We sat inside the dim auditorium at the Auroville Town Hall, where we had been fighting our eyelids all morning to stay awake, and prepared ourselves for our next talk. It was about Tamil culture. Actually, we had been anxiously awaiting to attend this particular lecture—to learn about the people whose language we can’t understand, whose culture is so foreign to us, and whose home we are inhabiting for four weeks.
We were greeted by Meenakshi, a well-known Tamilian poetess and educator. She stood in front of us, in an earth green Sari (which we later learned is 6 meters long!). Her demeanor is strong yet quiet, and wisdom radiates from within her. In her quiet she commanded attention. At the same time she is humble with kind, thoughtful eyes.
Her male colleague was seated cross-legged on a long bamboo mat in the background. Next to him there were two tables, one with some medicinal plants from the Tamil Nadu region, and on the other table, a statue of a dancing god. Beneath the table was a burning oil candle. The light symbolizes compassion. Meenakshi says that,
“Once there is compassion, problems can be seen in a different light”.
As dutiful students, we came equipped with questions: What does the head bobble mean? How do Tamilians deal with conflict? How do they interact with Auroville? Do Tamilians like Auroville? As we asked our questions she turned back to her colleague, who then scribbled something on the palm of his hand.
She giggled a little, then digressed. Meenashki spoke to us about the ancient Tamil culture, and the root of its rich traditions. Tamil culture is inherently spiritual, even in the formation of the language.
Tamil is not only spoken in India, but it is also spoken in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. The whole language is built from the sound “a” or அ. The vowels are linked with the soul, and the consonants are linked with the body. All Tamil sounds are linked to the energy centers of the body, and like this, they are like living letters. Meenakshi’s friend is chanting the different sounds as she explains the meaning of “sum” (oneness and unity), and I can literally feel the sounds’ vibrations even though he was a generous distance away.
Meenashki says, “Nature is our God”, and the giant Banyan tree, which grows from the tiniest seed gives Tamilians faith in God. Like the Banyan tree, whose branches eventually become its roots, we are constantly growing. Meenakshi showed us beads and stone tools, dating back thousands of years to illustrate the antiquity of her culture. The growth of Tamil culture was temporarily stunted by Europeans who colonized their land. Now they work to bridge this gap. Along with a group of Tamilians, Meenakshi realized the Tamil Heritage Centre (THC) in Auroville to help bridge this gap. She says they feel a connection with the Aurovillians, who in a sense worship a “mother goddess” at the Matrimandir, like Tamils do at temples.