The sun was going down as we drove through the quaint narrow roads of small villages, surrounded by lush green fields. Silhouettes of coconut trees fell on small water bodies, the sun was setting. I had absolutely no idea how Auroville would look like. When we finally reached our guesthouse, it was almost dark.
It had been a long day and we were quite hungry, but everything shuts down here by this time. We called a few cafés and luckily one of them agreed to serve us dinner. We put our phone lights on and started walking towards it, it was pitch black, it felt a bit crazy. A giant banyan tree stood in front of us and a dense cluster of bamboo trees on our right, our eyes were hardly adjusting to the darkness. I have to admit it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. On top of that Google map was acting up, so we asked a passer by for directions, I noticed she was cycling barefoot. After some struggle we managed to reach Naturellement Café and had a delicious dinner of pasta in homemade pesto sauce and bread.
The next morning I woke up feeling relaxed. The first thing I noticed were the morning rituals. The lovely akkas (didi/elder sister) of the guest house embellish the idols of Ganesha and Hanuman every morning with local flowers and a rangoli. I really admire this tradition of South India.
Our guest house Isai Ambalam, had a couple of beautiful little cottages spread across almost two acres, built in modern style with many local influences in its architecture and décor. The property had a variety of tropical plants and many big trees native to the place. There were two ponds which had numerous water plants, flowers like water lily and lotus. The aquatic life was thriving here. It was home to tadpoles, tortoises, tiny fishes and water snakes! These snakes were extremely shy, they would come out only to bask in the sun at noon and if you step closer they would immediately go inside. The beauty of letting nature grow as is, with minimal intervention gave an interesting character to the place.
I had ten days ahead of me with a whole lot of options to explore. While I was planning this trip I was keen to do some workshops and classes, I wanted to make the most out of it. I would now call it ambitious! Trying to figure out the right classes and activities, and also wanting to explore and unwind at the same time, left me anxious and stressed. So after a point I let it be.
It was only on the third day I started to feel the Auroville vibe, like everyone had told me, ‘It takes a while to absorb this place’. Founded in 1968 by Mira Alfassa, famously known as The Mother, the purpose of this experimental township is to realise human unity. After 50 plus years the township still stands true to its founders vision.
One night my friend and I were sitting in the common area kitchen and that’s when we met some interesting people from our guest house. It started with a ‘So what are you guys doing in Auroville?’ And we ended up chatting till 2 am. There was an instant connection with a few of them, I call it the law of attraction. One of my friends at the guest house had a happy Ginger cat named Mira, she was the diva of our guest house. Bugging her was my favorite time pass.
Every day there was something to do, something to look forward to, yet the pace of life here was slow and easy.
I hung out a lot with my new friends, engaging in intense conversations about life and it’s many mysteries, exchange of ideas and thoughts with them, sometimes cooking together, going for some classes, it was a perfect vibe.
When I craved for some alone time I would take my bicycle and stroll around, sometimes to chase the sunset. This time allowed me to process my thoughts. Aah, life was good! Certainly cycling is the best way to explore Auroville and to admire its architecture. I especially enjoyed cycling through a patch of forest where every time you cross, you could smell this sweet fragrance of the forest. This fragrance would become more intense at night, it was amusing as there were no flowers. I would say the words mystical and forest go well together for this phenomena.
Every Wednesday at the Unity Pavilion, group sound healing sessions are conducted, I had seen some videos of it before but experiencing it was a totally different thing.
Peacefully lying down with my eyes closed for an hour, a gamut of familiar and unfamiliar sounds came from numerous instruments that were being played. The facilitators would play these instruments over you and gently pass by. Your senses could feel the sound textures and vibrations. The experience leaves an immediate impact of sound vibrations on your body and its more subtle layers. I heard some people snoring, I suppose it affects everyone differently, like meditation. After the session I got up and saw a beautiful artwork in front me, as an artist I felt a connection. The whole experience was very yin-yang to me.
Outside the hall, a sense of peace and harmony prevailed. The energy around us was contagious, a bit overwhelming and in a good way. I wished to be quiet and retain that energy.
My friend offered to ride back with him on his Vespa. It seemed like a good idea. As he drove, the cool breeze ran through my hair, every inch of my body felt alive. I looked up and the sky glittered, the forest at night looked beautiful, not scary. It felt alright! Just what I needed.
Back at the guest house we planned a bonfire in the backyard. As the fire lit and we sat around, it reminded me how it has got humans together since centuries, no wonder it gave birth to many rituals in almost all cultures. We grilled some vegetables, listening to the tunes of a native American flute being played by my friend, even at night some of the birds reciprocated to its tune.
The sky was clear, thanks to the minimal noise pollution. I spotted few constellations and missed my favorite person. Star gazing is our thing. The fireflies of the forest were everywhere, adding a bit of magic to the ambience. There is something very cathartic about such nights.
Meanwhile Mira was trying to hunt something invisible. If anyone approached she would jump on their feet, scaring the person for a snake. I think she had invented her own little games.
With time I started to observe the culture around, one thing in particular I noticed was people walking barefoot. I suppose foreigners and other Indians who have become Aurovillians have adopted this habit to respect the local culture and live as one of them. Sometimes I did that too, it was nice living like the locals and I felt connected to mother earth.
One of things I really liked and now miss about Auroville is the quality of food. You can find a strong influence of the French and local Tamil cuisines. Although the most appealing thing is the easy access to locally produced organic vegetables & fruits, a variety of cheese, Kombucha and breads. Many vegan products too, not that I am a vegan but the smoked tofu made there was insanely delicious. With such a diet everyday I had started to feel healthy. There are many great cafes and restaurants, including the amazing solar kitchen, but for me Solitude Café was my go to place. Their approach to produce simple, fresh and delicious farm grown food made my body and soul happy. You could see Fukuoka’s (Masanobu Fukuoka) philosophy sprouting in the farm. Places and experiences like these convinces me more and more to grow my own food.
The trip would not have been complete without going to the Matrimandir. Designed by architect Roger Anger, who had also designed the township, it comprises the main temple, amphitheater and garden. If you look at the map Matrimandir it is located in the center of Auroville. The temple is surrounded with numerous varieties of flowers and beautiful fountains. Some of the landscape is designed to mimic a mini Japanese Zen garden.
Local musicians were playing live music, acoustic guitar and tabla. As the music played I laid down on the grass next to a tree and let my mind absorb that moment. The music, the ambience, the company and energy of the place was powerful. I had tears in my eyes as I could listen to my inner voice, there were answers I had been looking for. There were definitely some healing powers, maybe the love of The Mother. I am happy now that phones were not allowed inside, no distractions meant I was really present.
As we started to walk towards the temple, I saw a lone cat walking through one of the arches into the chamber, it reminded me of a Studio Ghibli character.
Since entry was restricted inside due to Covid-19, we climbed up the temple chamber to catch some views. As the sun was going down the crescent of the moon appeared. I looked back and could see the inner chambers and the famous crystal, a symbol for the cosmic egg, it was breathtaking!
One of my friends started walking into the chamber. We just followed her and there it was, sitting in the center, the crystal surrounded by tessellated marble in the shape of flower petals, the water was flowing inwards. A very mild sound of the water trickling down was gratifying. We sat down, closed our eyes and touched the water, it felt divine! When I opened my eyes the crescent of the moon was visible from one of the arches.
It had just been about five minutes when the volunteers came and politely told us that it's not allowed to be here. I did not mind, those five minutes were enough for me to soak in the energy. I find it difficult to express how I truly felt, but one thing I know is that it was like being in someone else’s dream.
On my last day in Auroville I visited Svaram, a place for craft, art and science of sound. A quintessential stop. Founded by Aurelio, a musician, educator, sound healer amongst many other things. Inside Svaram a wall is dedicated to ornate all the instruments he has collected over the years from around the world.
Most of the instruments there were new to me, I later got to know many of these are commonly used for sound healing. We spent almost two hours there trying our hands at different instruments, ranging from percussion, nature sounds, strings, wind and many more. A majority of these were made by artists from Auroville. I instantly fell in love with a beautiful native American flute, so I bought it.
I really don't know how the ten days just flew by, I know it wasn’t enough. So much to unlearn and learn. The people I met there made a huge difference to the overall experience. I have decided to come back with my partner and stay much longer, perhaps volunteer and do some workshops.
As the plane took off from the Chennai airport, a melancholic feeling dawned upon me. I looked below and it felt as if I was leaving something behind.