Aayi Mandapam (Park Monument), Pondicherry
Aayi Mandapam (Park Monument) is a white monument in Pondicherry, India built during the time of Napoleon III, Emperor of France. It is situated in center of Bharathi Park. The monument commemorates the provision of water to the French city during his reign. It was named after a lady courtesan called Aayi. She destroyed her own house to erect a water reservoir to supply water for the city.
Legend has it that King Krishnadevaraya (A.D. 1509-1530), the ruler of the prosperous Vijayanagara Empire, ruled over the Deccan. His empire stretched from Karnataka to Kanyakumari. One day, the king set out from his capital at Hampi and went on a tour of his kingdom. While traveling through Pondicherry, a trading city and a sea port on the eastern coast of his empire, a beautiful building caught the king’s eye. The king looked with amazement at the building’s architecture and it carvings.
The religious king thought it was a temple. He knelt on the street and bowed down before it with folded hands. The people around looked at the king with surprise. There was a stunned silence. The young men and women were hiding behind their elders and giggling. A wise old man walked up to the king and asked him, “Your Majesty, why are you bowing down in front of a brothel?” The king looked up in horror. He caught the old man by his throat and demanded an explanation. The old man croaked, “Sire, this is a brothel. It is run by a prostitute called Aayi”.
The king loosened his grip. The old man collapsed on the street. The embarrassed king roared with anger. He ordered his soldiers to bring the prostitute to him and tear the building down from its roots. The soldiers got hammers and axes and started demolishing the brothel. The prostitute, Aayi, was brought to the king in chains. She fell on the king’s feet and asked for mercy. She begged the king to spare the house, but the king’s ego was deeply bruised. He did not listen to her.
Aayi, in a desperate plea, asked the king, the permission to break down the house herself. The king agreed. The prostitute broke down her beautiful house and in its place dug a water tank for the people around. The place was known as Aayi Kulam in her memory. Aayi Kulam is located at about 5 Kms from Pondicherry.
Years later, the French made Pondicherry their capital in India. The French town on the sea shore faced an acute water shortage. All the wells they dug had only salty water. The French King, Napolean III, sent an architect, Monsieur Lamairesse to sort out the problem. Lamairesse stumbled upon the pond constructed by Aayi in Muthurayarpalayam. The architect built a 5 km long tunnel from Aayi Kulam to a park in the French part of the town. The French king heard about the story behind the water tank was deeply impressed. He ordered the architect to build a monument for Aayi. The monument was built in French architectural style at the center of the park.
The Governor of Pondicherry sent a letter to the French king thanking him for sending the architect, Mon. Lamairesse. The King told him to thank Aayi and wrote that she deserved a monument. The structure was envisaged by Spinasse in 1820 and built by Louis Gurre in 1854. However, water came to the fountain only in 1862. This tank, later, served the purpose of providing drinking water to the entire city during the French regime.
Aayi Mandapam, a 162-year-old heritage monument located at Bharathi Park in the center of the Boulevard. Aayi Mandapam is a Greco-Roman styled memorial monument built by the French Architect Louis Gurre following the order of French King, Napolean III to commemorate the life of Aayi, a prostitute who lived during the period of the Vijayanagara ruler King Krishnadevaraya. This gleaning white structure in the heart of the present Bharathi Park was built during the second French empire.
On top of the monument is a stylized lily used as an emblem or as a decorative element by the architect to emphasize the beauty of the monument by placing it on top of the round tomb. The structure stands on 16 columns from each side. Aayi Mandapam is an ornate masonry pavilion with domed roof was constructed during the second French empire to house a water fountain. The water fountain located in the middle of the imposing structure has also become defunct.
The four openings in the monument are flanked by fluted circular twin columns and crowned with pediments. One of the pediments features Aayi with a pot. It is flanked by important buildings like the French consulate, the secretariat and the Governor’s Residence Raj Bhavan. A stone plaque written in traditional Tamil and Latin pays tribute to Aayi’s deed and thanks her for providing water for the people of the town. The historic monument has been made the official emblem of the Union Territory.
Aayi Mandapam is located at the center of Bharathi Park. This is located very near to the Beach Front. It is located at a distance of about 3 Kms from Bus Stand. Take a Gorimedu bound Bus from Bus Stand and get down at JN Street Stop. Aayi Mandapam is just 500 meters from this Stop. From Railway Station take an auto to reach this place.