Here's what to expect as Pondicherry Heritage Festival is back with its fifth edition

Offering everything from tours to food trails, the Pondicherry Heritage Festival is back with its fifth edition

Fathima Ashraf Published :  25th January 2019 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  25th January 2019 06:00 AM

French Institute of Pondicherry

Back in 2014, the unexpected collapse of the iconic Marie Building (built in 1870) in Pondicherry led to a movement that came out of the realisation that the culture and heritage structures of the city needed to be preserved. People for Pondicherry’s Heritage(PPH), a collective, was formed almost immediately, which not just gathered people to participate in candle-lit tributes at the collapsed building, but also conceived the idea to hold an annual heritage festival — in order to draw attention to the need to conserve Pondicherry’s architectural legacy.

Organised by PPH, along with INTACH and PondyCAN, the fifth edition of the festival is a confluence of art, architecture, culture, history, nature and spirituality. “The emphasis for this year’s festival is Pondicherry’s splendid natural heritage, including its coast and wetlands,” says Sunaina Mandeen, one of the organisers of the festival. “We are trying to highlight the heritage in all its aspects so that  people here recognise the beauty of their own heritage and care for it. If they aren’t aware of it, they won’t care about preserving it for the future generations,” she adds. While this edition of the festival will  celebrate the completion of the first phase of Pondicherry’s beach restoration initiatives and the community effort to refurbish the tank systems in Bahour, the 16-day festival, starting this Sunday, also promises performing arts, food trails and open house tours.

A street in Pondicherry

All that grace
Back at the festival for the third year in a row, classical dancer and choreographer Anita Ratnam will present her neo-bharatanatyam piece, titled Ma3Ka. An expression of goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Meenakshi, the performance will feature Vedic hymns, songs and references to contemporary mythology and a lot more. Expect to be enthralled by Pondicherry-based dance school, Redfeet Dancestudio, who will present the spiritual poetic heritage of India, by featuring seventh century Sanskrit slokas, songs and poems by Meera Bai and Rabindranath Tagore, among many others. Performances by Odissi dancers Aneesh Raghavan and Unmukta Sinha based on the nine aesthetic emotions of Indian art, are also in order.

Anita Ratnam

Street play
Welcoming kids to come play on the streets of Pondicherry, another unique initiative at the festival this time is an activity called Reclaiming the Streets. “Earlier, the streets were used by the kids to play and perform activities before it became impossible due to traffic and parked vehicles. Therefore, as a part of the festival, we are blocking a section of the Eeswaran Koil street to let children come and use the space as they wish,” shares Sunaina. The area will be made traffic-free from 10 am to 1 pm (on February 10), in an attempt to transform the street in the heart of the city, into a clean and safe place for social activities.

Route to happiness
One of the latest additions to the festival is the culinary trail featuring Pondicherry’s iconic food joints that are lesser known to most travellers. “The idea is to map together food spots where most of the tourists have not been. Those places are not on Google Maps or anywhere. But these are places that we as Pondicherrians loved while growing up,” says Twinkle Gupta, the organiser of the food trail. From Rolex in Anna Salai, Paris Restaurant in HM Kassim Salai, Bhai Mutton Soup and Samosa and Murugan Cafe, the food trail features over 10 iconic food joints. 

Street food

Events galore
Guided tours, community walks, and performing arts aside, three photography exhibitions will also be held as a part of the festival, based on the topics — Wetlands of Puducherry, Pondicherry’s Built Heritage and Streetscapes and Sacred Groves of Aiyanar. Like in the previous editions, the festival will once again bring together the finest products and handicrafts made by local artisans in a session called Made in Pondy (February 1). Celebrating World Wetlands Day on February 2, a guided tour to the region’s largest water body, the Oussudu Lake (also a habitat for migratory birds) will also be organised. (Registration at `150). Apart from these, there are also open house tours by Lycee Français de Pondichéry and Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient. 

Streets of Pondicherry

Look up the past
Titled Beyond the Boulevards, a short biography on Pondicherry, written by New Delhi-based author Aditi Sriram, will be launched as part of the festival (on February 6). A part of the series of biographies on Indian cities, the book that features the history, personality and aspirations of Pondicherry, consists of what the author believes to be the biography of that place. “Even though I wasn’t born and raised in Pondicherry, my father and grandparents were. They have roots here and I have been exploring that for the past few years. For the book, I have spoken to the locals of the city. To different people in different professions, the place can mean different things. For some, being local means being an ashramite in Auroville, whereas for some others it means owning a business in the city. The book features what the place means for them all,” says Aditi, who will also be reading from her portrait of Pondicherry.

January 27 to February 11. Check the schedule on their website.  
—Fathima Ashraf