By Nipun A Jacob
In the heart of the frantic urban landscape of New Delhi, breathes a serene haven for seekers – the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, says Nipun Augustin Jacob
A temple is shaped where the high gods could live
Even if the struggling world is left outside
One man’s perfection still can save the world.
There is won a new proximity to the skies.
A camp of God is pitched in human time.
-Savitri, Book VII. Canto V
There is only one place that a seeker going to Delhi will dream of staying no matter how many options lie before him; and that is the sublime Sri Aurobindo ashram located near the IIT campus in South Delhi. The serene vista of ancient trees standing , aesthetic grey stone buildings, vast lawns and beautiful flower beds fill the soul with serenity and joy. Singing birds charm the senses, while creepers laden with colourful flowers trail up the building walls. Visitors are inspired to drop their baggage (literally and otherwise) for a while and simply be. As with most ashrams, the food served in the spotless dining hall is satvic, wholesome and delicious, another great blessing for those living away from home. Incredibly, this entire largesse is available at a nominal price. Little wonder that it has earned the gratitude and blessings of every traveller who has set foot in the premises.
The person they have to thank for this wonderful bounty is Surendra Nath Jauhar, a firebrand freedom fighter, businessman and ardent devotee of the great Pondicherry sage Sri Aurobindo, who gifted this land to establish the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi branch, in 1956. He also became the founder of the Sri Aurobindo Education Society, under which he started The Mother’s International School in 1956 and Mirambika – a free progress school in 1982. A dedicated devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, he once said, “This was, then, the supreme discovery of my life, the miracle of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, where I lost my heart and won the soul and the real life.”
There is no kirtan or katha, no preaching, no resident sage, no set rituals, no ceremonies and dress code – yet the ashram has an intensely spiritual ambiance. Leena Bhasin, an art restorer by profession, says, “As soon I enter the ashram, I feel all positive vibrations engulfing me. The serenity of this place makes me feel more natural and beautiful.”
|The serene and tranquil interior of the meditation hall at the Ashram|
Sri Aurobindo needs no introduction. Millions have been inspired and transformed by his teachings. The central theme of Sri Aurobindo’s vision was the evolution of human life into life divine. He wrote: ‘Man is a transitional being. He is not final. The step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of nature’s process.”
A great advocate of integral living, he believed that all life is Yoga, which means that all life is an opportunity to unite oneself with God (yoga means to yoke together or unite). His objectives are relived everyday by the 200 inmates who live and work in the various organisations and departments of the ashram. Any soul can enjoy the freedom of this space but politics, smoking, alcoholic drinks, and sex are strictly forbidden inside the premises.
The activities in the ashram are based on the life-affirming philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, that the world is not an illusion but a manifestation of the Divine. If the Divine is real, its manifestation cannot be unreal. A meditation hall in the ashram opens from early morning till late evening. All are welcome to come to spend some time in quiet contemplation. A collective meditation against the backdrop of devotional music and a discourse on a spiritual subject takes place every Sunday, at ten in the morning.
Above all, education is the focus at Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The ashram runs a vocational training programme from March to September each year for young people from underprivileged sections of society. On the basis of their inclination and level of schooling, they are admitted into carpentry, photo lamination, cooking, bakery, tailoring, hand-made paper and book binding, typing and computers, library science and para-medical training. It is absolutely free and students don’t have to pay for their stay, food or training.
Some of the vocational trainees leave at the end of the course, but many stay back for some more years. They are called aspirants. Aspirants not only contribute to various activities in the ashram but also help with teaching the new vocational trainees. The first sacred relics of Sri Aurobindo are installed in the shrine at the Ashram. Considered a holy spot, visitors, ashramites, and volunteers gravitate there for peace and inspiration. Ashok Srivastava, who looks after the library and is also an Ashramite, says, “I feel the presence of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo everywhere and a divine hand protecting and rendering blessings upon me.”
The ashram has a multi-purpose store called Matri Service Store, which sells items of daily use such as moist and delicious whole wheat cakes( based on The Mother’s recipe), biscuits, honey, the best brown bread in the business, natural jams and juices and ground spices that are prepared and packed in the kitchen of the ashram.
The Mother’s International School or MIS which has been ranked the best school in the country in several surveys is the ashram’s flagship institution. With a student strength of more than 2000 students, it is known for providing its students a wonderful environment of learning, growth and development. Karthik Vyawhare, alumni of the school, says, “I was very fortunate to study here. I gained a thorough understanding of spirituality. It focuses not just on education but also on meditation, devotional songs and yoga, which not many schools focus on. The lessons learnt during my school days have got into my consciousness and helped me to become a better individual.”
|Doing yoga in the spiritually charged atmosphere of the ashram|
MIS also has an evening school on its premises, The Matri Kala Mandir, that imparts training in music, drawing, dancing and martial arts. Every evening, children from neighbouring areas come here to add to their personalities. The ashram also runs Mirambika, a free progress school, affiliated to the National Open School system. Mirambika implements Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s philosophy of integral education without feeling restrained by conventions and established practices, rules and regulations. The school has about 150 children and goes up to Class X. The teaching here is facilitated by young people who are doing a 3-year teacher training course. These teacher trainees stay full- time in the Ashram, do not pay anything and receive hands-on training from senior teachers who are either aspirants or volunteers. Many of the volunteers are the parents of children studying in the school.
The Mother’s Integral Health Centre on the Ashram campus is focussed on wholistic modalities that harmonise the body, mind, intellect and the soul for lasting inner peace and happiness. Though the health centre looks after the health of the children studying in the various schools and of the residents of the ashram, outsiders are also welcome. The team consists of 20 doctors, specialists in different branches of modern and traditional systems of medicine, two physiotherapists, a nurse, aspirants and vocational trainees of the para-medical stream .
The centre also runs classes on the physical practices of yoga and conducts body-mind workout camps, along with providing spiritually-oriented counselling for the mentally disturbed. Sonu Wassan, who is doing a four-month yoga training programme, says, “I was helping my husband in business and being a very socially active person, I was terribly hyper. But, I found inner peace in yoga. Though I have practised yoga for two years I wanted to go deep into yogic practices so I can open a centre, a synthesis of modern and traditional living.”
SABDA (Sri Aurobindo Books Distribution Agency), is a book store on the campus from where all the literature and works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s philosophy are distributed throughout North India and also to foreign countries. You can also pick up CDs, agarbattis, candles, handicrafts and a variety of souvenirs from here.
Giving life and form to the vision of Sri Aurobindo, the ashram is a living testimony to the joy and ineffable peace of a life lived in harmony and integration with the Divine. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
There is a plan in the Mother’s deep world-whim,
A purpose in her vast and random game…
That the eyes of the Timeless might look out from Time
And the world manifest the unveiled Divine.
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