This past weekend I got on my first bus to travel 4 hours to Puducherry, India. While I was there in Puducherry I had the opportunity to visit a small community names Auroville. Auroville is hard to describe, but I’ll try.
Aurovulle is an international community that is located just outside Puducherry in South India. It was settled in the late 60’s by a French woman who was following a guru named Sri Aurobindo. The French woman, named Mirra, became known as “The Mother” and was one of the chief architects of this little city. Auroville is a progressive, idyllic town that aims to be a self-sustaining area where all people from all backgrounds can come together to create “oneness”. The idea is that no one and everyone owns this little sanctuary of India. The goal is education and bridging generations so that people can make new discoveries and reach no limits, only progress.
Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
At the center of this tiny city there is Matrimandir. It’s a golden globe, really. But it’s really an amazing structure. I had a chance to go inside and it was something out of this world.
At first when you come upon this structure it seems deceptively simple, but as you get closer you can see how much work actually went into creating this sphere. In fact it took 37 years to build this structure and was only completed in 2008! It’s a geodesic dome that is covered in golden discs. But looking closer, you can see that the giant golden discs are covered with painted glass tiles, placed by human hands. This really reflects the sun and makes it glow. The artisans who worked on this had to re-learn this particular process just to be able to complete the project.
But that is just the outside of the golden sphere. As you enter the area it is silent. Even around the dome and the paths around it, you get a sense of peacefulness and calm. You can’t hear any machinery or loud auto noises. There is a beautiful banyan tree that is directly across from the dome, all it’s branches reaching into the ground and growing. It’s an amazing tree. The paths lead to the structure of the dome and there are 12 petal like structures around the dome, you walk down the path and take your shoes off. Then you are able to walk up into the dome into a chamber. The chamber is completely silent except for a trickle of water. The space feels tranquil but in a science fiction sort of way. There are a few people around to guide you where to sit without using words, just gestures.
We are seated on a bench and are asked to just sit and wait. They give us thick white socks to put over our feet and bottoms of our pants. We sit there for about 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, I’m thinking, is this it? Is there more? What’s next?
Indeed, what’s next. That was just the waiting meditation area. Where we had to wait for our appointed time to actually go up in to the sphere to the main meditation hall. As we realized our turn, we went around the corner and saw 2 spiral ramps moving up to some doors at the top. The space was wide open, and huge. We realize we are in the bottom of the sphere and are going up. The sides of the ramps are only surrounded by glass, as to not obstruct the view. If you happen to be afraid of heights, don’t look down. The ramp is carpeted. It’s thick and white. The light is a soft orange-red. We almost glow ourselves. We slowly move up the wide spiral ramp and move into a door way.
The door opens and we enter into this giant hall. It’s dark, yet there is light coming in from the top of the structure. The room is all in white. Along the walls of the room are meditation areas marked by white seat cushions. You can see that there are already people who are seated for meditation. I walk around and sit. As soon as I sit I notice a giant globe in the center, held by some kind of gold structure. I am amazed. Not only by what I’m seeing, but by the silence. As I sit a little longer I realize that the silence is more quiet than any other quiet I have ever experienced, and I begin to settle in. Part of me wants to keep looking around to take in what I’m experiencing, but the other half is wanting to calm the mind and just breathe. So, I try doing both.
I begin concentrating on my breath, and I can feel some of the tension fall away from my shoulders, for a moment or two I’m very focused on my breath and trying to sit. But it’s difficult. All my thoughts are wondering about this room that I’m sitting in. So I let it go. I begin to look around, I’m noticing the plush white carpet underneath me, I count the pillars, and realize there are 12, and that they’re not connected to the ceiling, I see that the room is not circular but 12 sided. I notice that the globe in the middle is glass, and the shapes on the globe are the upside down reflections of the people on the other side of the room.. And wow, this is quiet! In my observations of all that is going on around me I try to come back to the breath. I feel better now that I’ve looked around, have taken in some of the details of the space. I sit, I breathe, it’s difficult to not think about where I’m sitting…and all of a sudden. A flash of light. I know that meditation is over. Another flash. We carefully get up from our seated position and slowly walk to the other side of the room out a different door.
We walk out the door and carefully descend down the other spiral ramp. It’s a replica of the other one, glass sides, white carpet, but my feet slide a little bit with each step. I can’t help but look down and notice how big and expansive the space feels. The warm orange-red light within the dome glows once again and we make our way back to the seated area where we started. No words have been uttered, but glances have been shared.
We remove our white socks and place them in a bin and head back outside to collect our shoes and continue to walk around the beautiful grounds in the misty rain.
For all sorts of reasons we weren’t allowed to bring in cameras or anything, so here are some pictures I took at the information center: