The Institut Français de Pondichéry (IFP) that translates into The French Institute of Pondicherry has been researching India since 1955.
On a sultry September morning, I decided to explore Pondicherry’s White Town or its French Quarter by walking around the streets whose French names have always intrigued me. I have always discovered many new places and this time I was attracted by a beautiful yellow hued sprawling heritage building. Wondering if I could enter inside, I hesitatingly stepped into the courtyard which had a garden when the security of the building asked me to come in. “This is the French Institute of Pondicherry and there is a small museum on the first floor as well as a research center on the ground floor,” he let me know and I quickly bought an entry ticket and made my way to the ground level.
The IFP is a research center under the joint supervision of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French National Center for Scientific Research. Its scientific outreach is international, although it remains primarily focused on research in India and on India. The IFP contributes to the conservation of cultural heritage (languages, regions, architecture, medicine) and natural heritage (environment, forests) while taking into consideration the powerful socio economic dynamics that impact the country. The two century old colonial building has a library on the ground level where photography is not allowed and is accessible on week days. The place is filled with over 67000 books and 140 current journals stacked in old wooden cupboards and there are wooden chairs and tables where you can read and do your research. As part of the research the current 80 member team including 50 researchers and research assistants of India, French and other nationalities do field work and data collection for projects, books and academic articles.
The first floor houses a mini museum that is filled with posters explaining the research activities carried out by the Institute and also has screening of short films on its research activities. There is also a permanent exhibition of the history of Pondicherry between the 17th and 18th century. The expertise of the center lies in manuscript analysis, pollen study for archeology and the smart cities project of the Government of Puducherry. The museum houses over 8000 bundles of palm leaves that are searchable online and the collection on the Shaiva Siddhantha is inscribed in UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World Register’. There is also a photo archive of over 1.35 lakh photos that are a unique source of visual information on the architectural and religious heritage of South India. This has in fact been used to trace stolen statues and a new collection of studio photographs in Tamil Nadu is being constituted that contains 10000 digital images. The Herbarium here has over 24000 specimens, some of which were collected in the 19th century and this has been used for assessing the impact of climate change. The pollen collection includes 15500 species of pollen useful to study past environments. The top floor also has an expansive open terrace space that overlooks the sea and the entire promenade area which also makes for stunning photographs. The place is funded through grants from IFP’s supervisory authorities and from European and French public funds, international funds as well as Indian sources and private funding. This is a place like no other so do make your date with an interesting take on history the next time you are in Pondicherry.
- Address: French Institute of Pondicherry No. 11, Post Box No. 33, Saint Louis Street, Pondicherry – 605 001. Tel : + 91- 413-2231616
- Entry: Rs. 100 per person.
Timings: open to the public everyday between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
This story first appeared in Sakal Times dated Oct 27, 2019 here: