The term ‘Aurobindo Ashram’ commonly refers to the many different units within Pondicherry that are affiliated to the organisation set up by Aurobindo and Mother. Auroville is another distinct settlement which also houses the Matri Mandir – a unique meditation temple.
Like mentioned earlierPondicherry city is integrated with the Aurobindo Ashram. Typically painted grey and white, these Aurobindo Ashram buildings are scattered around the city housing their various departments. It includes numerous guest houses, restaurants, dining hall, samadhi/shrine, playground, schools and lot of stuff basically. In fact there is a bus tour they operate which shows us the various departments, though I did not go for it. I find this amalgamation with the city very interesting. Some 4000 people have settled in Pondicherry around this ashram, hence one can see a different culture coming up in the local people due to this bunch of devout folk.
One oddity that struck me is that Aurobindo Ashram seems predominantly consisting of older folk. Most volunteers are old, senior citizens. Seeing spiritual organizations like Iskcon, Isha Foundation, Art of Living and so many others I am used to these volunteers being largely younger folk so this difference is quite surprising. Another thing to note is that, its fairly tough to find out what the various services this organization has. One has to keeping looking around and asking maybe 4 people to get to know whether a particular service is actually available. There does not seem any central office that one contacts to know more…there is an information bureau but nobody would tell you about it until you stumble upon it yourself. Once you do stumble upon it, its pretty good with helpful folk!
Ashram guest houses are good places to stay in the city. They provide more holistic environment to stay than the usual hotels assuming ofcourse that holistic works for you 🙂 There are budget places to stay where a double bed room is available for 250/- a day, the single rooms are even cheaper. I stayed at a place called The Retreat which costs about 1200 for single room and 2200 for double room. This is a seafacing luxurious guest house – highly recommended!
Staying at an Ashram affiliated place means you can get a pass to the Aurobindo dining. This is a great way to eat some homelike food! Though how much the food reminds you of home is another question considering that many things in this place are odd. Two things mainly come to my mind. One being the huge vessels – the vessels are huge, for a while you might wonder whether you are a lilliputian coming to eat in the house of giants. I have never seen such huge bowls. Its like the small bowl (vaati) where you put daal in the usual indian thali is the size of a good sized soup bowl. The plates and glasses are as big! No clue why…. Apart from that Ashram food is almost the same every single day! Bread, milk/curd, rice, sambhar, fruit. No change, no day where we get parathas or some other menu! I have no idea how the people eat this food day in and day out. This same meal is served 3 times a day at a very reasonable rate of 20 INR for a day.
So while the place is pleasant and people are fairly nice there are some oddities that I kept coming across. These confused me because there seems to be no reason for the same, but maybe I should enquire and find out more! 🙂