One of the options for my trip was starting at the Theosophical compound in Adyar, Madras. However, I have good reason to think I’m not welcome there. Instead a theosophical friend suggested they might be able to get me a volunteer position in Auroville. Despite it not being in North India – where my intuition told me I needed to go (vague as that was) – I still liked the idea. So I did what I do when I want to know more about something, I ordered three books about the tradition of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Because it’s in their tradition that Auroville has been founded. I already knew that much, but not much more. As wikipedia says:
Auroville (City of Dawn) is an “experimental” township in Viluppuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India near Puducherry in South India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (since her definitive settling in India called “The Mother”) and designed by architect Roger Anger. Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.
The first of the three books I read was the biography of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs. I liked it and admired the man described. However, when I made my online review of the book, I found out there was heated debate in India over this book. One state has even banned it! Those who know me in theosophical circles know I’ve had my share of controversy. So my first response to this was: well, if they want me to do volunteer work there, despite my review, who am I to say no to the opportunity?
However, I soon changed my mind. It’s one thing to be in the thick of controversy in a tradition that’s your spiritual home base as it were: theosophy. Quite another to come into an ashram that’s teeming with controversy, as an outsider to the tradition. And yet, I have a firm opinion, and I’m hardly one to quietly go about my business. In short I was like: who am I to but in on this? And how can I avoid butting in, being who I am? So, I decided NOT to go to the Auroville Ashram. Still, the story of Auroville is quite interesting. Let’s start with the official aims of Auroville, as The Mother formulated them:
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
However, despite The Mother’s warnings against it, Auroville is now owned and controlled by the Indian Government, following a long conflict between Aurovilians and the Sri Aurobindo Society. Auroville has it’s own ‘currency’, several businesses on the estate and of course a website and even an affiliate program for their products (so those selling them online can make a bit for themselves as well).
Auroville is an interesting experiment, but not for me right now. I’m pretty much decided to go to Dharamsala in North India, and also perhaps to Rishikesh, also on the foothills of the Himalayas. Both places are likely to be cool enough for my health, and are touristy enough that I can continue doing my online work while I’m there.
In Dharamsala I plan to study Tibetan Buddhism. In Rishikesh yoga and The Yoga Sutras. I may even take up formal meditation. If someone can advise a good yoga teacher in Rishikesh, I’d love to hear it. I know some Sanskrit, and have studied the Yoga Sutras in theosophical circles, so I’m not starting completely from scratch.
Where is Auroville
Auroville is located near Pondicherry – in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Auroville is a special city. It aims to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities! Truly a noble goal.
Auroville is very much a city in the making and if you are a visitor – your journey will most probably start at The Auroville Visitors Center. If you want to visit Matri Mandir (Mother Temple) you’ll have to visit the first floor at The Auroville Visitors Centre and watch a brief video about it. Then you can obtain a free pass to visit Matri Mandir from the outside – same day, or to enter inside and meditate (not possible on the same day) – I guess first time visitors are not allowed inside.
Some photographs of the ashram itself.
Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga
Sri Aurobindo practiced Integral/Complete Yoga and so do millions of his followers today. He did not want to be called a Guru, neither did he crave for a large number of followers. In fact, he didn’t even want the place – where he lived with his disciples, to be called an Ashram. However, human beings find it difficult to understand new concepts and try and bracket things in existing groups. The place where Sri Aurobindo spent a large portion of his life, in Pondicherry, is known as Aurobindo Ashram today – and attracts visitors from all over the world.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
Together they built Auroville, an ashram in Southern India (south of Madras). He was the reclusive yogi, she his outward manifestation or shakti. That is: she taught, she organized, she was there for people to related to. He sat in his room and kept up a heavy correspondence on spiritual issues.
The relief of stuff that’s not too simple
I know this is probably going to sound arrogant, but one of the things I really appreciate about the work of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, is that what they write isn’t too easy to understand. I get a lot of spiritual books sent to me for review (not the ones on this page though). Most of the time my main reaction is a yawn. Even books I end up recommending as useful, are often – for me personally – just not really all that interesting. They’re good, they’re healthy spiritual advice or information, or both – but they don’t really add anything to my personal path. This says a lot more about me than about the books obviously: I’ve done a lot of reading in spiritual literature of all kinds of traditions (though mainly theosophy). It just takes something extra to get me really interested. No the books reviewed on this page. They’re full of nuance, mental concepts and quirks of thinking that keep me on my toes. Some of it’s useful and healthy – other things I’m not so sure. But whatever it may be, it’s certainly not dull. See: Search for the Soul in Everyday Living, the Mother
Matrimandir or Temple of the Mother
Matrimandir or Temple of the Mother is a place of Spiritual significance located at the center of Auroville. The construction of this beautiful building and surrounding parks was initiated by The Mother – a close Spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. The Temple as well as the city of Auroville are still under construction. However, I would surely recommend these places to individuals who are interested in Spirituality and would like to know more about Sri Aurobindo, The Mother, and Auroville. Most of the below images are by Dinesh Mohan, but the ones of the Matrimandir inside are by Kiran Sawhney.
Notes on names
In India names were, and to some extent still are, varied things – especially in Latin letters. In India all things have old names and new ones, and various spellings to confuse things even more.
- The town of Pondicherry is called Puducherry right now. It’s south of Chennai, formerly called Madras, in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. Puducherry is in the disctrict of Viluppuram, also known as Villupuram and Vizhupuram.
- Aurobindo’s name changed with the local where he was working. What is usually spelled as Aurobindo, is the Sanskrit ‘Aravinda’, also spelled as: Aravind, Arabinda, Aurobindo, Arvind, Aravindhar, Aurobindo Ghosh, Shri Aurobindo etc.
- The man who was known as Sri Aurobindo at the end of his life, was named Aurobindo Acroyd Ghose at his birth. Aurobindo meaning ‘lotus’ and Acroyd for an English friend of his father’s: Annette Akroyd. When Aurobindo became active in the Indian Independence movement, he dropped the middle name and usually called himself Aurobindo A. Ghose. When an ashram developed around him, he was increasingly called ‘Sri Aurobindo’.
Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Dinesh Mohan,