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Indian Subcontinent >> India >> Puducherry >> History of Puducherry

History of Puducherry

Little is known about the early history of Pondicherry prior to its settlement by foreigners - though the influence of the major South Indian kingdoms of the Cholas, Pandavas and Vijayanagar is self evident in the architecture of that period. The region’s long history of interaction with foreigners began with the Roman Empire. The cornerstone of trade with the Romans lay in the port city of Arekmedu - from where galleys laden with silk, spices, birds, animals, silver and precious stones left for Roman shores.

The Portuguese were the first to arrive in Pondicherry in the 16th century followed soon after by the Danes and the French. The arrival of the French in 1673 started the transformation of Pondicherry from a small fishing village to the bastion of French rule in India and the epicentre of Indo- French trade. Though the Dutch captured Pondicherry from the French in 1693, the French regained control of the region under the Treaty of Ryswick in 1699. In 1706 Pondicherry had a population of 40,000 while the English town of Calcutta had barely 22,000.

By the first decade of the 18th century, Pondicherry had grown into a thriving city with a population of 40,000. The French East India Company suffered financial losses and was forced to abandon its settlements in Surat, Masulipatnam and Bantum. As such, Pondicherry became the nerve centre for the French who concentrated on giving it a rich French character.

The British in India took advantage of the decline of the French power and gained control of Pondicherry in the 1760s - they destroyed the fort and most of the French Quarter but were forced to cede the territory back to France. But by early 19th century, the British were firmly in control of most of the Indian subcontinent and little French enclaves like Pondicherry became inconsequential to the bigger picture.

Pondicherry returned to the Indian Union in November 1954 when the French relinquished control. It was granted the status of Union Territory inclusive of former French settlements of Karaikal, Mahé and Yanam.

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