). However, with the progressive emergence of what is called in Western countries a “leisure society”, these new wave activities are likely to become more and more popular among wealthy circles. According to Rob, one of the owners of Padi Scuba Diving Pondicherry, an evolution in customer profiles is now emerging: previously the centre was mostly dominated by European tourists, it is now welcoming more “locals”. A greater number of Indians are coming from big cities such as Chennai or Bangalore to spend a week-end in Pondicherry where time is “given a break”, and will try surfing or diving on this occasion.
Finally, if the ocean bottom is not yet The Dream for Indian masses, let's remember that India is circled by three oceans : the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal (east coast) and the Arabic Sea (West coast), which means that the country is not in the poorest condition in terms of sea sports. And spots such as Kerala or Goa have already started making themselves a golden name for beaches, diving and surfing...
Serenity, Pondicherry has been attracting scores of tourists for its idyllic beauty. The beautiful town of Pondicherry has an exotic beach known as Serenity Beach. This virgin beach is located just a ten-minute drive from the north of the city. The virgin beach attracts huge crowds, which consists of local people and also tourists from far off places. One can come here to swim in the crystal blue waters or simply stroll on the golden sands and collect wide range of seashells on the shores. Come and enjoy an evening stroll on the soft sands and the lovely sight of the reflection of moon on the sea.
Serenity Beach in Pondicherry gives its visitors huge scope to indulge in various adventure spots like boating, canoeing, kayaking etc. You can try something new and play a round of beach volleyball with your friends and relatives. Serenity Beach is a perfect destination for sunbathing, swimming or enjoying the sight of arrival and retreating of waves against the sandy shore. The beach is bordered by the wooded line of palm trees.
Take a walk along the azure waters of the Serenity, Pondicherry would act as a medicine for your drained out mind and body and make you fresh and energetic as before. Apart from swimming you can also enjoy by taking a ride in a catamaran on the refreshing backwaters of the Bay of Bengal. On the beach you can even shop for articles made from seashells.
Sri Gokilambal Thriukameswara Temple is a famous place of worship of Hindus. Brahmostavam is a very popular festival celebrated in the temple. The festival is observed for ten days continuously and devotees from all over India come here to receive the blessings of the Lord. The well-known festival of Brahmotsavam is celebrated with the appearance of the full moon in between the months from May to June.
Sri Gokilambal Thriukameswara Temple is situated in a small town known as Villianur, 11 km away from Pondicherry city. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shiva in the form of Shivlinga. There are other temples, which are devoted to the Devi and Murugan and they were constructed during the 12th century Chola period.
The French influence is quite evident in the traditions associated with the temple. Sri Gokilambal Thriukameswara Temple organizes a Car Festival, which is linked to French heritage. In the festival a 15-meter tall chariot is pulled by the devotees who throng the streets of the town. During the rule of the French in Pondicherry, the Governor was an active participant of the procession and used to draw the huge magnificent chariot through the streets of the town. This tradition is still followed and the present Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry takes part in the festival and draws the chariot on the streets. Apart from this religious activity one can also enjoy the breath-taking view of the Ousteri Lake located nearby and spread over 10 hectares of land, which inhabits rare species of birds.
The Manakula Vinayagar Temple is one of the famous ancient temple is in Puducherry, a Union Territory situated in the southern part of Indian sub-continent. The temple is 400 meters West of Bay of Bengal Sea, 165 Km South of Chennai (Capital of Tamil Nadu State), 23 Km of North of Cuddalore and 35 Km East of Villupuram, TamilNadu. The main deity “Sri Manakula Vinayagar” (Pranavamurthy) of this temple is facing east and the temple is bordered on east by Orlean Street (Now Manakula Vinayagar Koil Street, south by Jawaharlal Nehru Street, north by Law-de-Louristhon street and west by a canal running north-south.
Prior to French regime, the temple is now was called weaver’s street and was renamed as Orlean street by them. This place was also part of the town where French and white people lived. They made every effort to remove the deity from this place and went even to extend of throwing the deity in sea and every time he came back to the same place, where the temple is now. Later the temple was built near the Bay of Bengal shores as per the Ganapathy Agamam and was named Bhuvanesa Vinayagar Temple.
The golden chariot was made purely on the basis of collection of donations from the devotees. The total weight of the gold used in this chariot is 7.5kg with the estimate of around Rs.35 lakhs. The height & breadth of the chariot is 10ft & 6ft. The chariot was fully made up in teakwood covered by copper plates duly engraved with beautiful art works and the plates duly attached with golden rakes. At first the running of the said Golden Chariot was held on 05-10-2003 in a grand manner. At present most of the devotees are very much interested to fulfill their prayer by pulling the Golden chariot inside the temple on payment of fixed fees. Once in year i.e. on Vijayadhasami day the said Golden Chariot run outside of the temple i.e. only in the maada veedhis.
Above the Moolavar deity (Sanctum), the existing Vimana was fully covered with golden plate by using the gold of lOKg weight, which was made on the basis of donations from the devotees. The first Maha kumbabishegam with golden vimana was held on 24-01-1999. In the Vimana, the circular plane in between the roof and the sigaram were laid with various Vinayagar posture embossed in gold plate which is a feast to devotees' eyes.
Pondicherry is a popular pilgrimage center of India with numerous places of worship of different religions. The Varadaraja Temple in Pondicherry is a well-known Vaishnavite temple. In the temple Lord Narasimha is placed behind Venkatachalapathy, the principal deity. Some of the other famous temples of the region are Ammaiyar Temple, Anandamangalam (Hanuman temple), Thirumarugal, Navagiraga temples, Thiruchengattangudi, Thirunallur Temple, Thirukkannapuram, Thanjai Brahadeeswarar Temple Thirupugazhur.
The architecture of Varadaraja Temple is quite similar to the Vedapureswarar Temple. Lord Vishnu as Varadaraja Perumal and Goddess Lakshmi as Thayar are worshiped in this temple. The temple is situated beside Vedapureswarar Temple and is managed and administered by the same trust. The temple is open to the devotees offering prayers from 6 am to 12.00 in the noon and from 4.00pm to 9.30 pm. It is one of the oldest temples in the town that was built during 12th century. Huge number of devotees of Lord Vishnu visits the temple to receive the blessings of God.
Varadaraja Temple is situated on the west of Gandhi Road, which is off Tyagraja Street. The architecture of the temple reflects the influence of Dravidian style. It has a gopuram that is decorated with bright colors and has a number of beautifully carved pillars.