Puducherry as palimpsest: post/colonial memories of Indo-French engagements and legacies in the urban landscape

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Puducherry, the former capital of French India, has seen an intensive heritage tourism development since the 1990s. The urban landscape of the city, with its mix of Tamil and French architecture, as well as several institutions that have grown out of India’s historic engagement with France, has increasingly come to be presented as a quintessentially Indo-French heritage which lends Puducherry a distinct identity that sets it apart from other Indian cities. The historic engagement with France is predominantly remembered in a positive light in the social memory of contemporary Puducherry, and is represented as such officially; yet at the same time there are also competing discourses on the nature and impact of French colonialism and its legacies. Taking the urban landscape of Puducherry as a post/colonial palimpsest which expresses competing memories and legacies surrounding key features of the city, this chapter investigates how conceptions of post/colonial relations play out in a city where the colonial heritage and its impacts very much takes centre stage in contemporary development. Three examples are analysed to show how different sites of both overt and submerged memory in the urban landscape reference intersecting colonial, precolonial and postcolonial histories and their complex valuations. First the chapter discusses the widespread memorial traces of Governor-general Joseph François Dupleix, who came close to creating a French Empire in India the mid-18th century; second the Manakula Vinayagar Temple, the sole Hindu temple in Puducherry’s ‘White Town’ where the European population resided during French rule; and third the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, an enduring legacy of Puducherry’s historic role as a refuge for Indian nationalists pursued by the British. The analysis shows how post/colonial heritage and memory in Puducherry is far from clear cut; indeed it is the city’s very ambiguities that convey how the historical experience of its residents continues to leave its imprint on local social life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFour Cities
Subtitle of host publicationPoints of Encounter between India and Europe
EditorsNandini Das, Supriya Chaudhuri
Place of PublicationKolkata
PublisherJadavpur University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 19 Jan 2022

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Not yet published as of 10/05/2024.


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