“To learn constantly, not just intellectually but psychologically, to progress in regard to character, to cultivate our qualities and correct our defects, so that, everything may be an opportunity to cure ourselves of ignorance and incapacity, then life becomes tremendously interesting and worth living”
– The Mother – inscribed on the wall of the Sri Aurobindo Library, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram stands in the east of quirky Pondicherry, a former French colony of 750,000 people – who will delight with their combination of fluent French and colourful saris.
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy combines spirit and matter (Science) and this dichotomous nature is reflected in the vibrancy and energy of the Ashram community. Founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and then passed down to a French follower, The Mother, the Ashram has developed from a small group of devotees into a community of 2000 Ashramites, including 400 students at the Education Centre. The Ashram is a web of cultural, spiritual and educational development for its members. From a visitor’s point of view it is highly recommended for two reasons: to taste a slice of the spiritual backbone of India, and for the immaculate accommodation of the Ashram Guesthouses. All Ashram buildings are a short distance from the sea.
Visiting the Ashram
The Ashram’s main building is on the corner of Marine St and Manukala Vinayagar Koil St and is open daily from 8am to Midday and then from 2pm to 6pm. Entrance is free but donations are welcome, an English-speaking guide is available to show you around.
The Ashram’s focal point is undoubtedly the tree-shaped centre courtyard where the Samadhi, tombs of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, rest beneath a frangipani tree. A typical scene in the courtyard is of followers laying flowers over the Samadhi before joining visitors on the ground for silent meditation. Silence is perfunctory in the courtyard, and is not peppered with giggles common during a holy church ceremony. There is no ceremony or ritual here – people sit and empty their minds, though not from scientific thoughts. All cameras are forbidden and bags must be left outside with a security guard. This has a symbolic tint to it, inasmuch as spirituality pursues an absence of “baggage”.
Where To Stay
Two Ashram guesthouses are ideal places to stay in Pondicherry:
Park Guesthouse (tel 34412, Goubert Avenue)
A quaint place in tune with the Ashram itself, and thus highly recommended for those searching for the spiritual experience. Singles/doubles stand at 200Rs ($4.30) /250Rs ($5.40).
Rooms are simple and spotless. Those facing East (front) have wide balconies overlooking a garden by the sea, complete with Japanese Torii gate and coconut trees. All rooms include private bathrooms.Food is light, cheap and vegetarian. There is a 10:30 curfew, which can usually be extended following a chat with the doorkeeper. Science and spirituality combine militantly here, as cigarettes and alcohol are forbidden.
International Guesthouse (tel 36699, Gingy Street)
A very reasonable for the shoestring traveller, with singles/doubles in the old quarter starting at
70Rs ($1.50) /90Rs ($1.95). Newer double rooms cost 100Rs ($2.20) and 350Rs ($7.60) with air-conditioning.
All rooms come with private bathrooms. This Guesthouse also adheres to the tenets of the Ashram. Curfew is at 10:30pm, minus persuasive doorkeeper.
The Sri Aurobindo society
This is the official website of the Ashram, citing yoga, mind and more.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram Information
A great resource for learning the political and spiritual aspects of Ashram Life.
Search for light
Is India the most spiritual culture in the world? This website persuades you.
JMM Travel – India travel agents and tour operators
Highlights a rough guide to Pondicherry and other discovered parts of India.
By Sheila Daly