The following is the introductory text to the exhibition of photographs I took in 1983: “Sadhaks of Integral Yoga – Sri Aurobindo Ashram”, displayed at Pitanga, Auroville, February 14 – March 3, 2012. Monday to Saturday 8-12.30 and 2 – 6 pm. Closed on Sundays, and on 28th February.
SADHAKS AT THE SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM, ‘
December 1973, Sri Aurobindo Ashram. I address in French a young Indian woman standing at the gate. She replies in French and takes me to the inner courtyard, the location of the ‘samadhi’, a white marble memorial where Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s bodies are laid to rest. Upon seeing the sacred shrine covered with flowers, along with all the people clad in white, who appear to me like angels, tears roll down my cheeks. I feel that I have returned home, finding the way back to realms I had visited as a child, and then lost. Vainly had I tried to pierce through the veil to that world again; but the more I tried, the more it kept eluding me, like a distant dream.
The following day the young woman – who happens to be the granddaughter of the late Rishabchand – takes me to her home, where she lived with her younger sister and her aunt. At the age of three she was presented to the Mother and, unable to separate from her, she refused to return to her prosperous family in
So the Mother confided the child to her aunt, a yogini who spent eight hours a
day for twenty-eight years, until 1962, in the Mother’s room at Her service.
During those years there was, as yet, no kindergarten at the Ashram; so,
following her auntie about, Mounnou also spent her days in the Mother’s room.
The young woman who, as a child, sat on Champaklal’s lap, while playing with
his beard, became my first friend there – and her aunt, one of the Mother’s
attendant, my second. I was subsequently introduced to the world of the early
sadhaks of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, paraphrasing the words of Nolinida, “paradise on earth”. Calcutta
These relationships were my gateway to that other world, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram of the golden years, which was under the direct guidance of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who were charting the path to the Supermind and a unitary world of free multiplicity. But let’s never forget that at the same time Nirod, the prankster, graciously entertained Sri Aurobindo on a variety of subjects and, with both of them cracking jokes, everything turned into laughter. The Divine is humour too; it is an important aspect of Grace. There are no words to describe the way I felt, as I was privy to secret teachings not through words, but by example and radiance of being, which I received from each and all of them. I never felt lonely or abandoned as, for me, the Guru was there, in them, through them, immortal.
Guru, father, mother, spouse, child and revolutionary companion, Sri Aurobindo was everything for me, the beginning and end of my universe. I pursued my path my own way, spontaneously, shunning those giving advices and ludicrously posing as teachers: the Guru is within, in the sanctuary of one’s heart, and there is no other teaching. I was forced to build a barrier to prevent the intrusion of blabbering parrot-like people with their endless chant, “Mother told me this, Mother told me that.” The consequence of the inner violence perpetrated by such individuals was that, for the first one and half years, I could not open to the Mother. I recognized two opposite worlds: that of the early sadhaks, for whom everything was divine, and their atmosphere in which I bathed, where only Love exists, and Love and more Love, the world of pure psychic beings – and that of the others’, a lifeless, dull parody of what cannot be taught. Nor did the sadhaks take offence when told that I was unable to accept the Mother because of the others’ idle chatter. My bond with Sri Aurobindo was such that the Mother’s attendant, her family and others in their special milieu kept on laughing, while telling me, “One day you will remember her.” And when that day actually came, I fell on my knees. But I will never forget the loving compassion and liberalism of those early sadhaks, who accepted me as I was: a young married Italian woman, but who came alone, as yet without a clue on the nature and significance of the Avatar and, on top of that, even refusing the Mother! They simply kept on cheerfully laughing at my foolish resistance and that was it.
With the special permission of the Ashram Trust I was allowed to live for a few months with J. K. K., the Mother’s attendant, in the house allotted to her. The Mother had come there three times and sat on her bed, to stop the young woman with a fiery character from leaving the Ashram. Two younger sadhikas shared my friend’s house with her; in the past, up to six female ashramites had been living there, sharing the kitchen and common exterior bathroom. Experiencing the life of early ashramites from close up gave me a hint of how their sadhana proceeded, in a path that makes no distinction between the inner and outer life, both being mutually interdependent. In Their yoga, perfection through purnayoga is to be attained in one’s daily work and living, at every instant, as a perpetual offering to the Divine of one’s thoughts, feelings and deeds. When J. K. K. came in the thirties she was only eighteen, and the Mother almost immediately chose her as one of her attendants. The way she had come was special too. The Ashram, then, had only a hundred and twenty inmates, living in basic facilities and having no contacts with the external world, and there were no new admissions. Consequently, few people were appointed to deal with eventual visitors. The Mother dealt with each case individually, with her assignments and accommodations differing according to the inner needs and development of the disciple. The Ashram had so little money, those days, that tea was served only once a day; once a week the ashramites cued like little children to get a mint candy that the Mother put in their mouth.
Day in and day out, year in and year out, mostly at teatime, J. K. K. told me precious details about the Mother and her surroundings. Though afterwards her family lost its wealth, the Mother had been brought up a distinguished lady with a superior education. Both intellectually and artistically she was at the cultural summit of being. Yet, my friend informed me how careful the Mother was with the humblest things, which moved me to tears. The lingerie the Mother wore under her exquisite external vestments, given to her by loving disciples, was carefully mended when necessary. She did not discard one single object; even ordinary boxes and scraps of paper were reused. My sadhika friend dealt in the same way with her own clothes and objects, treating them as old friends. For decades after the Mother left the body, J. K. K.’s sadhana continued to involve wiping every object down to the tiniest in the Mother’s old room, which is adjacent to Sri Aurobindo’s.
I started extensively reading Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s books, publishing long compilations in book-form from their works, only when I moved to Auroville. Bathing in the atmosphere of the early sadhaks, as long as I lived in
the Mother’s Prayers and Meditations and
Sri Aurobindo’s Last Poems were all I
longed for. My sadhana proceeded according to my experience, as a humble initiate,
of the spiritual significance the Mother had given to flowers, which she saw as
a powerful tool to trigger the emergence of the psychic being. Inwardly
integrating the message of some of the flowers, artistically displayed in the
shape of a mandala on the samadhi, I got the message for the day. The first
year I did not even ride a bicycle, I only walked, as every flower or blade of
grass, every spot on the walls or sidewalks was a source of wonder and delight.
By repeating the same act every day, at the same time, in the presence of the
same people, I gradually understood what the path of Integral Yoga is all
about: day-to-day methodical routine fully concentrated on the Divine. The sadhaka is alone with the Divine, with no other guru but one’s
psychic being. Meditation or other practices, even states of samadhi, are no
more than optional, the way of Integral Yoga being relentless concentration, at
every instant of time. Whether awake and engrossed in work and one’s daily
activities or sleeping and dreaming, a state of inward concentration is
required, encompassing all layers and planes of being from the subtlest to the
densest, down to the last cell in the body. Pondicherry
This is what I learnt, without words, just absorbing like a sponge the atmosphere radiating from those sadhakas. Some had come very young; others got married and had children but, by the time they joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, they were there for the Divine and only the Divine. Through their integrity and total dedication, their utmost simplicity that is true greatness of being I felt, tangibly, that the Mother’s work is not a chimera, nor a utopia. I realized that it is the future awaiting all of us the moment we surrender to the Call. Ultimately, it is the only thing worth living for, the very purpose of our taking birth, our mission and our destiny.
That world, Nolinida’s ‘paradise on earth’, and my own too, because of which I left behind whatever I had, is no more. I had the privilege to be a witness of it for a while, as long as it was able to manifest, before having to plunge back to our day-to-day reality, with all its harshness but also its challenges and call for transformation. Whenever it becomes too tough and I feel I can no longer take it I take shelter in that world, which is eternal and exists forever; calling for the Mother’s Grace that we too, in Auroville as at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, can become living messengers of beauty and graciousness, with the pure flow of psychic and divine love. Paulette firstname.lastname@example.org
 A man of considerable intellect and a sadhak who lived at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Rishabhchand is the author of the first ‘political’ biography of Sri Aurobindo, written on the Mother’s request, and of a compendium on Integral Yoga, also written on her request, to introduce the Path to the West. Several members of his family became members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram a long time ago. J. K. K. was his sister-in-law.
 Sri Aurobindo considered Nolini Kanta Gupta his most advanced disciple, and the one who had the best understanding of his Yoga. Freedom fighter Nolini was closely associate to the Master since their nationalist years.
 The Mother lived there until 1962, prior to the attack by the false “Sri Aurobindo” that nearly cost her life.