The union territory of Puducherry consists of four small unconnected districts: Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and Mahé on the Arabian Sea. Pondicherry and Karaikal are the largest sections in terms of territory and population, both being 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 293 km², Karaikal 160 km², Mahé 9 km² and Yanam 30 km². It has a total population of 1,244,464 inhabitants (2011).
Some of those enclaves are themselves amalgamations of non-contiguous enclaves, often called pockets in India. The Pondicherry district is made of 11 such pockets, some of which are very small and entirely surrounded by the territory of Tamil Nadu. The Mahé district is made up of three pockets. This unusual geography is a legacy of the colonial period with Puducherry retaining the borders of former French India.
All four districts of Puducherry are located in the coastal region. So some rivers drain into sea in Puducherry and none of them originates within the territory. Five rivers in Pondicherry district, seven in Karaikal, two in Mahé and one in Yanam drain into the sea.
The earliest recorded history of Puducherry can be traced back to the 2nd century. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, of the early 2nd century, mentions a marketplace named Poduke (ch. 60), which G.W.B. Huntingford identified as possibly being Arikamedu (now part of Ariyankuppam), about 2 miles from the modern Pondicherry. Huntingford further notes that Roman pottery was found at Arikamedu in 1937, and archeological excavations between 1944 and 1949 showed that it was “a trading station to which goods of Roman manufacture were imported during the first half of the 1st century AD
The city of Pondicherry was designed based on the French grid pattern and features neat sectors and perpendicular streets. The town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or ‘White town’) and the Indian quarter (Ville Noire or ‘Black Town’.) Many streets still retain their French names, and French style villas are a common sight. In the French quarter, the buildings are typicallycolonial style with long compounds and stately walls. The Indian quarter consists of houses lined with verandas and houses with large doors and grills. These French and Indian style houses are identified and their architecture is preserved from destruction by an organization named INTACH. The use of the French language can still be seen and heard in Pondicherry. Puducherry still has a large number of Indian and a small number of non-Indian descent residents with French passports. These are descendants of those who chose to remain French when the then-ruling French establishment presented the people of Puducherry with an option to either remain French or become Indians at the time of Puducherry’s transfer to India in 1954.
Apart from the monuments pertaining to the French period, there is the French Consulate in Puducherry and several cultural organisations. Another important one is Le Foyer du Soldat legion hall for soldiers who served in French wars.
Of the cultural organisations the French Institute of Pondicherry, the Puducherry Centre of the École française d’Extrême-Orient and a branch of the Alliance Française are noteworthy. A French-medium school system, the Lycée Français de Pondichéry, continues to operate under the aegis of the French Minister of National Education.
Official languages of government
The official languages of Puducherry are Tamil (89%), Malayalam (4.8%), Telugu (2.9% Yanam) and French (1%). The status of each language varies by district. When communicating between districts of different languages, generally English is used for convenience.
• Tamil is used by the Puducherry government, especially used when communicating within and between the Tamil majority districts (Pondicherry and Karaikal) along with issuing official decrees. Telugu is widely spoken in Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam districts. Malayalam is spoken in Mahé and Pondicherry districts.
• French is also an official language of the territory. It was the official language of French India from 1673 until 1954), and its official status was preserved by the Treaty of Cession signed by the Indian Union and the French Republic on 28 May 1956.
French remained as the de jure official language of Puducherry U.T by the Article XXVIII of the Treaty of Cession, which states that: “The French language shall remain the official language of the Establishments so long as the elected representatives of the people shall not decide otherwise” [English version]
Regional official languages
• Tamil : An official language of Puducherry. It is the most widely spoken language in the territory. Puducherry, being a neighbour of Tamil Nadu, shares much of its culture.
• French : As Puducherry was once a colonial enclave of France, French remains an official language in the districts of Pondicherry and Karaikal.
• Telugu : An official language of Puducherry, but used more within Yanam (Andhra region). So, more correctly, it is considered a regional official language of Puducherry while being the official language of Yanam District.
• Malayalam : An official language of Puducherry used only in Mahé (Kerala region). More correctly, it is considered a regional official language of Puducherry while being the official language of Mahé District.