"Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Pondicherry On Sri Aurobindo's Birthday

Ganges Sharma returns to Pondicherry for the third consecutive year in commemoration of Sri Aurobindo's birthday.

Friday Aug 13th: I was waiting in the boarding lounge of Sharma Transport, reflecting on the fact that for the third consecutive year I was attending the celebrations for Sri Aurobindo’s birthday. The two weeks preceding it were hectic and I was unable to get any confirmed accommodation or my return ticket to Bangalore.

I had reached early and was examining my boarding pass. Across me was a boyish looking familiar face, getting his endorsement from the counter. I exclaimed – “Rohan! Where have you been? And how have you been?” He smiled and we exchanged pleasantries. In passing I enquired whether he would like to come by taxi on 15th night. He looked at me and said – “We were destined to meet! I was looking for someone to travel on my return ticket. This morning I got leave sanctioned for 16th. And I have to get a new booking”.

About Pondicherry
At a Glance

Return to Manali
Lifelong Tryst

Sacred Space
Pilgrim Trails
Masters & Sages

Having plonked my baggage, I turned to see Rohan beside me. He said –“What a coincidence!” The bus rumbled along and we took a closer look at each other’s lives in the past one-year. He had moved to a new job and so had I. Both of us shared the thought, “ We chase petty transactions day long.. And the real purpose of life is different”.

At 4 am we reached Pondicherry. The autorickshaw dropped me at Karnataka Nilayam. The caretaker said they had a last minute cancellation so there was one room available for me.

The morning air had a salty coastal tinge. On the streets, the preparations were clearly going on for tomorrow’s event – Darshan of Sri Aurobindo’s Room. The previous year some 15,000 had congregatedfor the occasion. At the Ashram, walking past the many hued flowers, I saw devotees silently meditating; some with their eyes open. I knelt at the Samadhi. The aroma of flowers and incense enveloped me. I sat in quiet contemplation. The shade of the tree, and the perfumed aura slowly led me into an almost trance state. It was soothing and I was at peace.

At 6.45 am, I proceeded to the Ashram dining hall. Breakfast was austere – milk, banana and brown bread. Looking around the hall, my attention was caught by the relaxed pose of the Oriya lad who had helped me with coupons two years earlier. He smiled and gestured that I should join him. He asked me about my spiritual progress. I told him, I had been regular at reading the epic poem Savitri. I had not comprehended it, but I believed in its transformative powers. He nodded in agreement.

He dropped me on his scooter at the junction. By now the sun had come up and hawkers were displaying their earthenware. I was looking for Shanthi. Her husband was manning the desk and eagerly showed me the new range of candle stands, ‘Ganesha on Boat’, earthy miniatures for burning ‘sambrani’, shells and wooden statues. I bought some pottery before moving to Auroshikha. Here various scented oils awaited me: rose, jasmine, sandalwood and more. I headed back to Karnataka Nilayam. I quickly fell asleep.

Towards evening, I called Rohan. Meditating together at the Ashram, time passed quickly. It was dark now. Rohan’s parents had invited me over. They were from Bengal and pampered me with sweets, custard and other delicacies. His father had a long innings at the coal mines of Bihar, a militant unionized set up, with links with the underworld. I heard tales of a particularly chilling experience and a miraculous escape on his life.

It was way past 8 pm when I left Rohan’s home. Dinner was over at the dining hall. I discovered a great eatery, the Green Peas restaurant, and tucked in idlis and sambhar. The ride back gave me a complete view of the preparations for 15th Aug.

Day 2 began in the wee hours of the morning. At 4:45 am, I left for the Ashram along with two gentlemen from Karnataka Nilayam. In front of us was a half km queue to collect the token for ‘Room Darshan’. We were lucky to get the 8 am slot. The next program on our agenda was the group meditation organized by Ashramites. Clad in white, the elderly were seated in armchairs. We streamed in and sat in rows around the Samadhi. Only the shuffling feet broke the silence. The bell struck thrice and the serenity was palpable. Half an hour later with the gentle awakening of a cuckoo clock, we opened our eyes.

We had an hour before ‘Room Darshan’. One of the two gentlemen was sharing the statistics of turnout – the majority were from the east and the new converts were from the south, etc. I was curious to know whether he hailed from a district panchayat office. He laughed and confessed he had been in the demographics statistical wing of the urban center in Bangalore.

At 8 am, sitting in the carpeted area, I watched young children offering water to all in perfect seva bhav. The moments of waiting were over. My turn came. As I climbed the stairs, I was keenly aware of the magnificence of all of Sri Aurobindo’s works. On reaching the room, we got a small leaflet capturing quotes from Sri Aurobindo. Every accessory here seemed to convey the timelessness of Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s teachings. The climb back led to a long corridor. We prayed and moved on…

I went back and started packing. In the evening, there was another session of group meditation organized at the Ashram playground. My bus was at 9 30 pm. I enjoyed a walk to the seaside with my Oriya friend from the evening before. We sat on boulders and watched the surf pound the turf. I hailed a vendor selling ‘sundal’. He smiled and said – “You must be really hungry!!” We went to a café and chatted for an hour. Earlier he had been a state level sportsman. Feeling an inner calling, he now lived here. A decade ago, he mused.

We parted and I headed for the playground. Rohan and his family were also there. The live band was saluting Mother and there was excitement all round. At 7 30 pm, the lights went off and the tape came on. The quivering deliberate tone of Mother’s voice was heard against the humid sand, fresh breeze and a powerful sense of community, peace and harmony. I discovered the true meaning of Auroshika – fragrance and light beyond ages. Now I continue to play and replay the many wonderful moments I had in Pondy.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.