French colonial Clock Towers of Puducherry

Puducherry clock towers.

Above image: Puducherry (Union Territory) Clock towers: (From left) Clock towers at Grand Bazaar (Periya Kadai), Petit Bazaar (ChinnaKadai) and at Mahatma Gandhi Road in Muthialpet have long stopped telling time to Puducherry residents........

A town without an old-type clock tower is like a king without the crown. An independently standing tall tower with clocks facing all the coordinal direction will not only form a landmark in the locality of the town or city but also enhances the beauty of the cityscape. 

Puducherry, the former French colony with lots of heritage building designed in a blend of both French and vernacular (Tamil) architecture, has the rare distinction of having three  free standing old clock towers built during the French colonial period. They are at at Grand Bazaar, Muthialpet and Chinnakadai. 

Old timers recall that these towers were fitted with chiming clocks  and when they were young  the hourly chiming from these towers could be heard  a few km away. Common people used to know the time of the day and night from the number of chimes. Both wrist and pocket watches were luxury items  only the rich could afford them in those days. 

With the passage of time and easy availability of cheap watches, the clock towers across the land  have become obsolete in many places and they are just there for decorative purposes. Many of them don't work  due to poor maintenance and negligence. At Puducherry  the clocks at all the towers stopped working long ago and  only the clock tower in Big Bazaar used to work, now and then. Fallen on bad times, the clock towers here  long stopped telling time, primarily due to want of clock  mechanics with expertise.

The iconic clock tower at Grand Bazaar (created in 1826;Periya Kadai) on Gandhi road which is an important landmark in Puducherry that came up in 1849. Thanks to  Thiagou Mudaliar, a businessman who donated the clock.  Made in Paris by J. Wagner, the clock's big  dial has Roman numerals and vibrant gong and its reverberating  sound was familiar to the people then. The three clock towers remain out of order or sync most of the time, reason: total neglect on the part of the municipal authorities, a good example of dereliction of duty and redtapism.  

As for clock tower (25 foot tall) at Chinna Kadai/ Petit Bazaar the same story persists, the clock stopped working long ago. The clock was donated  by  Lakshmana Swamy Chettiar in 1892 and the tower is on the southern side of Mahatma Gandhi Road. It too lies in a prolonged state of neglect. 

The clock tower on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Muthialpet had been non-functional for a few years. No attempt was made to get it repaired. 

Regarding poor state of the clock towers, the general consensus of officials of Puducherry Municipality  has been that  they find it difficult  to find clock mechanics with expertise in old time tower clocks with chiming device. Getting foreign experts is ruled out and this proposal is an expensive one. Yet another hitch is getting spares for the clocks that were made  decades ago. Duplicating the spares by local foundries is equally tough. 

Muthialpet clock tower, Puducherry,

Muthialpet clock tower, Puducherry, 

Muthialpet clock tower, Puducherry,

Thanks to Manikandan MLA who evinced keen interest  to  renovate the clock tower in Muthialpet and put it back on old glory. He not only  set up a small park around it  but also  set aside  a sum of Rs. 20 lakh from his constituency development fund to the Puducherry Municipality and the renovation work started in June last year. Aesthetically motivated  Manikandan breathed a new life to the tower in January 2020. In the place of vintage clock the tower is provided with a clock that rings the bell every hour and also recites the couplets from Thirukkural with meaning.  All 1330 couplets are recorded and they are being played after each hourly bell. Plans were afoot to broadcast AIR news through the clock tower. The restoration works were carried out by the Puducherry municipality.