Pondicherry Heritage Festival 2021 aims to revive its streets and their 'thinnai' culture
What started as a movement to conserve Pondicherry’s age-old traditions by the People for Pondicherry’s Heritage (PPH) has now led to a yearly festival of cultural celebration. Pondicherry Heritage Festival 2021 is back on January 22 until February 21, with the theme ‘The Talking Streets of Pondicherry: Preserving our Cultural Heritage’.
The seventh edition, organized by PPH, INTACH and PondyCan, is set to bring together a mix of online and offline events that revive the nature of street life. “Pondicherry was on a pilgrimage route in the old times. Travellers would rest and refresh themselves on thinnais (porticos) of houses before leaving. The streets were alive with kids playing and women chatting. Today, the life of those streets has been taken away from the streets, and the thinnais are gone,” says Sunaina Mandeen, an organizer. She adds, “So, the theme highlights this architecture and these beautiful moments.”
Made in Pondy
Another hallmark of the Pondicherry Heritage Festival is the ‘Made in Pondy’ event that hosts 41 stores that sell products made in Pondicherry. The list includes bookstores, boutiques, art stores and food joints, and is a showcase of creative entrepreneurship at its finest.
Adding to the list, this year, there has been an addition of locations that sell only fair trade products, like the Kriti Boutique. “We find that there is a link between fair trade and Pondicherry because that’s what Pondicherry aims to become since it was an ancient trading port,” said Mandeen.
While ‘Made in Pondy’ was usually organized under one roof, this year’s edition would see participants exploring numerous locations as they visit the outlets where they are located. Previously, one of the main restrictions was the sale of unpackaged food inside the previous venue of Craft Bazaar. “People exploring Pondicherry and going to these outlets is more interesting now because there are people making gelato, smoothies and jams. These people can be a part of it, too,” said Mandeen.
She also hinted that there might be small events hosted by these outlets the following year when COVID-19 restrictions may be fewer.
Several events have gone online, including a virtual exploration of the streets of Pondicherry through the eyes of residents. This walkthrough gives us an insight into the neighbourhoods of the French boulevard town.
Another online event is a conference by Prof. Saswat Bandhopadhyay about Ahmedabad’s UNESCO heritage site nomination in 2017. The conference will be exploring heritage conservation and will see participation from government officials and experts across the country. An online discussion titled ‘Thinnai Transpositions: When an architectural element became a virtual platform’ explores the idea of the ‘thinnai’ in Tamil architecture as a place of virtual interaction.
Walks, Exhibitions and Workshops
Walks and bicycle rides are also part of the festival’s mix of events.
Additionally, in recognition of the World Wetlands Day on February 2, an online photo exhibition of local wetlands will be held.
A full-day hands-on workshop will also be conducted specifically for civil engineering students. This workshop will tune into the ancient practices of indigenous engineering and will help increase awareness of Indian building practices, according to Mandeen.
Another event, a photo-walk, will explore the fishing villages of Kuruchipakkam-Vaithikuppam along the beachfront.
Furthermore, on February 20, starting from Ashram Post Office, a bio-regional tour to explore Auroville and Pondicherry’s landscapes including rock carvings about 4,000 years old, mangroves and backwaters, and the remains of the Buckingham Canal, will also take place.
Besides this, the third edition of the Local Food Systems Workshop, 2021 will shed light on food sovereignty and local food systems.