4th Auroville & Puducherry Village Heritage Festival 2017
I had been told by many people that Pondicherry and Auroville were two must-sees while travelling through South India. As my two-month stay in the city comes to an end, I quickly planned a four-day trip from Chennai to visit these two cities. And the timing couldn’t have been better, as my visit was bang in the middle of all the hustle and bustle as Auroville and Puducherry prepare to open the gates to the many nearby villages on the 4th Auroville & Puducherry Village Heritage Festival 2017. The festival will take place next weekend April 15-16, from 10 am to 5 pm in Bamboo Land, Mohanam Cultural & Heritage Centre in Alankuppam, Auroville.
Mohanam Cultural Centre is the work and realisation of a group of young men from the surrounding villages of Auroville. Young Tamil men, from different villages created the heritage centre to be a bridge between the traditional and the modern, the old and the young, between what is happening in Auroville and what is unfolding in the villages around.
The aim of this festival is to promote the rich cultural heritage and folk history of Tamil Nadu, and bring it back to the villages and the world. The cultural heritage centre works by sharing the local traditions and the heritage through a lot of different activities and programmes to visitors, schools and tourists to let them experience local knowledge and wisdom.
During this festival there will be folk dance, singing, martial arts and theatre classes offered for the youth. The event programme includes cultural activities such as bullock cart rides, storytelling, kolatam, thappattam, kolam and kummi. There will be an exhibition on village impressions, a contemporary and traditional craft market, besides a seminar on Pondicherry and bio-region heritage.
A competition on traditional dishes and snacks will be held during the weekend. For sports fans there will be kabaddi tournaments as well as kho-kho, sillattam, kotipul and thayam.
Into the dome
The most amusing experience on my trip was the tour on day four, inside Matrimandir. Matrimandir is a place of individual silent concentration situated in the centre of Auroville city, designed by Roger Anger. This golden sphere is a place known to be ‘property of all humans, where foreigners don’t exist and everybody is welcomed.’
To get inside Matrimandir you must undergo a pretty harsh process, and there is no booking in advance. You have to go to the Visitors Centre the day before you want to visit between 10 am-12 pm and make a reservation. The reason for this, as explained by one of the guides from Matrimandir, is to prevent ‘hurried’ tourists to get into this sacred place.
Even though this is known to be the most famous site in Auroville, not many people really know what is inside Matrimandir. The architecture of this place is unbelievable. There is a really long ramp that leads to the main meditation room, which is lightened up by the biggest crystal sphere in the world (70 cm diameter). Its architecture is a combination of modern Western and traditional Indian architecture.
Everything in and around Matrimandir is focused around the number twelve. The mother, ideologist and spiritual guide of the Aurovillians named the twelve gardens that surround Matrimandir as ‘Existence, Consciousness, Bliss, Light, Life, Power, Wealth, Utility, Progress, Youth, Harmony and Perfection.’ The Mother of Auroville said these twelve gardens “must be an expression of that consciousness which we are
trying to bring down”. Here, they believe practices such as meditation and yoga can help us connect with our sub-conscious being, and therefore, boost our consciousness.
In awe of Auroville
After a three-hour bus ride from Chennai, I got to Pondicherry where I visited Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, Gandhi’s statue and some nice cafes and shops, including Café des Arts and Villa Helena Heritage Guest House & Restaurant. I also managed to pick up a comfortable pair of soft brown handmade leather chappals from a tiny shack of a shop where there was eye-popping pink, green and orange footwear too. Pondicherry is one of the cleanest cities in India and don’t declare that lightly, since from Madrid, I landed in Delhi and went on to Mumbai before my stint in Chennai. Before the night came in, I took a rickshaw to Auroville. I stayed at Green’s Guest House dormitory at Rs700 for two nights. Details: greensguesthouse.com