Pondicherry and its Spiritual Aura

Tripoto
24th May 2014

Aurobindo Ashram

Photo of Aurobindo Ashram by Ankit Ghosh

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Photo of Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Ankit Ghosh

Notre Dame des Anges

Photo of Notre Dame des Anges by Ankit Ghosh

The Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate Conception

Photo of The Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate Conception by Ankit Ghosh

Left to Right: Lighthouse, My Cycle, Gandhi Statue

Photo of Left to Right: Lighthouse, My Cycle, Gandhi Statue by Ankit Ghosh

French War Memorial

Photo of French War Memorial by Ankit Ghosh

Manakula Vinayagar Temple

Photo of Manakula Vinayagar Temple by Ankit Ghosh

Pondicherry is a quaint and radiant town with a blend of Tamil heritage, French discipline and spiritual mindset. It is within the Union Territory of Puducherry, engulfed by the state of Tamil Nadu on the south-eastern coast of India. It is easily accessible from major cities like Chennai and Bangalore by bus or car.

White Town…

My journey to this beautiful Union Territory last summer was concentrated on Pondicherry’s oldest settlement and touristic hotspot- White Town (also known as French Town). This is the region that served as a port to the French East India Company, and hence witnessed the most spectacular colonial stimulus, with all the major educational, governmental and religious institutions built majorly in Baroque (and some Gothic) architecture along typical French street layouts. I visited many temples and churches, namely Manakula Vinayagar Temple- a Hindu sanctuary for worshipping Lord Ganesha created even before French occupation, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus- an epitome of Gothic architecture which was elevated to status of basilica in 2011. The contrast in architecture of the Tamil temples and Colonial churches helps enhance Pondicherry’s cultural diversity. In addition, I rented a bicycle for INR 50 (USD 0.8; you can rent a motorbike for slightly more) and toured the picturesque Goubert Avenue one morning. Located right along the beach, the Avenue hosts some of Pondi’s governmental institutions like the Consulate General of France, Le Mairie de Pondicherry, Pondicherry Court and the Government Secretariat, along with monuments such as the French War Memorial dedicated to the fallen French Indian martyrs in WWI, the Mahatma Gandhi Statue, and the Lighthouse- one of French Pondicherry’s defining edifices. A long stretch of Goubert Avenue is known as the Promenade and is frequented by tourists for a melange of the sea breeze, architectural marvel and social gathering.

My visit to Pondicherry also featured a day with a multilingual French local, lunching and conversing on life in the beautiful city. I visited the Pondicherry Museum and witnessed the remnants of ancient Indian empires of Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagara dynasties, as well as of the Roman trading centre Arikamedu which today is an important archaeological site within the Union Territory.

The Ashram…

Founded by the great revolutionary, yogi and philosopher Sri Aurobindo Ghose in 1926, the Aurobindo Ashram is the spiritual epicentre of the town. Just entering the Ashram brought a sense of tranquillity and inner peace, let alone meditating within a beautiful garden next to the Samadhi (remains of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother) and practicing Integral Yoga. I stayed at the International Guest House, one of many accommodations provided by the Ashram and certainly the closest to it. Throughout the town, there are numerous buildings owned by the Ashram that serve their own purpose, i.e., the Ashram’s Dining Room, located just round the block from our Guest House, and serves as a community dining hall where ashramites and tourists staying at an ashram guest house can have breakfast, lunch and dinner for a meagre INR 20 (USD 0.32) a day. Simple meals consisting of brown bread, milk, curd, butter, dalia (wheat porridge) and a fruit are provided daily, prepared and served by volunteers and ashramites themselves. This modest aspect of the ashram attracts poor and rich alike as they sit next to each other by the table, truly depicting a life without materialism or elitism.

Auroville…

Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator, Mira Alfassa, or simply the Mother, presided over the Ashram after the sage’s retirement into seclusion in 1926. It was she who is credited with founding what is perhaps the world’s greatest example of human unity- Auroville, an experimental township 12 km north of Pondicherry with the vision of bringing men and women all over the world regardless of race, nationality and religion, to come and live together in a self-sustained community. Applicants wanting to live at Auroville are to stay for a minimum of 3 months before applying for a residency permit. You can find more information on living at Auroville here: http://archive.auroville.org/comingtoav/how2join.htm

At its centre lies the Matrimandir (Sanskrit: Temple of the Mother), another brainchild of the Mother. The edifice is a large golden dome containing an inner chamber where tourists, ashramites and aurovilians come to practice Integral Yoga. Visiting the Matrimandir is an absolute surreal experience. To visit the shrine I had to book a ticket two days prior to my visit, as only a few batches of tourists is permitted per day. First time visitors like me were briefed about the intentions of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with the screening of a short video on the history of Matrimandir, followed by an interactive session. As I entered the dreamlike building I was instantly flushed with white; from the walls to the futuristic staircases, it all seems out of the world! All the staircases led to the Inner Chamber: a mystical, soundless dark room where one truly transcends. I sat down cross-legged around a captivating prism that reflected sunlight entering from a void vertically above it, and began my journey through Integral Yoga, which for many enlightened souls became the pursuit of Divine Consciousness.

Spiritual awakening…

If I had to sum up my trip to Pondicherry in one phrase, this would be it. A divine escapade from the rigours of daily life, this small but wholly significant town has the utmost capability to cleanse your soul.

Peaceful; Close to Ashram; At the Centre of White Town; Inexpensive
Human Unity at its finest.
Place for meditation and integral yoga; out of the world experience.
Photo of Matrimandir, Auroville, Bommayapalayam, Tamil Nadu, India by Ankit Ghosh
Remnants of French aristocrats, Ancient Empires and a Roman trading post.
Where nature meets culture; Beautiful Bay of Bengal coexisting with French colonial buildings and monuments.
Photo of The Promenade, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India by Ankit Ghosh
The resting place of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother; The birthplace of Integral Yoga.
Photo of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, India by Ankit Ghosh
Tamil architecture; Existed since before French occupation; Visited by millions every year
Photo of Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, Puducherry, India by Ankit Ghosh
Modeled on the Lourdes Basilica in France; Built by mixing fine limestone and egg white, resembling the texture of white marble.
Photo of Eglise de notre Dame des Anges, Puducherry, India by Ankit Ghosh