Puducherry

Away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, Puducherry is a quiet and serene city on the southern coast of India. It is a Union Territory which comes under the supervision of the Central Government of India. It is located 162 km away from the city of Chennai on the Coromandel Coast of Bay of Bengal. It has a blend of spiritual aura, French colonial heritage, Tamil culture and the cosmopolitan flair of many nationalities.

Colonial buildings, some of which trace back to the 18th century, line the straight clean streets. Quiet beaches and peaceful resorts to the north and south balance the city’s bustling yet easy-going life. The main languages spoken in the region are Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, English and French.

Places of Spiritual Significance

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Aurobindo-Ashram

Located in the eastern part of Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded by Sri Aurobindo in 1926. From its very beginning, Sri Aurobindo entrusted the full material and spiritual charge of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram to The Mother (read more about her below). Under her guidance, which extended over nearly fifty years, the ashram has grown from just a few members into a many-faceted community which at present consists of about 1500 persons.

The focus of community life is the ashram main building, which consists of an interconnected block of houses, including those in which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother lived for most of their lives. At its centre, in a tree-shaded courtyard, lie the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The ashram provides its members with all they need for a decent and healthy life. Various departments have been organised to look after the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter, as well as medical care. There are also libraries for study and facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits. The ashram is administered by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

Auroville

Auroville

Auroville is located 10 km north of the town of Puducherry. Auroville is a universal township in the making for a population of up to 50,000 people from around the world. It was founded in 1968 by The Mother and designed by architect Roger Anger. This township is divided into six zones: Peace, Industrial, Residential, International, Cultural and Green Belt. At the centre of the township is the large open space called Peace. It houses the Matrimandir and its gardens, an amphitheatre with the Urn of Human Unity that contains the soil of 121 nations and 23 Indian states, and a lake to help create an atmosphere of calm and serenity and to serve as a groundwater recharge area.

The concept of Auroville – an ideal township devoted to an experiment in human unity – came to The Mother as early as the 1930s. In the mid-1960s Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry proposed to her that such a township should be started. She gave her blessings. The concept was then put before the Government of India, which gave its backing and took it to UNESCO. In 1966, UNESCO passed a unanimous resolution commending it as a project of importance to the future of humanity, thereby giving its full encouragement.

The centre of Auroville is the Matrimandir. The name Matrimandir literally means Temple of the Mother. Matrimandir represents Universal Mother or Divine Consciousness. There are twelve gardens around the Matrimandir, representing the twelve Powers of the Universal Mother. It is a flattened sphere which is 29 m high, supported by four pillars and has a diameter of 36 m. Its vertical section is oval shaped representing an ancient Tantric symbol Shalagrama which symbolizes the unity of creation. The four pillars which support the Matrimandir are representation of four different aspects of the Universal Mother: Maheshwari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. This flattened sphere is covered with 1400 golden discs to symbolize a radiating golden superamental sun. Inside the dome there is a hall called Inner Chamber. Its wall has 12 facets representing 12 months of the year. At the centre of the room there is the object of concentration upon which falls a single vertical beam of sunlight. This object is a crystal globe custom-made of optically perfect glass. Inner Chamber is meant for concentration; concentration to find one’s consciousness. There are no images, no organised meditations conducted, no flowers used, no incense, no religion or religious forms. Permission is needed for visitors to enter Matrimandir and practice concentration inside the Inner Chamber.

Sri Aurobindo

Sri-Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta on 15 August 1872. His childhood was spent in England, where he had stayed for the first fourteen years of his life along with his two brothers. At the end of this period, he got an appointment in the Baroda Service and left England for India in January 1893. For the next thirteen years, he was with the Baroda Service wherein he served in different positions. This was the time when freedom movements were taking place in India to free itself from the clutches of British rule. Aurobindo also got inspired to be part of the political activities and this phase of his life lasted for about eight years from 1902-1910.

He left Baroda for Kolkata to be the Principal of Bengal National College, in the year 1906. He was jailed on many occasions during this phase. In 1909, when he was sentenced for one year prison, he spent majority of his time in the practice of spiritual discipline in the jail. This brought about a shift in his focus and he decided to withdraw from political movement for seclusion so that he could concentrate on his spiritual sadhana. In April 1910, he left for Pondicherry and spent his next four years in seclusion focusing on spiritual studies and practices. In 1914, after four years of sadhana in seclusion, he began the publication of a philosophical monthly, the Arya. Most of his important works, The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita, The Isha-Upanishad, appeared serially in the Arya. The publication of Arya stopped in 1921.

During this period of his stay in Pondicherry, he lived with four or five disciples. Afterwards, more and more seekers began to come to him to follow his spiritual path. The number became so large that a community of Sadhaks (practitioners) had to be formed for the sustenance and collective guidance of those who had left everything behind for the sake of a higher life. This was the foundation of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

The Mother

The-Mother

The Mother was born in Paris on 21 February 1878. Her birth name was Mirra Alfassa. Her early education was given at home. In 1893, she joined an art studio in Paris where she studied for several years. Besides being an accomplished painter, she was a talented musician and writer. Concerning her early spiritual life, the Mother had said: “Between 11 and 13, a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only the existence of God but man’s possibility of uniting with Him, of realising Him integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine.” Around 1905, she went to Algeria, where she studied occultism for two years. Returning to Paris in 1906, she formed her first group of spiritual seekers. During the period of 1911-1913, she gave many talks to various groups in Paris.

At the age of thirty-six, the Mother came to Pondicherry. Here, on 29 March 1914, she met Sri Aurobindo. At once, she recognised him as the master who for many years had inwardly been guiding her spiritual development. After staying in India for eleven months, she was obliged to return to France because of the First World War. She left France after about a year, and lived for almost four years in Japan. On 24 April 1920, she returned to Pondicherry and resumed her collaboration with Sri Aurobindo. She remained in India for the rest of her life. By the time the Mother rejoined Sri Aurobindo, a small group of disciples had gathered around him. This number got increased upon her arrival. Eventually this informal grouping took shape as an ashram or spiritual community. She founded Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1951 and the international township Auroville in 1968. On 17 November 1973, at the age of ninety-five, she left her body for divine abode.

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