In This Issue
About Us
About Pattrika
This newsletter, conceived to give a glimpse of the many and varied projects conducted by the French research centres in India, circulated for several years as a "dead-tree" newsletter, then as a large PDF file. After a pause for reflection in 2016, we have decided to relaunch it in a more convenient online format as a biannual newsletter. This issue covers the first half of 2017, with one or two allusions to significant events from just before or after this period. Click here for previous issues
Contact Us
IFP: ifpinfo{at}ifpindia{dot}org

EFEO: administration{at}efeo-pondicherry{dot}org

CSH: communication{at}csh-delhi{dot}com

The entrance to the new archives room in the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO.

The earliest surviving Indian literature was transmitted orally with extraordinary fidelity for at least ten centuries, but for about the last twenty centuries writing has been used to transmit texts to subsequent generations. In the last fifty years, however, that tradition of copying texts by hand has dwindled and ground to a full stop. Almost nobody now copies literary works by hand in order to ensure their transmission. The palm-leaf manuscripts that now survive belong to the very last generation. In 2005, UNESCO recognised the combined manuscript holdings of the two French research institutions in Pondicherry as a “Memory of the World” collection, to which the title “The Shaiva Manuscripts of Pondicherry” was assigned.

Along with photographs, inked estampages of inscriptions, and more than a thousand plans and architectural drawings of historic South Indian buildings, the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO, houses 1634 palm-leaf manuscripts of works in Sankrit, in Tamil and in Manipravâlam (literally “rubies and coral”, a macaronic blend of Sanskrit vocabulary and Tamil syntax). The EFEO’s collection are thus much smaller than those of the IFP (more than 8600 palm-leaf bundles), and it its manuscripts transmit primarily Vaiṣṇava works.

In order to house these archives, the inauguration of a new annex in the courtyard of 19, Dumas Street, in the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO took place on 31st July 2017.

Many scholars, notably eminent specialists of epigraphy and of the history of Buddhism, were present at the ceremony, and speeches were given by two guests of honour, Mme Catherine Suard, Consul General of France in Pondicherry, who took up her post the very same day, and M. Bertrand de Hartingh, the Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Action of the French Embassy in Delhi.

The handsome principal building of the EFEO was probably constructed in the 1820s, shortly after Pondicherry had been ceded back to the French after the British besieged and razed the city to the ground in the 1770s and 1790s. The place where the new construction now stands was occupied by an undistinguished and poorly built annex that had been enlarged and modified to contain a photo-lab in the 1970s. After the erection of a five-storey hotel next door in 2006, the old annex began to display cracks of increasingly alarming magnitude and engineers judged that the construction could not be lastingly secured.

The falling of a couple of chunks of masonry in February 2016, fortunately at a moment when no one was passing by, called for urgent action, and the destruction of the old annex began in June 2016. The new one, conceived by the architect Jean-Louis Cardin in a style that attempts to echo but not compete with the old courtyard, was completed in July.

Once the manuscripts have all been moved into their new place, we intend to organise an “Open-Day” for schoolchildren and all interested Pondicherrians to see some of these treasures, which we are holding in trust for future generations.

With the construction of this new archive-space in Pondicherry, France expresses its continued commitment to the preservation and study, in close collaboration with Indian scholars, of the primary sources of Indian history and civilisation.

Contact: dominic.goodall{at}efeo-pondicherry{dot}org