temple-ing and elephant blessings

If you ever wondered what happens in Auroville at 4:30 am, then here’s a quick breakdown: pitch-black darkness and quiet. But then the soundtrack kicks in: dogs barking and perfectly-audible chanting from the village nearby. Nothing to worry about, you just have to twist and turn in your bed for a couple of hours until the sun rises. Then you can either stare at the ceiling or, if you’re lucky enough to live in the International Pavilion, you can go up in the tree-house and treat yourself to some early morning reading. The only downside is that you have to re-read the same sentence over and over again, because you can easily be distracted by the beauty of nature waking up.

When alone-time “I don’t think it’s appropriate to wake up my roommates at 6 am” ends, group activities start. Yoga is number one on the list. Our yoga session accomplished two main goals: relieving the post-travel tenseness and helping us discover muscles we didn’t even know existed in our bodies.

The day continued with an info-sesh that combined cultural trivia with more serious stuff. I won’t go through the innumerable fun India facts and fascinatingly complex mythology, because hey, we are more than tourists, we are here to do an important job and we should focus on that. Today we learned about our role and the purposes of the practicum: it’s all about gaining work experience within an academic frame. But there are millions of questions that we are not able to answer yet. The key word is sustainability and all our thoughts are supposed to revolve around it. There are a lot of “how’s” involved in the equation, but there wasn’t enough time to ponder the information because we had to get going.

Hello Pondicherry, hello madness, hello “how the hell do I cross the street without getting killed”. We also had our first NGO visit: Sahodaran Community Health Oriented Development Society. Ganesh gave us a very comprehensive overview of the organization: they help members of homosexual and transgender communities in any way possible. Discrimination of these groups is highly encouraged by cultural practices but also by Indian laws, so besides the advocacy involvement, this organization provides a safe haven for anyone who seeks it. There are numerous services available, such as doctors, counselors reachable in person or via phone, but most important a hang-out area to do anything, be it watching TV or dressing in drag.

It was soon time for touristy stuff in Pondicherry. We had a choice between visiting the temple and shopping in the market. Besides providing a moment of total culture shock, the temple proves that mixing religion with business isn’t necessarily a bad idea. The welcoming committee is an elephant offering its blessing by placing its trunk on your head (for a small fee, of course). As connoisseurs of local culture, we take our shoes off before entering only to have them kicked out of the way by a very angry young little boy. We can’t just leave them there, we have to give them to him and pay for the service. The main event arrives: we finally enter the temple. As beautiful as it is, it’s equally overwhelming: an explosion of colors and constant hustle. There are pictures of deities all over the walls, people praying and the exit is through the gift shop. Next stop: the burial place of Auroville’s emblem: the Mother. This time the shoe deposit service is free and the interior is much calmer. We went through the vivid garden until we reached the central area where we found a beautiful tomb decorated with fresh flowers surrounded by people mediating.

The day came to an end with a walk along the promenade. We saw the ocean, we enjoyed the sound of the waves and we rewarded ourselves with a break at a nice terrace. Hello India, hello all types of learning, hello tomorrow’s new adventure.

Image

Sorana Ionascu

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