Pondicherry is a place of many faiths. If you look at the places of worship which dominate the landscape you will realize why pilgrims flock to Pondy. In and around Pondicherry there are a whopping 350 temples - big and small. Neighbouring Karaikal has another ninety nine. Some were built by the Chola kings between the 10th and 12th centuries. A sizeable share is dedicated to the deities of the villages they are located in.
You can locate the architecturally fine sight of the Sri Gokilambal Thirukameswara Temple, 10 kms from Pondicherry. Thousands of devotees converge here for a ten-day annual festival (Brahmotsavam), held during May - June along with the appearance of the full moon.
The massive 15m tall temple chariot, basking in finery, is taken out on a procession by a devout crowd. It's a remarkable sight. The Lt. Governor of Pondicherry ritually joins the heave. A secular practice, carried over from the French days, when the French Governeurs themselves used to draw the car out on the streets. Besides, the breath-taking Ousteri lake nearby, spread over 10 hectares, is home to rare varieties of birds.
Thirunallar is 5 kms west of Karaikal. The sanctum sanctorum of Lord Dharbaraneswara Temple holds Siva as the main deity. However, its shrine dedicated to Saneeswaran (Saturn) which figures in the story of Naki Damayanti; makes this the most famous Saturn temple in India.
The blessings of Saturn are said to be overwhelming, while its wrath causes great misery. The temple hosts a mammoth festival (Shani peyarchi), each time Saturn moves from one sign of the zodiac to another.
The Varadraja Temple
The Varadaraja Temple (12th century) is the most important Vishnu temple in town, located just west of Gandhi Road, off Tyagraja Street. Here Narasimha sits behind Venkatachalapathy, the main deity.
Masthan Saheb Darga
Dedicated to Masthan Saheb Syed Dawood Buhari, a Sufi saint who came to Karaikal from Buhara two centuries ago. He died aged 120, in 1829. Various miracles are attributed to him. The above 170 year old Kandhuri Festival (November) is celebrated in his commemoration. It starts with the hoisting of a huge flag on a pole - reminiscent of a ship mast and a sea-fairing tradition. And winds up, 10 days later with a spectacle of floats lit with electric colours.