Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Auroville...

So... our stay in Auroville ended up being longer than we expected. From the Central Guest House, we moved to Verite', a community in the North West part of this green town. Our new room was called "Skyroom," it was on the upper floor of a barn-like structure, which made it a little hot, but so beautiful and spacious that it was worth the extra warmth:

During our extended stay, David and I paid daily visits to the Matrimandir to meditate/ sit in silence for about an hour. This is a HUGE spherical building covered in discs made of goldleaf fused in glass, so that the whole thing looks like a shimmering ball of gold (in fact, only a total of 6kg of gold were used fot the whole building.) Inside it's WILD. It was designed by Roger Anger in the 60's and has a total futuristic feel, a little like being in a spaceship, with two spiraling platforms that lead to a 2nd floor chamber. This chamber is totally dark except for a gigantic clear optical glass ball that refracts light in the room as well as through itself in a channel of light that moves down and out of the building. Inside, the Matrimandir is mostly made of white marble, and when you sit in the meditation chamber it feels really soothing... You can read more about this non-religious gathering space here. It's thought of as the "soul of Auroville," and the whole town is planned around it.

(You are not allowed to take pictures of the Matrimandir up close. Here, behind the tree on the forefront, you can see the Matrimandir on the right and a glimpse of a beautiful and huge banyan tree on the left. The banyan tree was discovered by the original Auroville settlers and chosen as the center for Auroville.)

(A better shot of the Matrimandir, with less objects in the way. It's slightly squashed in shape, like the Earth. It reminds me of the yolk of an egg/ an ovary/ the center of a flower -it's surrounded in what are called "petals" - as well as all sorts of other images of fertility. When you are inside, it's quite womb like too...)

(Speaking of flowers... The Mother was really interested in the connection between flowers and spirituality. Auroville takes its flowers - as well as its trees - very seriously, and the grounds are covered in beautiful and delicious smelling blossoms. Above are two lotuses from the lotus pond at the Quiet Healing Center, a resort for massages and other treatments right by the beach...)

While we were in Auroville, we went by the Tibetan Pavillion, which is a new building that was inaugurated by H.H. Dalai Lama just this past February. It's quite new, and the picture below makes it look more like a digital rendering than the real thing!

Within the urban plan for Auroville, there is a whole area designed for buildings representing cultures from all over the world... I think this will be a very interesting aspect of Auroville to watch evolve, with all sorts of politics and differences in interpretations involved (even with the assumption that everyone means to represent each culture at its best.) The Tibetan Pavillion is an interesting example, considering all the political controversy around China/Tibet/H.H. Dalai Lama, and so forth.

It was great spending some more time in Auroville. On Friday afternoon we went to visit Sadhana Forest, a special place where a family is replanting 300 acres of dry and depleted land with trees (together with the help of about 500 rotating volunteers each year.) I did not take any pictures, but you can learn more about this project on this man's blog as well as in this article. Definitely a place to check out if you go to Auroville!

Our last night was made particularly eventful thanks to a Ramayana festival taking place at a cultural center nearby (Adishakti.) We got a chance to see an evening performance of Kathakali, a dance form from Kerala. It was great! I have seen a solo Kathakali dancer perform before, but this was much more complete, and so theatrical! What really struck me was how much of a popular kind of theater Kathakali is, reminiscent of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte. I imagined a very serious evening of classical Indian dance, but it felt much more participatory and humorous than, say, a Bharatanatyam performance piece. Kathakali is filled with stock characters and well known stories, so that the audience can always anticipate what is coming. Each character is introduced by a makeshift curtain (held by two stage hands who, in this case, seemed a little bored with their job!) and while loud drums beat frenetic rhythms, the audience waits in anticipation for the character to be revealed in all his/her glory and color (costumes are so dramatic!)

(Who could it be?!)

(Ta da! It's HANUMAN! The performance we got to see centered on Hanuman and his quest to cross over to Srilanka to find Sita- damsel in distress previously kidnapped by evil Ravana- and reassure her that Rama was on his way to save her.)

One of the more interesting scenes in the performance involved Hanuman's encounter with an ugly and evil demoness who obstructs his entrance into the city of Lanka. After several attempts to get passed her, Hanuman slaps the demoness and...lo and behold, she transforms herself into a beautiful deity and we discover that she was under an evil spell. By slapping her, Hanuman has restored her beauty and divine state. The moral: if your woman has ugly breasts and demon like behavior, slap her into beauty.
(The encounter with the horrific demoness. We are told Hanuman openly makes fun of her ugly breasts...)
(Post-slap beauty. I believe here she's thanking Hanuman for hitting her...)
And here is Ravana, in all his evil-regal splendor, standing next to an apathetic and uninterested Sita-she does not do much for the whole play.

(After attempting to seduce Sita with precious jewels and textiles, Ravana looses his patience and decides to kill her. He is stopped at the last minute by his wife, who reminds him that one must never kill a woman. This is an interesting triangle, in which the wife begs her husband not to kill the woman with whom he's trying to have an affair...)

We left Auroville a couple of days ago, spent two nights in Pondicherry, and visited the nearby town of Chidambaram, where there is a large and renouned Shiva temple. Our next destination: Trichy. I will create a new entry for that shortly.

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