The Heart of the World

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A rich dark red colour impregnated everything around us. The sun was setting over a landscape of red earth; the amphitheatre enclosing us was made up of stone slabs of the same deep red which became incandescent under the rays of the fast descending sun. In the centre of the amphitheatre was a white urn filled with soil from over a hundred different countries. An ambient music suffused the scene. This was the evening time of meditation at Auroville, the ideal city inspired by shri Aurobindo and founded by his foremost acolyte known simply as ‘the Mother’.

My cousin pointed out one of the people collected in the huge amphitheatre’s basin as Manohar, a name bestowed by the Auroville community to someone  once known as Luigi and a friend of one of my acquaintances in Lucca. Originally from Naples he’d been here for over ten years and managed Auroville’s website and much of its media. 

A short distance away from the amphitheatre rose a giant golden sphere punctuated on its surface by golden spheres. Above us in the dimming sky rose a full moon. Manohar pointed his camera and took a picture of the lunar and the earthly spheres. We met and he referred to the golden globe as the ‘ferrero rocher’ alluding to that scrumptiously nutty chocolate strategically placed at the check-out point of Italian supermarkets. In all the solemnity of the occasion there was space for debunking humour.

Nights fall quickly in India and by the time we reached the restaurant at the visitor centre the sky was only illuminated by the lustrous silver of the moon which seemed so much larger in the tropical night.

Our coconut, rice and chicken was delicious and we returned to our guest house called samarpan well replete.

I’d heard about Auroville some time ago but never gave it much thought. The idea of ‘the Mother’ gave me a touch of the creeps and, warned off cults, I regarded this community as being of the same league. Yet Shri Aurobindo, the inspirer, had been someone filled with the best of western education at my own college, King’s Cambridge, before turning himself into an Indian Independence fighter and then, eschewing violence, becoming one of that country’s major philosophers and, indeed, poets. Friend of Tagore and many other significant figures, Aurobindo remains a powerful cultural icon, especially in India, to this day.

The mother began as one of his acolytes before Aurobindo entrusted her with the continuation of his ashram in 1926. We’d visited the ashram in Pondicherry’s old French quarter a couple of days previously and touched the sage’s flower bestrewn samadhi or place of his final body-leaving which took place in 1950. It was the mother who founded Auroville in 1968 as a community based on the unity of mankind with its concomitant of generosity, gratitude and cismic love. In 1973 she too left her body and since then her disciples, the Aurovillians, have devoted their energy to turn dream into reality.

Next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of Auroville’s foundation and those wanting to be there are already booking their accommodation. Among those wishing to be there will be many Italians who comprise over 150 of the two thousand community residents. Over half of these are Indian followed by European Union members. The British number rather less than the Italians.

We shall certainly project a return to Auroville next year, not just to escape from the western winter but to learn more about the extraordinary place that is Auroville.

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