At Pondicherry, life is a celebration. The people are easy and happy-going. Every faith has a festival. And besides, Pondicherrians of different origins and beliefs merrily gather together for public festivals, all around the year.
Maasi Nagam (March)
The Maasi Magam festival has been celebrated just north of the fishing village at Kurichikuppam, for well over a century now. Deities from as many as 38 temples are brought in a procession to Pondicherry and taken around town to the loud accompaniment of 'Nadaswaram' (horns). Then, the images of 'Chakra' (the discus - symbol of Vishnu) and the 'Trishul' (the trident - symbol of Shiva) are chosen for ablutions in the sea.
Pongal is the harvest festival for rural Pondicherrians. In this festival, houses are spring-cleaned and adorned with intricate, colourful patterns. Old clothes and mats are ritually burnt. The mouth-watering Pongal dish is a pot-pourri of rice, jaggery, sugar and raisins, served in new pots. Interestingly, herds of cattle are washed, decorated, their horns painted and fed the Pongal dish. People dress up and visit each other. There is no other busier day one can witness in the Park or the Beach Road than this.
Veerampattinam Car Festival (August)
In this large fishing village near Ariankuppam a car, smaller than that of Villiannur but with ornate sculptures, emerges from the temple at dawn and returns at sunset. Be there at either time to experience the animated crowds of devotees.
Villianur Temple Car Festival (Mid-May & Mid-June)
On the full moon between mid-May and Mid-June falls the ninth day of a ten-day festival. On this day temple car (vehicle) with the image of the God is paraded around the town.
International Yoga Festival (4-7 January)
Yogis and Yoginis from the world over assemble in Pondicherry from the 4th to the 7th January every year. Through live shows and talks, through the display and sample of the varied yogic food and through Indian dance and music, they keep alive the art of yoga, its science and its philosophy.
Bastille Day (14 July)
On 14 July, Bastille Day, Pondicherry witnesses an Indo-French pageantry. Uniformed war veterans march through the street singing 'Marseillaise'. Heart-warmingly, the French flag can be seen flying alongside the Indian flag on many housetops.
The Mangani Festival (July)
Karaikal breaks into a month-long festivity, which accompanies this feast dedicated to Karaikal Ammaiyar. When for 4 days, the groundbreaking events from her life are reenacted. The image of Lord Shiva is taken out through the streets, in a decorated palanquin, at which the townsfolk throw mangoes from rooftops, much to the delight of the crowd gathered below.
Fete De Pondicherry (15-17 August)
It's a cultural pageant, coinciding with the Liberation Day and the Independence Day. The brilliantly lit Park Monument makes for a marvellous sight. The fete features free evening cultural presentations at the municipal theatre (Kamban Kalaiarangam) and Gandhi Square.
Christmas Season (December)
The Christmas is season is a quiet one. Shops and houses are hung with perforated star lanterns that aren't much to look at, but illuminated from within, create both radiant shapes and warm moving patterns on surrounding surfaces. It is worth cycling around to see them in the evenings in the lead up to and during the 12 days of Christmas through 6th January.
Deepavali Or Diwali (October - November)
The new moon between mid-October and mid-November sees the Festival of Light, marking the triumph of Good over Evil but manifesting publicly as the festival of Firecrackers. The crackers come in great variety of sparklers, spinners, rocket balls and sprays. Most urban Pondicherians consider Deepavali their biggest festival.
Ayudha Puja (October)
Also known As Saraswati Puja, this date marks the end of Navaratri, the nine-day festival of Goddesses, Durga (warrior righteousness), Lakshmi (prosperity), and Saraswati (knowledge & the arts).
Gourds reddened with vermilion powder are broken, banana leaves are installed and all forms of implements and equipment (including cars and motorcycles) are given a puja so they'll work well over the next year.
The next day Vijaydashmi is given over to the Goddess Durga, the warrior aspect of the Divine Mother, who, armed by all the Gods, defeated Mahishasura. But Most Pondecherians go on celebrating the Goddess in her Saraswati aspect. Many households display mostly painted ceramic dolls ('Kolu') which are sold in great profusion in the entrance hall and in front of the Perumal Temple on M. G. Road in the week leading up to the festival.
Vinayaka Chathurthi Period (September)
Vinayaka Chathurthi is the festival of India's most ubiquitous god, Vinayaka (or Ganesha or 'Ganapati'), the elephant-headed elder son of Shiva. Ganesha is among other things the remover of obstacles, found in virtually all-Indian temples whether he is the principal deity or not.
In the week before the festival, people make and buy small clay images of Vinayaka for installation in their homes. In other places, (notably Saram, out Kamaraj Salai) people make very large images in an attempt to rival Mumbai, the hub of this particular festival. For several days people feed the god his favourite foods and treat him like the honoured guest he is.
On the Sunday after the first day of the festival (or on the Sunday after that!) the larger images and lots of smaller ones are loaded onto bullock carts, trucks and tractor-drawn carts for a parade down Beach Road where the smaller images are immersed into the sea by boys who get the one rupee coin set into the image for their effort.
Men, covered with coloured powder and attitude, dance and revel along the parade route. The largest images are immersed from the new wharf near Sea Gulls Restaurant from where one can comfortably watch as cranes delicately lift the images amid chanting crowds.