I’ve lost count of the number of times i have visited this town, back in the days we used to do weekend trips, just drive down, stay with a friend, enjoy the weekend and head back to Chennai to face Monday. The most recent visit was last year- September, around my Birthday. 
I was back in this quaint French town called Pondicherry, 4hours from Chennai and a place that welcomed me with open arms every time i landed here.  Even though it was September, the sun was blazing down with glory, no consideration for us poor souls melting away here. 
Having decided to see more of Pondicherry and gain some insight into the architecture and history, i had signed up for an INTACH walk. Armed with a bottle of water, camera and thirsty soul i was ready, i walked towards the lobby to find Mr Ashok Pande waiting patiently.


Aayi Mandapam

  Two pillars within the park
We started off with a walk through the narrow lanes, most of which looked alike, with houses neatly stacked beside each other, some sporting name plates dating back to centuries gone by, while others had been restored and put to better use today. Whilst walking i mentioned the park that i kept crossing every time i went to the beach or to Mission street, it was almost like the park had to be met at every outing.  
Ashok said “worry not, we are heading there as we speak” and lo behold, there it was around the corner. It is a Government park, that was once open with no gates and through which cars could drive straight through. Now, there are iron gates that are kept shut, and cars will have to go around the park. As we walked in, i noticed the cobbled pathways and beautiful pillars. These pillars have all been brought in from ruins around the city, they looked right out of one of our temples. 
Aayi Mandapam from the other side, can you spot the cannon hidden amidst the plants? [bottom left]
The park is circular in shape, and standing proud right in the center was a Monument, an arch, one that was called “Aayi Mandapam”. At first glance, it looked like a smaller simpler version of the ChampsÉlysées[no no, not been to France, just seen enough movies to identify the landmark monument], but then upon close inspection i learnt that it has been built in the Greco-Roman architecture. The monument was erected during Napoleon III’s reign [Emperor of France] . Situated right in front of the Raj Niwas, the residence of the Lieutenant Governor, the park is quite a majestic place.

When i probed further, Ashok narrated the interesting story behind the Aayi mandapam, that goes back to a  a 16th century courtesan called Aayi. Apparently, the then king was passing by her residence, and on seeing the candle flickering, he assumed it was a place of worship and walked in.  Upon realising his mistake, he begged for forgiveness and was ashamed of his action.  The lady, touched by his humbleness and she then brought down the home and in its place brought up a water reservoir.  Back in the days there was severe water scarcity in Pondicherry and it was the water from this reservoir that is said to have quenched the thirst of the Napoleon’s men. When Napoleon heard the story, he took the decision to erect a monument as a tribute to Aayi and that is we know today as Aayi Mandapam or the Park Monument… 

Wow, that was quite a story. While i captured a few photographs of the place, i noticed 2 children running around the garden, with their mother screaming at them to come to her. There was another old couple sitting on the park bench, silently, as if words were no longer needed.. The park was brimming with action, and i walked around it towards the other exit looking forward to discovering more such hidden treasures in Pondicherry. 
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