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May 2003

Why Tamil Nadu?


- narrated to Priya Sundaravalli


Meenakshi talks about the special relationship between Auroville and its home State

Lighting lamps at the Tamil Heritage Centre

The Tamil Nadu-Auroville dream is not new. Long ago, even before I came to Auroville, the Tamil Nadu State government had put some efforts into creating a Tamil Academy inside Bharat Nivas. The then Chief Minister, Mr.Karunanidhi, and the great Tamil Scholar Navalar Nedunchezhiyan were both behind this project that was going to benefit the international community in Auroville and provide a link with Tamil Nadu. At that time, there was an idea to have separate pavilions for the various States, and the present Laboratory of Evolution was the ex-Tamil pavilion. So this is the background we are starting from; and all we have done is to revive an idea by giving it a new shape and structure.

In 1993, on the 25th anniversary of Auroville, Varadarajan, Subhash and I got together and brought out the first brochure on Auroville in Tamil. That was a turning point - to bring Tamil publications from Auroville about Auroville by Aurovilians. This brochure was special in that it was an original work, not translated from English or French. It covered a wide variety of topics such as Sri Aurobindo, The Mother, Auroville and its Charter, India and Auroville, and Tamil Nadu and Auroville, and was shared in a public forum.

We have all done a lot of research on why Auroville is in Tamil Nadu. The Mother too, chose the physical site of Auroville with uncanny precision when so many other options were available that were more beautiful and bountiful. Maybe the reason is not given clearly, but from Sri Aurobindo's writings and the Mother's talks we realized that they often refer to the great work of the Siddhas (wandering saints of Tamil Nadu) done in the land of the Tamils. Mother was fascinated by Saint Ramalinga Vallalar of Vadalur, who apparently achieved the transformation of the body. In Sri Aurobindo's time, Bhagawan Ramana was in Thiruvannamalai living in Arunachala, which was discovered to be geologically one of the oldest rocks on earth. So we are in the oldest land, surrounded by the works of the Siddhas, Alwars, and Nayanmars, many of whose works have been praised by Sri Aurobindo.

There is something very special about this place; otherwise Auroville could not have sprung up here. Poppo has discovered an ancient civilization right below us dating back 3000 years old. Materials from the excavations suggest that a pastoral community may have lived in this area, and they were probably the first settlers. Mother talks about the people native to this area as the 'first citizens' of Auroville. She also goes on to say that Auroville is not a Tamil village, and the residents of Auroville have to strive to be 'True Aurovilians'.

When I came here twenty five years ago, the feeling here and in Pondicherry was that the Tamil people are the working class, and that the Tamil language belongs to the servants. So at the time, there was no existing medium to talk about the language of the people living here or about their culture. Slowly we gathered historical anecdotes relating to this geographical area, and over a period of years, we were able to tell the Tamil people about their rich heritage and culture.

Now there is much happening towards reaching out to the local Tamil people living in and around Auroville. A journal in Tamil has been in circulation within Auroville for the past six years, and Auroville News appears in Tamil. More recently, a Tamil Heritage Centre has also come into existence. Some may question the need for this Centre when there is already the Centre for Indian Culture. But Tamil culture is one of the oldest known living cultures, and there is the need to link the Tamil population living across the globe. There is an idea now to make Bharatipuram, which exists within the Auroville City region, into a living Tamil Heritage Village. Thus slowly we find meaning to our presence here and integrate with the people native to this area.

The Auroville-Tamil Nadu seminar has come about in this environment. Research at Auroville has to be taken both within and without, and a seminar such as this is only an extension of our initial efforts at reaching out. There is a great need for links and communications from Auroville with the people of Tamil Nadu. In this seminar, we invited people who were already familiar with the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and therefore invited people associated with the Sri Aurobindo Centres in various districts of Tamil Nadu. One of the aims of this seminar was to introduce Auroville and provide correct information about it, thereby clearing any misconceptions. A more philosophical goal of this seminar was to unify the different Sri Aurobindo Centres, some of which have serious differences of opinions, and perhaps pave the way for a new unity or a Tamil Charter. Ultimately, our responsibility is to slowly make people realize that we are Karma Yogis here in Auroville, and that we give the utmost importance to our work.

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