(Last Updated on : 28-01-2009)
At a point of time in the past, India would have been a French Colony. After the decline of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire in 1565, South India became the hunting-ground of European adventurers. The enlightened Mughal Emperor Akbar - a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth -1 who gave a charter only for trading to the East India Company - also could not extend his expire to the whole of the south. Following the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the French adventurers started arriving in India.
Watching the English establish the East India Company, the French followed the same. The French formed a trading company and in 1668 established a factory in Surat. India was in a state of turmoil. Neither the Mughal emperor, nor the Marathas were able to establish their supremacy in the South..The Nayakas of Madurai (15th to early 18th century A.D.), formerly vassals of Vijayanagar who declared independence with the decline of Vijayanagar, failed to pay attention to the coastal areas and as a result the Portuguese, the Danes, the Dutch, the French and the English easily established themselves and they played the native rulers one against the other.
Conficts between the foreign empires began to errupt resulting in the driving out of the Danes and the Dutch. Francis Martin recovered Pondicherry on February 1st, 1701 from the Dutch and built a fort there, though it was not comparable to the Fort St. George of die English in Madras. The town of Pondicherry had four gates - Chennai gate, Villianathur and Vazhudavur gates and Koodalur (Cuddalore) gates. Later, the French started eying Fort St. George in Madras and Fort St. David in Cuddalore.
The French also acquired Karaikal - a compact territory on the east coast about a hundred and odd kilometers from Pondicherry surrounded by the Tanjavur district of Tamil Nadu not far away from the Danish settlement of Tranquebar or Tarangambadi - from the Raja of Tanjavur. In 1746, when Fatteh Singh sought the help of Dupleix to remove Pratap Singh from the throne and offered Devikottai, Dupleix refused stating that they were already spending a lot of money to retain Karaikal. The English tried to take Karaikal in 1746 with the help of the Raja of Tanjavur, but Dupleix repelled this attempt.
Meanwhile, the French accomplished themselves in Mahe (Maye Mandalam) a small town on the west coast near Tellicherry, Yanam, a small fort and village near Kakinada in Andhra, and Chandranagore, an important place for the French on the Ganges, surrounded by Bengal where Dupleix himself spent long years before becoming the Governor of Pondicherry. While Chandranagore merged with the rest of India, Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam together remained a French Territory with Pondicherry as the headquarters.
Joseph Francis Dupleix finally attacked and captured Fort St. George in Madras on September 21st, 1746. The French flag was hoisted and there was a grand celebration in Pondicherry. The English made an attempt to capture Pondicherry in 1768 and failed. India would have gone French because French supremacy was well established. However fate willed otherwise because it was all decided in Europe among the warring English, French, and Spanish. It was decided by the Treaty of Aix -La-Chapelle (now known as Aachen a town in Germany) between the French and English that Chennai should be restored to the English (in preference to Louisville in Canada to the French) and the French should withdraw to Pondicherry.
Dupleix was upset with this and so he decided to help the local rulers fight against the English, but was finally confined to Pondicherry by Clive with the Treaty of Paris. Although India achieved Independence in 1947, the French did not give up Pondicherry easily. After a lot of wrangle, of course without any military action the French transfered their power to India on November 1st, 1954 and the de jure transfer on August 16th, 1962. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Pondicherry (Puducheri or Puduke in Tamil and Pondicherry in French) to be 'a Window on France'. Therefore even after the French left the Indian land, their culture and architecture was preserved.
Pondicherry, although a ministate now, has French, Tamil, Malayalam (Mahe) and Telugu (Yanam) as official languages, of course apart from English. It has the distinction of housing Sri Aurobindo Ghose, an I.C.S. turned freedom fighter, his French disciple Madame Mirra Alfassa, the Mother who had created the concept and founded 'Auroville' and the freedom -fighting Tamil Poet, Sri Subramanya Bharati.