Pondicherry – even the name evokes a thrill. This most French of all the Indian cities is about 150 kms or about three hours drive from Chennai. Pondicherry (or as it is called in modern parlance…Pudicherry – not nearly as romantic-sounding) is at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal. Apparently people are not allowed to swim off its beach – I was told because they could be poisoned by the water – such a shame that people have made such a mess of the environment here. There is a large statue of Gandhi here surrounded by eight large granite pillars
Street names like Rue Roland Romain are strewn throughout the French Centre of this quite picturesque city. Sure this is India, but a rather more gentle (and gentille?) India.
I was taken to the tomb of Sri Aurobindo a famous Indian poet/philosopher and yoga master and his life partner – a french woman simply called “mother”. This was a spiritual experience, with so many people praying and meditating beside the tomb amid total silence, barefoot (of course) and beautifully kept gardens. No photos inside and I lost the postcard I bought 😦
Afterwards I went to the Sri Manakular Vinayagar Temple, where there is a large elephant in front of the temple. (Vinayagar is a hindu deity with the body of a man and the head of an elephant. Upon giving the elephant a coin, which it suctions up from your hand – rather like a very hairy vacuum cleaner – it then pats you on top of your head with its trunk – and yes! I did that :):) Tourist, tourist!!…the temple is a very good example of a hindu temple.
The Atithi hotel (Where I was staying) is a fine hotel in Pondicherry with wifi internet built into the tariff. Very wise in the light of events here in Chennai, but more upon that some other day! It was also very Indian – with the breakfast buffet consisting of Cereal and then all Indian fare (which is what I am eating for breakfast in any case) but no catering for the international traveller here. the only coffee is the Indian version with milk and sugar. No espresso here!
The next day I was taken to the town of Auroville. It is a unique spiritual township where there are no compulsory meditations, no rituals to follow, and no practices. But it revolves around only one principle of unconditional surrendering to the Divine principle and force. People that live in Auroville (they call themselves Aurovillians) do not use money within the precincts. They work for the Trust and they are kept by the Trust. Women seem to take a far larger part in the running of Auroville than other parts of India. Auroville was designed by the “mother” and in the middle of the is a large park with an amphitheatre and large dome called the Matrimandir.
Upon taking off shoes (of course) and then rolling up trousers, you enter the dome where a woman dressed in white – in silence – asks you to don white cotton socks and head off up this large spiral pathway inside the dome that leads into another smaller dome. Here insulated from the world, you sit upon yoga type mats and meditate – gazing at what is purported to be the largest crystal in the world – round of course and lit from above by a round hole in the ceiling of the dome. All designed to make one aware of the divine force. This is not a religious force as we think of it. I managed about ten minute before I thought “ I have to get out of here!” I found it far from liberating but instead all very claustrophobic. I went and looked instead at the water feature below (the photo above on the right). The photo here is a model of the dome with the outside cutaway.
We were shown around the town and the visitors’ centre. There are many very talented people living in Auroville. We also had lunch at the Solar Café. A large bowl is used to capture the sun’s energy to cook for the 2,500 local inhabitants. All vegetarian food of course. There are also electric zero-pollution vehicles etc so it is a very “green” community
I found Auroville to be rather like a modern-day version of a 1960s hippies commune – cleaner and rather more family oriented, but there are similarities – a large percentage of the generally older men had hair tied back – well at least they had hair I suppose…stop begin jealous David!! The women tended to wear clothes rather like the communes of that era.
Can I say that I liked it? I found it all rather phoney-mystic. Even the title they give themselves (Aurovillians for heaven’s sake!!?) – it all sounds like a horror movie where whole communities are taken over by some outside force. Maybe they have something in their belief. Maybe it was my failing that made it seem rather false and something that I would not want to be part of. However a lot of people think it is the way of the future and they have people from many countries in the world living there. children go to school there but of course there are no examinations. They are brought up to be Aurovillians of the future – hopefully not Aurovillains!!
I think I prefer to be an individual and can’t see myself as part of a general organism like this. Still as they say, India is a place where you are sure to be challenged!!