Outside Edaiyanchavady village, near the Red Earth Riding School , is a new settlement belonging to a French woman, Danielle Martheleur. There is a house, a small pool with a beautiful statue of the Buddha, and the four acre holding is being planted out with fruit trees and flowers.
“When I first set foot in India thirty years ago I thought, ‘This is my land. One day I will live here and this is where I'm going to die.'” Danielle was working for Elle magazine at the time, but every year thereafter she revisited India .
“In 1981 I came to Auroville for the first time. There was nothing here then but I kept coming back. Although I am a Buddhist, I love Sri Aurobindo and have been reading him for almost thirty years. In France I knew Jean Herbert, the disciple of Sri Aurobindo who translated all his works into French.”
In 2005 she was in Rajasthan with a friend. “We made an agreement that if one of us died, the other would put her ashes in the Ganges . Fifteen days later my friend was killed in an accident.”
Next year Danielle returned to India with her friend's ashes to fulfil her promise. Before going to the Ganges she stopped briefly in Auroville. “I was in a very sensitive state, I was still in mourning for my friend. Then suddenly, in the middle of the night, I felt I must buy land in this area.”
She consulted her daughters in France , who agreed with the idea. “I had only five days and everybody said it would be impossible in such a short time but I said, ‘Let's see'. An Aurovilian from a local village took me on his motorcycle and showed me three pieces of land outside Auroville that were available. Two were not interesting, but when I saw this piece I immediately felt I had arrived. I went to the Banyan tree and meditated for an hour and then I knew for sure that this was my land.”
In fact, ‘Mailand' is the name she has given to her four acre holding. It is also the name of a Trust she has set up. “It's a foundation for nadopasana yoga which is a singing yoga: you work with your voice. Bruno, an Aurovilian, will be working with me. We'll have a seven day course here in January, February, and people will stay here because I want this to be an integral experience. It's not just about your body but also your personal sound and your diet, it's about feeling good in a natural environment.
“In future I want to develop this place gradually, to have a stage for performances, a massage room, a library. I'm not interested in making it into a business, I just want to cultivate the art of living. I'm 62 now, I've worked hard and now I want to feel good with everything and to share this feeling with others who are on the same road.”
Did she ever consider joining Auroville? “I think if I'd come at the beginning of Auroville I would have been an Aurovilian because I like pioneering, I like creating things from scratch. When I came to this plot of land there was nothing, so I could be creative, unlike in France . In France I am 62 years old, here I feel 20!
“The other reason I don't want to be an Aurovilian is because I have two daughters and I want to give them something, to leave them something. But I'm here because I like many, many things about Auroville – the ideals, the cultural mix, the fact that it is so cosmopolitan.
“My friends who, like me, live near but are not Aurovilians, are all here because of Auroville. We say we are ‘Aurobien' – we are ‘Auroville-well' and we wish Auroville well. We say ‘thank you' to the Aurovilians for everything you have done, you have made a garden out of nothing and it's wonderful, but please open your minds and hearts to us because we are here to help you grow. We are not interested in profiting from Auroville, which is a suspicion I sometimes see in the eyes of Aurovilians who don't know us.
“Do not close the door to people like us because then Auroville would become a kind of club, which is not what Mother wanted. Auroville should be like a heart, expanding and expanding to include all those who love it. Everything is interconnected and Auroville should learn from everything that is happening in the world. So my place is always open to Aurovilians; we can have dinners together, enjoy cultural events, we can talk about Mother and Sri Aurobindo.”
Next month Danielle flies back to Paris , where she and her friends will attend the UNESCO event marking 40 years of Auroville. “When I return to Edaiyanchavadi this winter, we will put on a concert and everybody will be invited. It's crazy to remain separate. We must share what we know and what is good for us, for that's the way we grow.”