Pondicherry: The French Connection

Pondicherry is a Union Territory in India and one of the few regions in India not colonised by the mighty British Empire. It was a French colony, and therefore, stands out in terms of architecture, culture and tradition. Located in South India, Pondicherry has several places of interest but my trip was focused on just one thing - the Auroville Experience. I had heard a lot about the iconic gold round ball that is the meditation centre or Matrimandir, but never had a chance to visit. Determined to see it before I drown in the madness of city life, I decided to visit Pondicherry and my family tagged along. Spread over just under 20 square kilometers, Pondicherry is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on other sides. Our resort - Tanto Resort - was on the border of Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu. It was close to the Auroville Ashram so we chose to spend our weekend vacation there.

I think before I narrate my experience, a small description and context setting are important to understand the significance of Auroville and why it is visited by thousands of tourists every year. For those who don't know what Auroville is - Auroville is a small, experimental township in Pondicherry that is based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother or Mirra Alfassa. It strives to become a universal town where people live in harmony and break the shackles of politics, nationality, race, religion, etc. The mother was a French citizen and met Aurobindo for the first time in Pondicherry before the First World Wa, then settled with Aurobindo in 1920. She was instrumental in shaping Auroville and it was her vision to turn the then barren land into a flourishing township. After Aurobindo passed away in 1950, she established the Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education in 1952. She then founded the experimental township of Auroville in 1968 based on Sri Aurobindo's vision of coexistence of people from all walks of life. The township is based on Aurobindo's vision of new forms of individual and collective life. All this and the history of the place are depicted in a short film when you visit the Ashram and book your tickets to Matrimandir.

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As we came out of the film, I was overwhelmed with the idea of collective living, and a lot of what I had been observing at the Ashram started to make sense. There were so many people from different countries doing daily chores at the Ashram that it was incomprehensible at the beginning. As I walked around the place, I was called on to board a bus that was headed to the Matrimandir - another marvel that, trust me, cannot be found anywhere! Matrimandir literally translates to mother temple. But it is nothing like a temple, church, mosque, you name it! A small rickety bus took us to the golden, ball-shaped Matrimandir. As the sight of the Matrimandir became clearer, my excitement touched a completely different level. After entering the compound and showing our tickets, we were escorted by a guide who told the significance of meditation and the do's and don'ts of entering the main meditation hall or concentration center as it is called.  People who visit Matrimandir for the first time are allowed to meditate for just 15mins. However, as you visit the place for the second time, the duration is increased to 30mins and so on.

I hope I can do justice to describing the entire Matrimandir experience. You really need to be there to believe it. Beautiful, mesmerizing, tranquil - all are words understating the experience. The experience of entering the Matrimandir is surreal. Imagine entering a dome-shaped ball where there is pin-drop silence with snow-white surroundings. The place is as clean as you can imagine. After all, all visitors are asked to fold clothing so that their trousers are well above the ground. The visitors are also asked to remove their shoes and wear clean socks provided inside Matrimandir. A spiral dim-lit staircase leads to the main concentration room. As you enter the room, there are 12 white half erected pillars in a circular formation that don't touch the ceiling. In the center of the pillars is a crystal ball. Just above the crystal ball there is a small opening through which light enters the room and strikes the crystal ball. This is an extremely scientific and intelligent way to light the room. As you finish your 15 minutes inside the room, you are requested to step outside and then head downstairs to see the lotus-shaped structure just below the ball. As I got up, I felt at peace and calmness descend on me like never before. Quietly, we all walked to the lotus structure where we could see and hear the flowing water. The lotus is a symbol of the mother and the dome is the supposed to be the bud of the flower.

Once out of the Matrimandir, you can roam around the gardens and take pictures of the surroundings. In one of those gardens is a tree that is supposed to be around 100 years old. Surely, one has to visit this former French colony to enjoy serenity and beauty of Matrimandir. Matrimandir is a symbol-dream in architecture and a marvel of beauty and harmony. Explore the French connection of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo at this experimental township and have a tranquil vacation.  

Massive thanks you Medha from @travellers_neo for this guestpost! Find her at www.neotravellers.com for more.