Ashram. That word can bring a centered calmness or an aversion feeling depending on perception/experience of one you may of heard of or encountered. I’m here in S. India where there is a very well known ashram called Sri Aurobindo Ashram. From this Ashram, a community called Auroville, meaning City of the Dawn, was started back in 1968, a universal township of over 50,000 people from around the world. In the main village of Auroville the residents call themselves Aurovillians! I stayed there a week back in 2018 and enjoyed playing a role of being part of the town however I’ve come to understand the deeper meaning of how the concepts of the center were created by studying some of Sri Aurobino’s plentiful and outstanding clear and beautiful writings, some of which is in no doubt spiritual poetry for the soul. To understand how Auroville came about, one must go back to the history of Sri Aurobindo just a bit.
From all the reading I’ve gathered from research, without minimizing his lengthy education, I find that, in a nutshell, he was a well educated Indian man originally from Calcutta that was sent to the UK for studies from 7 years up through Cambridge Collage years and then went back to India as a professor and was also in service of the Majaraja of the time in the Princely State of Baroda. Eventually he quit these positions and went back to Calcutta to be in politics, becoming one of the leaders of the Nationalist movement. In conjunction with being an educator and political leader, he was a yoga devotee and eventually withdrew from politics after, what I think, was a heroic attempt at helping to create an independent India.
It was while devoting himself in Pondicherry that his concept of yoga developed into what he termed Integral Yoga and that is how the ashram evolved over time. This yoga was in variance with older ways of yoga because the follower would not give up the outer life to live in a monastery, but would be present in regular life and practice spirituality in all parts of life. The aim is not only for spiritual realization but it is also on transforming one’s nature. Realizing it is through one’s own being that The Divine can be expressed.
One cannot talk about Sri Aurobindo without speaking of The Mother. Mirra Alfassa was an accomplished artist and pianist from Paris. She was interested in the occult and spiritual development, founded a group of spiritual seekers in Paris then went to Pondicherry to meet Sri Aurobindo. She immediately recognized him as the one who had been guiding her spiritual development inwardly and eventually Sri Aurobindo entrusted the material and spiritual charge to Mirra, who was now named The Mother. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram had its real beginnings then, back in 1926. The full stories of both these people and the development of their creation can be read on their website sritaurobindoashram.org. I only summarized the history however it is the ideology and/or philosophy emanating from the foundations of the ashram that I enjoyed learning about.
The ashram itself is located right in the heart of urban White Town tourist area of Pondicherry with its own vibrant working departments including the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. There are over 80 departments including farms, gardens, guesthouses and engineering units. There is an art gallery and studio, a library, paper making and traditional textile shops. These departments are run by the spiritual disciples depending on what they have discovered as their calling. A lot of the departments were created as more disciples arrived to be of service, nothing was demanded or created with the idea of making money from others working for anyone. The focus is on a harmonious way to be of service expressing The Divine doing what you feel will help to find your inner peace and expression, studying the ashram writings and live in harmony with one’s neighbor. When coming to be an ashram resident, one is housed, fed and clothed as a disciple and allowed to come into their own natures as to how to be of service to “The Mother”. “Know that the Mother’s light and force are the light and force of the Truth; remain always in contact with the Mother’s light and force, then only can you grow into the divine Truth.” – Sri Aurobindo. Using The Mother as a focus allows the disciples to have a direction as they study and eventually grow into the divine Truth which is that you yourself can bring down The Divine as an expression of your own being in the world ascending your own humanity.
I am not 100% sure about financial issues regarding individual’s own sources of income but the businesses surrounding the ashram do allow the ashram teachings to continue. No one that I can see is living in neither poverty nor luxury. It feels like a lovely way to live with others on a similar path. The place is in lockdown at the moment so I can’t go in and nose around but I have been to quite a few of the shops and food markets where I took the photos in this article.
As an artist and philosopher myself, I relate to finding one’s calling and the acceptance of being of service to allow The Divine to work through you, to express itself. This respects each individual to have contact with and experience a higher power, acknowledging that we, as common people, can bring The Divine into ourselves and then shine forth to allow the full expression of Divinity out into the world. This is the reason for the urban, working ashram, people integrating their Divine Beings into their work for the common good of the people and for a harmonious lifestyle which later became the basis for the City of the Dawn, Auroville. “For the Leader of the Way in a work like ours has not only to bring down and represent and embody The Divine, but to represent too the ascending element in humanity.” – Sri Aurobindo. This is the role that both Sri Aurobindo and The Mother took on, inspiring their devotees.
The town of Auroville, which as I mentioned before, is 15 minutes north of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry including all of the departments associated with it, is now a large experiment in human unity. The residents, and visitors, study and research ways for the human transformation of consciousness (from being of service to self to being of service for all) which include cultural issues, environmental studies and the social and spiritual needs of humankind. The people come from about 59 nations, from all age groups (from infancy to over eighty, averaging around 30), from all social classes, backgrounds and cultures, representing humanity as a whole. The population of the township is constantly growing, but currently stands at around 2,500 people, of whom approx one-third are Indian. If interested in learning more about Auroville I recommend checking out their website at auroville.org. It is very thorough and interesting!
Thanks for reading dear reader, learning about yet another religious spiritual study at the moment may not be highest on the scale of fun and exciting articles I’ve written however being in Pondicherry lockdown I am finding some uplifting moments in the local teachings of this world famous ashram I just happen to have at my disposal! When I go for my 5am jogs around Pondicherry White Town area due to being woken at 4:30 with the Muslim chanting speaker outside my window, I thrill to the fact that I get to wave to Sri Aurobindo devotees, Muslims, Hindus, some straggler tourists, street sadhus and random Indian friends I’ve made. Yes, I am not the only one out there at that time, with the sun comes the heat and I hope to be out of India in June headed to S.E. Asia once again if and when flights start up. I’ve included in this article a poem by Sri Aurobindo that really spoke to me after understanding his ideology of embracing The Divine within ourselves and then being of service for humanity. I try to express my own divinity through my watercolour painting; here I’ve included a rose with some vermillion and sapphire of my own!
ROSE OF GOD
Rose of God, vermilion stain on the sapphires of heaven,
Rose of Bliss, fire-sweet, seven-tinged with the ecstasies seven!
Leap up in our heart of humanhood, O miracle, O flame,
Passion-flower of the Nameless, bud of the mystical Name.
Rose of God, great wisdom-bloom on the summits of being,
Rose of Light, immaculate core of the ultimate seeing!
Live in the mind of our earthhood; O golden Mystery, flower,
Sun on the head of the Timeless, guest of the marvellous Hour.
Rose of God, damask force of Infinity, red icon of might,
Rose of Power with thy diamond halo piercing the night!
Ablaze in the will of the mortal, design the wonder of thy plan,
Image of Immortality, outbreak of the Godhead in man.
Rose of God, smitten purple with the incarnate divine Desire,
Rose of Life, crowded with petals, colour’s lyre!
Transform the body of the mortal like a sweet and magical rhyme;
Bridge our earthhood and heavenhood, make deathless the children of Time.
Rose of God, like a blush of rapture on Eternity’s face,
Rose of Love, ruby depth of all being, fire-passion of Grace!
Arise from the heart of the yearning that sobs in Nature’s abyss:
Make earth the home of the Wonderful and life beatitude’s kiss.
Margaret has been in S. India lockdown for over 2 months and the monsoon season will be upon her. She hopes to join us here in Bangkok as soon as flights resume. Her recent article about Pondicherry tells more about this amazing little village on the S. East coast of India, Pondicherry; Cultivated Elegance in S. India, released online May 27, 2020. Continuing some painting and writing exploring S.E. Asia is still a passion of hers.