KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I mentioned earlier that we had met a German woman in Mamallapuram. Her name is Renate Heyden. She came to Pondicherry a couple of days ahead of us, and found the room for us at the Ajanta Sea View Hotel. Shortly after arriving in Pondi, she went to Auroville, to the Quiet Healing Centre for some therapies there. We decided to visit her and experience Auroville through her eyes. I have been hearing about Auroville for many years and had formed an opinion that the place was populated by a bunch of foreign "weirdos" and that it would not be a place that would interest me much. I have been to Burning Man in the Nevada desert and I had the impression that many of the lost souls of Burning Man probably migrated to Auroville. How very wrong this turned out to be!
I don't know if you have ever experienced the feeling when you are traveling - that you wished you were the only foreigner in the region and that when you did meet others from "away", you avoid making eye contact. Somehow by doing this, there is no acknowledgement that they are there and you can feel like you are alone in your adventure. Sometimes, when I do look at other travellers, I find that they look away from me; I believe for the same reason. I thought I would avoid Auroville completely, I didn't want to visit a community comprised entirely of foreigners, plunked down in the middle of Southern India.
We took an autorickshaw for the journey of ten kilometers outside the city. Renate showed us around the Healing Centre, one of many communities that make up Auroville. The 1700 residents (from 35 different countries) are spread over 80 different communities in an area covering twenty kilometers. I was delighted to learn that there is no "concentration" of foreign residents and that they are well-integrated with the local population.
We had a lovely afternoon with Renate, we walked along Quiet Beach and stopped at an Auroville café for a cold drink and a snack. I was puzzled at the slingshots placed in the center of each table under the trees. I just had to find out why they were there. When I asked, I learnt that the local crows do not swoop down and steal food from the tables if there is a slingshot in sight. Smart birds, even smarter waiters! As the sun sank lower in the sky, we walked Renate part way back to the Healing Center and along the way I bought her some flowers as a thank you. I came away with my interest in Auroville piqued. We decided to make another trip in order to visit the Information Centre and the Matrimandir (meditation centre) at the heart of the community.
One of the main reasons that we chose to take the city tour offered by the Department of Tourism was that a visit to Auroville was on the itinerary. The other places that they took us to were rather lame, but the bus was comfortable and the driver knew exactly where to go. I have taken some photographs from the displays at the information center that explains a little of the philosophy.
Auroville was developed as an international community by Sri Aurobindo and a French woman who came to be known as "The Mother". They first founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry in 1926. We were not able to enter the Matrimandir as it is closed for renovations. It was first opened on February 28, 1968. There were representatives from 124 courtiers at the dedication ceremony. Each brought soil from their homeland to place in a lotus-shaped urn to symbolize a universal oneness. The urn is on the right foreground in the photo I took of the Matrimandir.
Here is a link to the Auroville site in case you are interested in learning more about this unusual community. Visit Auroville.