Faith and its side effects…

Today was one of those days that show you a whole different side of life that you don’t really give much thought to. On reaching Pondicherry after a long tiring journey, we rested in the afternoon hoping to have enough energy to do some exploring in the evening.

Our hotel is very close to the Aurobindo ashram, so that was the natural choice for our first visit. In all honesty, I’m not a believer in such things- sages, and their followers. I’d heard a lot about Aurobindo and Mother (in the sense that I know people who are devotees), but never knew about him, his philosophy or what the hype was about. Secretly thinking in my head that there’s not much to see in an ashram, I thought the visit would be 15–20 mins max. While try

ing to find the place we came across an old couple walking. I asked him for directions to the ashram and he said they were heading the same way, so we followed them. In conversation we found out that they were Gujaratis from Baroda and have been coming here for the last 3 years. They were going to the Ashram as it was the Mother’s birthday today. I figured it would be a temple and you’d go, pay your respect and walk out. But when we reached the Ashram we saw hoards of people already waiting in line to enter. You had to get tokens to enter and uncle directed us to the line for them. We wondered whether it was worth the wait, but having come that far, we decided what the hell. We waited for them to start distributing tokens while uncle and aunty held a spot in the line to enter the ashram.

As soon as we were allowed to enter the ashram area, everything suddenly fell silent. There were tons of ‘volunteers’, for the lack of another word, guiding everyone. What followed after was wonderful. Everything was so organized, in lines you were guided to this area outside which was divided into sections for seating. You were made to sit in lines and await your turn to enter the ashram. It was so lovely to see people of all different backgrounds, colour and religion sit in such quiet harmony. Only whispers could be heard and some faint aroma of oils that someone was applying surrounded you. Everyone waited in silence for their turn to enter. There was no pushing, no impatience, none of the ‘violence’ that is usually found in holy places. We sat for 30 mins, alone with our thoughts, until it was our turn.

We handed over our tokens to the volunteers when we entered and we saw these really orderly lines of people heading up stairs and all around the ashram. It’s at that moment I realised what a powerful thing belief can be. This ashram housed 2 people that lived almost a century ago. And yet it was being visited so many years later by people who have such strong faith in someone who no longer exists. The silence that permeated the entire ashram was almost liberating. Even for one who didn’t believe, you couldn’t help but be overcome by a strange sense of peace.

As we walked around the entire house looking at rooms the Mother had lived in, or the chair that Aurobindo had sat in, you almost felt transported to another place. Beautiful flowers adorned the hallways and every room. There was nothing commercial about the entire experience. There were donation boxes around in case you wanted to contribute, but no religious men promising you nirvana through a sip of holy water ruining your experience. There were signs that said ‘no pranams’. This wasn’t a place of ‘worship’, merely a house of belief. 2 hours later we stepped out of the ashram and the silence and felt that we had visited a completely different place altogether. A cool sea breeze and a crescent moon and star greeted us. Almost like for a while, we had been cleansed. We thanked uncle and aunty, clicked a photo with them for posterity, folded our hands in gratitude and walked away. They didn’t know our names, we didn’t know theirs. But it didn’t matter that evening.

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