Both Aurobindo and the Mother have now moved on from this world, but have left their legacy not only in the ashram, where devotees from all walks of life pay their respects daily, but also in the experimental community of "Auroville", about 15km north of Pondy
. This UN-backed utopia has as its goal "human unity in diversity" and is currently home to about 1,700 "Aurovillians" from 35 different nations and representing a range of different classes and creeds. At the inauguration ceremony in 1968 representatives of 124 nations each brought along some soil from their homeland, to be mixed in a lotus-shaped urn which rests at the heart of the township. Next to the urn sits the immense spherical Matrimandir
, a pure white meditation room which has at its centre the world's biggest crystal, and through which a single intense beam of sunlight is channeled by panels on the roof. Auroroville owns a number of commercial ventures and does a lot of good work in the area. It was originally anticipated that around 5,000 people would live there, but at the moment not even half this figure has been reached and from what we witnessed progress is slow and much of the construction is still unfinished. It was also interesting to observe the type of people that have moved out there from the West - mostly white 60s throwbacks riding around on scooters (though about 70% of the population is Indian). Whilst the initial aim of cultural diversity was undoubtedly fulfilled at its inception, you have to wonder about the second and third generations of Aurovillians growing up in their peaceful bubble in the hills of Tamil Nadu. Or maybe I'm just bitter because we cycled 30km there and back (which made Sarah sick) and we didn't even get to see the inside of the Matrimandir!
P.S. Sorry to dissapoint you Dad but the zoo from "The Life of Pi" doesn't really exist. And anyway, if you remember the reason for Pi's family getting onto the boat in the first place it was to move all the animals to a new life in Canada.
Pondicherry is the former capital of French India, and the French influence is still readily apparent from the freshly-baked chocolate croissants to the colourful L'Eglise du Sacre-Coeur. However, these days the overwhelming influence on this charming seaside town is the ashram co-founded by Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, a French lady called Mirra Alfasa, better known as "The Mother". Aurobindo was born in northeast India but was educated in the UK, studying at St Paul's school and Cambridge university. He is perhaps best known for his fierce opposition to the British occupation of India, but has also dabbled in poetry and expounded a philosophy of "Divine consciousness", which can be reached using his method of "integral yoga". Sounds a bit dubious, admittedly, but no-one can argue with his ultimate goal which is the evolution, and elevation, of the human race.