Pondicherry Geography and History

Pondicherry Geography and History provide comprehensive information about the glorious past coupled with the bio-diversity of the area. Spread over an area of four seventy nine square kilometers, the Union Territory of Pondicherry boasts of a rich cultural ancestry, traditional legacy and religious antecedent of the region.

Pondicherry History

Pondicherry has been the cradle of many civilizations of the ancient past. The history of Pondicherry can be divided into three distinct sections of ancient history, medieval history and modern history. According to the written documents, during the ancient period, Pondicherry was under the dominance of the mighty rulers of the Pallava dynasty.

The medieval history of Pondicherry comprises of the ruling periods of the famous Kings of the Chola and Pandyas dynasty. Pondicherry has also experienced the Muslim and Hindu rule under the mighty Muslim rulers and the Hindu rulers of the Vijaynagar Kingdom.

The modern history of Pondicherry began with the Sultans of Bijapur. However, the most important phase of the various historical legacies of Pondicherry started with the establishment of the French colony. One can still see rich resemblance to the glorious French dominance in the various architecture, social customs and cultural traditions of the local indigenous population of the region. Pondicherry was later occupied by other colonial rulers of Portuguese, Dutch, Danes and English who played a major role in shaping the social, political, economic and political history of the Union Territory.

Ancient History of Pondicherry

Delving into the pages of the ancient history of Pondicherry reveals that the region was a well developed commercial and trading center even before the development of the other major cities and towns of India. Archaeological excavations of the region show that Pondicherry has witnessed the rise and fall of several dynasties that has contributed to the rich and distinct history of the union territory of Pondicherry.

The historical excavations conducted in the region of Arikamedu that lies at a distance of 7 kilometers in the south of the town reveal that the region has successfully developed trading relations with the Roman empire through the sea. The region was then one of the most popular and flourishing maritime centers of the country. The town had developed trading relations with the Romans as early as the 1st century. The roman manuscripts mention the emerging trading center of Poduca or Poduke along the eastern coast line of India. The historians believe that the trading center referred to is Pondicherry.

The reign of the region of Pondicherry came under the Pallava Kingdom in the fourth century. The region flourished under the reign of the Pallavas. Evidence of a strong academic background lies in the reference of the Sanskrit University mentioned in the Bahur Plates. Inscriptions on the Vedhapuriswara Temple suggest that the powerful sage Agastya had established his ashram in the region of Pondicherry.

The ancient history of Pondicherry ends with the beginning of the medieval era that witnessed the rise and growth of several empires in the region.

Medieval History of Pondicherry

The medieval history of Pondicherry is witness to the rise and fall of several royal dynasties. The Pallavas ruled the region of South India that included the territory of Pondicherry from the fourth century to the beginning of the tenth century. The Pallavas had an encompassing influence on the region and was in constant conflict with the Cholas and the Pandyas who followed them in the reign of the region.

The first dynasty to set up their empire in the Deccan region of India in the medieval age were the Chola dynasty. The Cholas of Tanjavur faced several encounters with the Pallava dynasty. The reign of the region of Pondicherry changed hands from the Cholas to the Pandyas in the thirteenth century. The Pandyas ruled from the Madurai till the end of the fifteenth century. The territory of Pondicherry fell under the influence of the Pandyas along with the rest of South India. The medieval period of Pondicherry saw the rule of the Muslim emperors for a brief period of time. The Muslim rule spread its pervasive powers from the north to the south of India and established its administrative center in the city of Madurai. After the decline of the powers of the Muslim emperors, the rule of the region of Pondichery and the rest of South India came under the Vijayanagar Empire. The rule of the empire lasted till the 17th century after which the power of the region was forfeited by the Sultan of Bijapur.

The medieval history of Pondicherry saw the upheaval and downfall of a number of empires that influenced the socio-economic conditions of the territory.

Modern History of Pondicherry

The modern history of Pondicherry begins with the reign of the Sultan of Bijapur who acceded the throne after the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire that came to an end in the year 1638. The influence of the foreign countries gained prominence in Pondicherry from the beginning of the 16th century.

The territory of Pondicherry has enjoyed and participated in the maritime activities for a long time. Realizing the potential of the territory that is placed by the east coast of India, the Portuguese, Danes, Dutch and the English arrived in Pondicherry and set up their colonies in the region.

The presence of the foreign countries benefited the commerce and economy of the region of Pondicherry. The Portuguese were the first to set up a factory in the region in the beginning of the 16th century. The Danes and the Dutch followed the Portuguese and established their trading centers in Poto Novo and Cuddalore. The rulers of Gingee were influential in deciding the presence of the foreign countries in Pondicherry. Losing the confidence of the rulers, the Portuguese had to abort the trade in Pondicherry. The French were, on the contrary, invited by the rulers to establish their trade in the region.

The architecture of the region flourished under the influence of the foreign countries in Pondicherry who constructed churches and forts that still stands in South India as evidence of the influence of the foreign countries in the region. The strife to control the region continued to shape the modern history of Pondicherry till the region gained independence and became a union territory of India in the year 1954.

Chola Dynasty

The rule of the territory of Pondicherry came under the influence of the Chola dynasty in the tenth century. The Cholas established their rule in the region after defeating the last king of the Pallava dynasty. The powerful Cholas defeated the Pallavas who ruled the Deccan region of South India from the fourth to the beginning of the tenth century.

The kingdom of the Chola dynasty in the medieval period extended from the city of Nellore to Pudukottai along the coromandel coast in the east of India. The Chola dynasty rose to power under the rule of the King Aditya I. The empire of the Cholas were constantly under the threat from the Pandya dynasty that was an emerging power in South India. The son of Aditya I, Parantaka, was able to sentence the Pandya king to exile after his invasion of Ceylon and Mathura. The power of the Chola dynasty grew under the kingship of Rajaraja who ruled from 985 to 1014 A.D. The aggressive policies of the king won him several empires that fell under his power after their conquests. The empire fought several fierce battles with the Chalukyas and the king Rajadhiraja was killed in the brave battle with the Chalukyas in 1052. The decline of the Chola dynasty started in the 13th century. The Vijayanagar empire superseded the power of the Cholas in South India but the reign of the region of Pondicherry fell under the Pandya dynasty.

The Cholas are an important dynasty in the medieval history of Pondicherry that controlled and shaped the socio economic conditions of the territory.


The rule of the territory of Pondicherry was usurped by the Pandyas from the Cholas in the thirteenth century. The Chola kings ruled the region of South India from the ninth century to the thirteenth century.

The Pandyas had encountered the Cholas on several occasions and were finally able to supersede the dynasty and occupy the pivotal position in the rule of South India in the thirteenth century. The study of the kingdom of the Pandyas is important in the study of the medieval history of Pondicherry.

The Pandyas had been a pervasive power in the Deccan region of South India from the seventh century itself. The rule is said to have been founded by the king Kandungori. The early days of the rule of the Pandyas saw conflicts with the kingdom of the Pallavas. The Pandya king, Arikesri, defeated the Pallavas in a fierce battle in the eighth century. Forming an alliance with the Cholas, the Pandyas defeated the Pallavas. However, the Cholas asserted supremacy and assumed power over the region. The Pandyas gained supremacy in the south in the thirteenth century under the rule of Jalavarman Sundara Pandya. An internal strife broke between the princes of the Pandya Kingdom to gain power. The kingdom lacked the rule of a powerful monarch leading to the decline of the Pandya rule in the region. Utilizing the opportunity of the internal strife among the rulers, the Muslim rulers of the north plundered the regions of the south.

The Pandyas were absorbed into the domain of the Vijayanagar empire that assumed power in the 16th century. With the rise of the Vijayanagar empire, the rule of the Pandyas came to an end.

French Rule

The French rule in Pondicherry started in the 17th century when the French officer, Bellanger set up his residence in the Danish Lodge in the region of Pondicherry. The French had been invited to start trading units in Pondicherry by the ruler of Gingee. The invitation was forwarded to raise competition in trade between the French and the Dutch who had already settled in the region and set up their business unit.

The first governor of Pondicherry was Francois Martin who assumed office in the year 1674. The efforts of the governor converted Pondicherry into an emerging port town from a small fishing village. The Dutch occupied the territory of Pondicherry in the year 1693 and fortressed the territory. The reign of the region returned to the French in the year 1699 after the countries Holland and France signed an alliance.

Pondicherry became a part of the conflicts between the French and the English. The ambitious plans of the Governor Dupleix were ruined with the arrival of the English governor Lord Robert Clive. Attempts to regain Pondicherry was made by the French under the command of Lally Tollendal but in vain. The British captured the region in 1760. The plunders of the British army led to the devastation of Pondicherry. After a peace treaty is signed between the English and the French in 1765, the territory of Pondicherry is returned to the French. It was in 1816 that the French gained supremacy over Pondicherry.

The French rule in Pondicherry lasted till 1954 when the territory acceded to the Union of India.

Portuguese, Dutch, Danes & English

The Portuguese, Dutch, Danes & English found it propitious to indulge in trade and commerce in the coastal territory of Pondicherry. The region had indulged in maritime activities since a long time. The strategic location of the region also facilitated the foreign countries in commerce. The presence of the European countries in Pondicherry had far reaching consequences.

The Portuguese were the first to settle in Pondicherry. In the beginning of the sixteenth century the Portuguese established a factory in Pondicherry which was later abandoned after a century. The Portuguese lost the confidence of the ruler of Gingee who compelled them to evacuate the region. The Danes and the Dutch followed the Portuguese and established trading centers in the regions of Porto Novo and Cuddalore. However, the impact of the Portuguese, Danes and the Dutch were not as lasting as the influence of the English and the French in the territory of Pondicherry.

The French were invited by the ruler of Gingee to compete with the Dutch and establish their trade in Pondicherry. The French in Pondicherry were in constant conflict with the English who prevented the French from expanding their territory. The reign over the region of Pondicherry was moved between the French and the English till 1816 when the French gained complete supremacy over the territory of Pondichery. The region gained independence in 1954 when it was acceded to the Union of India.

The presence of the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes & English played an important role in shaping the modern history of Pondicherry and led to the growth of commerce, trade, infrastructure and education in the region of Pondicherry.

Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram

The Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram had an encompassing influence on the region of Pondicherry which came under the rule of the Pallava dynasty in the fourth century. The Pallavas were a powerful kingdom that spread its domain over almost the whole region of south India and became an important part of the ancient history of Pondicherry. Most parts of the state of Tamil Nadu came under the influence of the Pallavas. The region of Pondicherry flourished in art and architecture, culture and economy under the influence and powerful reign of Pallavas.

The Pallavas first set their capital at Kanchipuram which became a seat of learning and exponent of the architectural style of the Pallava dynasty. The rule of the Pallavas began in the fourth century. The Pallavas were devoted followers of the Vedic religion and constructed several temples in the Deccan region of India. Stone and rock cut temples of the region were constructed under the patronage of the Pallava kings.

The pilasters, moldings and mandapas are the chief architectural features of the temples patronized by the Pallava kings. The oldest temple of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple located at the M.G Road of Pondicherry is an archetype of the style of architecture prevalent during the rule of the Pallavas. The stone columns of the temple are sculptured and bear the motifs carved on stone. The gopuram of the temple are also representative of the style of the Pallava age.

Other than the architecture of the region, the Pallavas of Kanchipuram influenced the trade and commerce of the region that flourished under their patronage. The Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram administered the region for more than two centuries.

Vijaynagar Empire

The advance of the plundering Muslim rulers in the south was prevented by the rise of the Vijaynagar Empire in the Deccan region of India that included the territory of Pondicherry. The rule of the Vijaynagar Empire lasted in the south for around three centuries. The territory witnessed the growth in the art and culture that flourished under the patronage of the rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire.

The Vijaynagar Empire was founded on the south bank of the River Tungabhadrra. The Hindu empire was founded by the two brothers Harihara and Bukka. The powerful kings of the Vijaynagar Empire conquered most of the regions of South India that included the territories of Mysore, Trichinopally, Kanara, Pondicherry, Chingalpet and Kanchivaram. The rulers were strict worshipers of the Hindu Gods and Goddess but was also tolerant towards the other religions.

The Vijaynagar Empire gained prominence under the rule of the King Krishanadev Raya. The king was an honorable statesman and a fearsome conquerer. It was under his rule that the Muslim influence in the south came to an end with the defeat of Ismial Adil Shah.

The rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire were great patrons of art and culture and the region influenced a development in the streams of music, literature and architecture. There were many temples built in the territories of the south that are representative of style of Vijaynagar Empire. The economy of the region flourished and several coins were introduced during the reign of the rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire. The empire ended in the year 1638 with the rise of the Sultan of Bijapur. The empire is an important part of the medieval history of Pondicherry.

Pondicherry Geography

Situated at a distance of one hundred and sixty two kilometers to the south of Chennai, the Union Territory of Pondicherry holds a population of nine lakh seventy three thousand eight hundred and twenty nine. Blessed with a salubrious climate, Pondicherry is suitable to grow many agricultural crops of paddy, coconut, pulses, and groundnut. Agriculture is one of the important sources of generating income for the local indigenous population of Pondicherry.

The River Godavari flows through Pondicherry and makes the area fertile to grow good quality agricultural crops.

Pondicherry Agriculture

Agriculture is one of the main occupation of the people of the Union territory of Pondicherry. Paddy, form a major crop of Pondicherry agriculture. Some of the other crops grown in the region are condiments, chillies, spices, pulses, coconuts, groundnut and arcanuts. During 200-01, rice was cultivated on 27,972 hectares of land.

Modernization in agriculture sector with the introduction of new and uniform crops in the fields has adversely affected the diversity of local varieties of crops. This has led to very severe undesirable ecological effects. Several varieties of paddy such as Vaigunda, Seeraga samba and Kuthiraival samba are on the verge of extinction due to these unhealthy practices. If these varieties are conserved, it will help in the positive growth of Pondicherry agriculture in many ways.

About 45 % of the total population of Pondicherry is engaged in agriculture and other related pursuits. The irrigation facility of the Union Territory is very developed as 90 % of the cultivated area is irrigated. Pondicherry is mainly irrigated through tanks and tube wells. There are 84 tanks in the region which helps to irrigate 6,765 hectares of land with a capacity of holding 46.4 mcm of water.

Pondicherry agriculture is facing certain setbacks due to the regular use of chemical fertilizers resulting in the depletion of soil nutrient and also inhibiting the natural growth of micro-organisms. The Department of Agriculture has been taking certain initiatives to solve these problems.

The crops grown in the Karaikal district are pulses, coconuts, cotton, chilies, vegetables, sun flower and ground nuts etc. The district of Mahe is covered by typical red lateriate soil. Yanam district grows ragi, paddy, fenugreek, jowar, pulses,coconut, coriander, etc.

Area of Pondicherry

Area of Pondicherry is fascinating because of its exquisite beauty. The Union territory of Pondicherry covers an area of 480 sq km. The Union territory spread over four regions with enjoys the status of a district: Mahe (Kerala), Pondicherry (Tamil Nadu), Yanam (Andhra Pradesh) and Karaikal (Tamil Nadu).

The district of Pondicherry is located nearly 180 km south of Chennai, on the east coast. Karaikal lies on the east coast, nearly 150 km south of Pondicherry, Yanam district is situated on the east coast and Mahe district is located on the Malabar coast on the Western Ghats.

The Pondicherry area is almost plain. The climate of the Union Territorry is typically tropical. Pondicherry and its territories are located on the drainage basin of river Gingee. The district of Karaikal lies in one of the most fertile delta of India namely Cauvery delta and it is flooded by rivers like the Nulur, the Vanjiar the Arasalar and the Natter. The Mahe town is bounded by Mahe river on its north. The town of Yanam is flooded by the Gorinagar. The total population of Pondicherry is 9,73,829 comprising of 4,86,705 males and 4,87,124 females. In Pondicherry 1005 of the land is utilized in various activities like agriculture , industrial purposes and other socio economic activities. The net sown area in the region are 25 hectares which is 51.02% of the total land.

An important characteristic of the Union Territory is that the area of Pondicherry is devoid of any forest area.

Pondicherry climate

The Union Territory of Pondicherry located in the southern part of India was a colony of France. Since it is situated very close to the sea, the climate is warm and humid.Pondicherry climate is warm throughout the year. Throughout the year, the Union Territory of Pondicherry enjoys pleasant climate. During the summer season the temperatures may rise to a high of 38 degrees. The temperature is not as extreme as the desert climate.

Pondicherry experiences hot and humid climate for the maximum part of the year, with temperatures varying between 26° C and 38° C. The summer season is mostly dry with a clear and blue sky. The summer season extends from March till July, and the temperature varies between 24.50° C to 38° C. For tourists the ideal time to visit Pondicherry is between the months of March and October.

The winter season in Pondicherry starts in the month of November and is effected by the northeast monsoon. The monsoon showers cool the days and nights. The monsoon showers on the west coast of the land makes the weather pleasant in the months of July-August. The winters are cool compared to the summers but the temperature never falls below 20 degrees.

The monsoon season in Pondicherry is very small compared to other parts f India. The region receives good rainfall during the months from November to January and from July to September. The percentage of humidity is very high in Pondicherry, which is very common in coastal areas. The high level of humidity makes the summer season uncomfortable.

Location of Pondicherry

The location of Pondicherry makes it a perfect destination for tourists from all over India. It encompasses a total area of 480sq.km. The geographical location of Pondicherry is between 11°56' North Latitude 79°50' East Longitude. The total population of the Union Territory is 9,73,829, of which 4,86,705 are males and 4,87,124 are females.

Three hundred years ago Pondicherry was a colony of France and constituted of the four establishments of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam. The Union Territory of Pondicherry of India still follows the same division into four districts.

The district of Yanam lies where the river Coringa bifurcates from Godavari and is surrounded on all the sides by the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. It is spread an area of 30 sq km and has the total population of 20297 as per the 1991 census.

  • Mahe covers an area of 9 sq km with a total population of 33447 as per 1991 census. It is located on the south of River Mahe where it falls into the Arabian Sea and on the northern part of Kozhikode district in Kerala.

  • Pondicherry covers an area of 293 sq kms and is surrounded on the east by the Bay of Bengal and on the south by South Arcot district. As per 1991 census, the total population is 6,08,338.

  • Karaikal is located 16 km. North of Nagapattinam and from Tarangambadi (Tranquibar) 9 km south. On the east of Karaikal lies Bay of Bengal. It encompasses an area of 160 sq. km and has a population of 1,45,703 as per 1991 census.

Pondicherry Soil and Vegetation

Pondicherry soil and vegetation forms a vital part of the geography of the Union territory. The region of Pondicherry has various species which are as follows:

  • Acanthus ilicifolius
  • Rhizophora mucronata Suaeda monoica
  • Avicennia marina Clerodendrum inerme
  • Rhizophora apiculata Suaeda martima
  • Bruguiera cylindrica Pandanus tectorius
  • Avicennia officinalis Hisbiscus tiliaceaous
  • Excoecaria agallocha Sesuvium portulacastrum
The vegetation of Pondicherry comprises of various types of plants including woody plant group, hedge plants, ornamental plants, hydrophytes, halophytes etc. The district of Karaikal of Pondicherry has flat land with no mountains or forests. The maximum area of the land is covered by red ferrallite black clay and coastal alluvial soil types. The lush green natural beauty of the region owes immensely to the Pondicherry soil and vegetation. The soil of Pondicherry has formed from the herbaceous organic deposits with underlying sandy textured sediments. The crops that are commonly grown in the region are paddy, pulses, coconuts, cotton, chilies, vegetables, sun flower and ground nuts etc. The region is partially covered by tropical dry evergreen species like Pamburus missionsis, Lepisanthus tetraphylla, Diosypyros ebnum, Glycosmis pentaphylla, Atlantia monophylla.

Casuarina spp. and Eucalyptus spp. belong to the woody plant group that grows near the sea and are mostly cultivated for fire wood. Some of the herbs that grow on the sand are Gisekia pharnaceoides, Spinifex littoreus Ipomea pes-caprae and Bulbostylis barbata. Few varieties of road side trees are Azadirachta indica, Madhuca longifolia, Ficus religiosa, Samanea saman, Ficus glomerata, Peltophorum pterocarpum, Tamarindus indica, Delonix regia, Ficus benghalensis, Syzygium cumini, Thespesia populnea, Albizia lebbeck etc.

The Pondicherry Geography and History presents a wide and systematic coverage of the beautiful Union Territory of India.

Last Updated on 30 May 2013



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