This morning we awoke to the sound of our room phone ringing. Still disheveled I passed in to Scott, who transitioned instantly from deep sleep into business mode “Yes, hello, put it through.” It turned out that for today’s activity to have any chance of working, I would need to go consume an orientation film (or “flim” as they say it in Tamil since the “lm” phoneme is difficult), and this would require we arrive by 2:30. So be it, we thought. It was to be our first full day, waking and retiring in India. Spirits were high in our fine room at the hotel l’Orient and we bustled excitedly. We had a breakfast of masala dosa –a kind of crispy flapjack filled with spicy potato– and a very tasty south Indian coffee. How’s south Indian coffee made, you ask? Play the video below.
With full stomachs, we vetured out into the steamy day. We had, as you dear reader are no doubt aware, acquired a cellular telephone and indian sim card the day before. And we find here a perfect example of how india continues to surprise me with its strange mixture of bureaucracy and ambivalence. Though we were technically required to present a passport, a passport size photo, and proof of residence before we could get a sim card, the owners of the fine shop which we entered. Mobile phones did not seem to be thier main business, rather they sold clocks, watches and breakable nicknacks.
They did a number of head wiggles and just gave us the phone on no more than an almost unreadable passport copy and a set of AsiaWeeling business cards. So providing them with these materials was the first order of the day. We stopped to buy some $3 shirts and flowing Indian pantaloons on the way back the l’Orient.
We arrived back at the hotel (or “hotle” as the Indians would say it) to find our friend Jagruti and a white ambassador waiting to take us to a Utopian-style cashless society which exists outside of Pondicherry called Auroville. I had the night before been introduced to� the beautiful Jagruti and her devastatingly charming friend Mendakini when we took them out for seafood tandoori at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel Promenade and she had promised to the next morning to do what she could to get us into a meditation session in what I had only heard was rumored to be a one of a kind structure, housing the worlds largest crystal in the world (I mean here the kind one makes nice wine glasses out of– not the regimented molecular kind). The cab ride was delightful. Our driver was significantly older and more cautious than the previous days’, though I am still unsure which was the more dangerous of the two rides. As we neared the expansive grounds of the community, the crumbling fruit stands, nicknack shops and patched together houses dissolved into beautiful jungle, the road transitioned from cracked cement into deep red packed dirt, and soon we were passing into Auroville. We followed well marked signs towards the visitor center and arrived just as a crowd was forming outside. My first impression of Auroville was attributable (as many first impressions of places are) to the architecture. It was phenomenal, proving that despite the cashless society there was plenty of money here.
Our driver left to go park the car and relax while we entered the orientation. The first part was just about the Matrimandir, an orbular building located in the center of the very much still under construction community of Auroville. The community is shaped like a galaxy, centered around a very special banyan tree, and just to the side of the banyan tree was the Matrimandir.
During the film, a photo of the Matrimandir dissolved into a schematic of the interior. Inside there were spiraling walkways and a smaller orbular room in the top. Giant mirrors on the roof collected sunlight and focused it into a beam which shown down through the center of the building and through the giant crystal ball in the central room. I was honestly stunned. I thought such places only existed in science fiction novels. The second part of the film detailed the philosophy and history of Auroville, with regards to which I will refer you elsewhere for details.In the interim between the end of the orientation and the beginning of the meditation, we had a breakneck tour of the campus.
Everywhere we went, we saw healthy looking European and light skinned Indian people lounging or doing administrative work, all very peaceful, most were smiling. We passed outside the entrance the the inner circle of Auroville, where the great golden dome loomed over manicured lawns and curving brickwork. We were told by the woman at the gate that it was likely we would get in but only be able to stand, but Jagruti worked some magic and before we knew it we were holding deep blue translucent tokens which were to redeem our passage into the Matrimandir. We strolled around the grounds of the inner sanctum, freshening up, drinking water from a large tank with a single metal glass atop it to be used by all who wished to drink, and in no time we were in a large group of Indians and foreigners heading for the golden sphere. We stopped outside to wait until 4:30. At that time the workers )mostly dark skinned indians with singular dress and large turbans were to finish their work. We must have total silence inside the matrimandir. The crowd was given explicit instructions: do not say a word; remove your shoes; put on the socks that will be provided to you; do not cross the inner concentration room, walk only along the parameter, touch nothing but the handrails, move nothing but your own body.
So this we did. As I walked towards the great sphere, it became apparent that its many gold panels were made of smaller gold panels, forming an intricate and glittering design. At the entrance of the matrimandir we we descended a great sloping walkway of red brick, great walls of the same material rising smoothly on both sides. We silently arranged our shoes along this walkway and entered the golden door.
Inside it was cool and dark. In the antechamber, which was lit in a deep red light, we donned the socks we were handed by a smiling woman and began to file into a white marble doorway. Inside the matrimandir there was more marble, arching skyward towards a second sphere, which floated high above us. From the bottom of this sphere, a brilliant ray of light shown down into a tall obelisk, with a lens at the top. All around us were the elegant curves of the interior support structure, all lit in cool blues reds and yellows. Fountains ran along the walls, next to plaques with inscriptions in Hindi and English.
We heard only the trickle of the water was we ascended the ramps. Our feet made no sound on the ramp which, upon steepening slightly, became thickly carpeted and gripped the foot. As we neared the top of the ramp, we could see the great dome, with its single door. At this point I had become separated from scott, and was near the head of the line, so I entered an almost empty space. Once again, the temperature dropped as we entered the interior of the inner orb. The room was very dim, lit only by the light which reflected from a great crystal ball which sat atop a golden stand made of four six-pointed stars. A brilliant beam of light shown in from the sealing, so bright that the light scattered by ambient dust was stark and purest white. The beam fell directly into the center of the crystal, and passed out the bottom of the marble floor on which we walked.I took a seat with a cushion that leaned against a pillar, and sat down. I must admit, the sight of this great orb and the beam so bright as to seem almost solidified, had a profound effect.
It was the entire experience, the architecture, the silence, and the inner room itself, which transformed the consciousness of those who chose to “concentrate” as they called it. I sat town and stared into the light. I know that meditation is supposed to be about clearing ones mind, but I have never had any luck at that. The closest I can get is wheeling, or swimming laps with a snorkel… but oh… the torrent of processing that I had. in that room My mind began to churn over so many things: from Asiawheeling logistics to the meaning of existence. It seemed like only a minute later that the lights flashed silently in the room, telling us to leave. I stood and followed orders, thinking: perhaps this is indeed a step towards mind like water…
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