Auroville and the Golden Dome of Matrimandir...

The trip highlight from the Southern leg of our journey

From Pondicherry we hired a driver who took us to Auroville, a utopian society conceived by Sri Aurobindo and his consort, the Mother. It is quite famous for its science fiction-like Golden Globe, called Matrimandir.
Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta in 1872. His parents sent him and his older brothers to England to be educated when he was only 7 years old. He stayed in England for 14 years learning Greek and Latin and studying English literature and poetry. Upon his return to India, he became very politically involved and was a founder of an underground revolutionary group and was jailed for his seemingly unpatriotic beliefs. While in prison he began the deep study of the Bhagavad Gita, and had many remarkable spiritual experiences there in jail. After prison, he then turned to the life of spirit and wrote many important books on what he termed "Integral Yoga". He went into seclusion in 1926 in Pondicherry for the remaining 24 years of his life.

Sri Aurobindo's close spiritual collaborator, Mirra Richard, was known as The Mother. She was born in Paris on February 21, 1878, to Turkish and Egyptian parents. Involved in the cultural and spiritual life of Paris. She went to Pondicherry on March 29, 1914, finally settling there in 1920. Sri Aurobindo considered her his spiritual equal and collaborator. After Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion, he left the planning, running and building of the growing Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the community of disciples that had gathered around them, to her. She was a great organizer and visionary, and went on to conceive of the plan for Auroville.

Auroville is like a Utopian community, based on principles of harmony and spiritual awakening. It welcomes people from all around the world, and has as one of its central tenets that there shall be NO religion practiced there. It's not about religious belief, but upon a life well lived. There are now 2,000 people who live and work there, and the ultimate vision was to accomodate 50,000. Everything in the town is carefully laid out, and arranged into 12 areas, which are based on 12 guiding principles, such as Goodness, Progress, Serenity, Receptivity.

The heart of Auroville is a giant banyan tree, said to be over 5000 years old. The banyan is known throughout India as a very holy tree, and it is always recommended to engage in spiritual practices such as meditation or chanting under its boughs. The seed of the banyan is empty in the middle, portraying the true nature of Reality - that a massive outgrowing can come from a tiny seed, which has at its core pure emptiness. And its such a great tree to look at - as the branches get too heavy, they send out shoots which develop into massive support trunks themselves - so it can keep spreading further and further out.

Banyan Tree

Immediately to the side of the banyan is the structure that Auroville is most famous for - the magnificent Golden Dome, known as Matrimandir. Matri means mother, and mandir means body. This building took over 40 years to built, and was entirely designed by The Mother herself. She saw every detail of it in a vision, and directed the French architect with whom she worked in its creation, down to the last centimeter. It was finished after her passing, but the whole structure is strongly permeated by her presence and her Sankalpa - her Will.

The first day we went to Auroville we could only get a pass to view it from the gardens...

pods outside dome

We also spent quite a bit of time during that visit in the gift stores at the visitors' center. They are really beautiful, and feature the many different kind of products all made by the residents of Auroville. From lovely hand knit sweaters and silk clothing, to hand made paper, lamps, jewelry, shoes, food, jelly and health products, incense - on and on. All with very high quality and care. Really lovely.

We were able to make a reservation to go into the dome itself a few days later. They only take about 40 people at a time, and begin with a discussion about Auroville as a community and about the dome. The dome is said to represent Pure Consciousness, arising pure and whole and radiant.

PC in Tuk Tuk

Each dish is covered with gold mosaic tiles and is about 6 feet in diameter...

switches

As our group approached the dome, we all assumed silence. Leaving our shoes and sandals outside, we proceeded up the ramp and into the dome itself. (note the doors to either side too - these go into the petals - we'll describe them in a moment)

Photography was strictly prohibited, but we found these pictures in a book afterwards that we took this photo of to give you an idea... sorry about the image quality.

ramp

The first entry is a circular room, all white marble, softly lit and ringed with a marble bench. Every 4 feet or so along the bench were built-in little bins that held soft clean white socks, which we were all asked to put on. The rest of the dome is carpeted, and the red dust of the outside soil would quickly make a mess of it. And this adds a lovely soft touch, and clean feel to it all.

dome

After putting on the socks, we proceed into the inner circle, which opens up into the middle of the dome itself. The lighting is magnificent - all soft rose colored, and a huge spiral ramp lets you gradually climb up to the upper half of the dome where the meditation chamber is. Though they use the word concentration, instead of meditation.

The feeling as we walked around and up this ramp was heavenly - it was the closest one could imagine to being in an ultra-futuristic space station. As a hard core Trekky, Mpod was in bliss! E too.

ramp

The inner chamber is magnificent! The room is about 25 feet high and about 60 feet in diameter. It is carpeted in white, and the walls are all white marble. There are 12 columns in a circle, but they are not structural - in fact, they end about 5 feet below the ceiling. The room feels circular, though in fact it is twelve sided. Cushions were placed around the floor, with amble and delicious spaciousness. Even though their reservation list is full everyday, and they could easily get many more people in the room, this provision for space and quiet was a great feature we really appreciated.

And as we sat to meditate, the silence that filled the room, even with all those people in it, was profound...

coco

The room is softly lit, like this drawing below, and the most important feature is the crystal ball in the center of it. It is 70 cm in diameter (about 27 inches), and sits upon a gold stand of interlocking six-pointed stars. There is a hole in the ceiling, and two computers continually adjust a set of lenses that usher a beam of sunlight straight down onto the crystal ball. You can see the shaft of light radiating like the sushumna inside the ball, and it pulsates and moves dynamically with the natural fluctuations of sunlight. It is magnificent!

There is a hole in the floor below the crystal ball, and the sunlight continues on down in a shaft through the lower chamber that held the ramp, and even below that to the underside of the dome, where there is a large lotus-pedalled waterfall of white marble under the dome.

food
Here is a model of the dome that was in the visitors' center, just to give you an architectural idea....
family

Our first visit to the inner chamber was limited to 30 minutes. But after that introduction we could then make reservations for a one hour sit - which we happily did. So we had two sits inside. The meditations each time were profound and immediate. We have a Pod joke about a meditation-geiger-counter reading - and this place was way way up there on the scale.

We were also able to meditate twice in the petals. These are twelve pod-like rooms in the twelve individual brick buildings surrounding the dome. Each is also white marble, but has a soft colored light washing the walls - each petal a different color.

sari women

blue
Each also has a specific and different design on the wall in front. This was the design in the Receptivity petal, where we first sat. We also had a sit in Goodness, which was a more red tone. Each petal held about 10 people in it, and was a divine place to meditate deeply. We could spend a long time in Auroville....
petal
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