M. DINESH VARMA The Hindu, August 19, 2015
It is not that truth-seekers from across the world lose track of their birthdays in the immersive experience of Auroville. While individual birthdays do count in the Aurovillian’s life, it is only two days of the calendar that brings everyone together for a bonfire celebration quite unlike any other.
The only two occasions of the bonfire communion are Sri Aurobindo’s birth anniversary, which coincides with the Independence Day, and Auroville’s own founding anniversary falling on February 28.
In fact, it is with collective meditation and soulful music, though sans the bonfire, that Aurovillians celebrate the birth anniversary of Auroville founder and Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator Mirra Alfassa, The Mother, who established the experimental universal township in 1968.
“The lighting of the bonfire began in the early years to mark the birthday of Auroville. The Mother’s birthday celebrations which preceded Auroville’s anniversary only by a few days, did not have the bonfire part but it was no less beautiful in its conception,” said an Aurovillian who is part of a team involved in the celebrations of Sri Aurobindo’s birth anniversary for the past several years.
Auroville’s pre-dawn bonfire has always drawn scores of Aurovillians, school children and visitors. And Sri Aurobindo’s 143rd birth anniversary that fell on Saturday was no different.
One of the interns of a few years ago at Auroville’s International House has described the bonfire experience on a website as “a really simple, quiet and sacred ceremony.”
“At around 5.45 am, while the bonfire was already burning, Auroville Charter was read in French, English, Sanskrit and Tamil (the four official languages of the “City of Dawn”). Around the urn in the shape of a lotus bud located in the middle of the Amphitheatre there was a beautiful belt of white flowers and the words “Bénédictions à Auroville” written also with flowers and candles. Lovely…” the student wrote.
By convention, the bonfire is organised at the Amphitheatre located adjacent to the Matrimandir, the golden sphere which is looked upon as the soul of Auroville, and a banyan tree. This structure was not yet ready at the time of Auroville’s opening, and would be built in phases and took its final form with red sandstone in the 1990s.
“Occasionally, we do have dancers who wish to stage a performance as an offering are allowed to do so provided the theme is in harmony with the setting,” the organiser said.
Preparations for the bonfire celebrations begin a few weeks in advance. There is even a dedicated team at Matrimandir to organise the event to tend to details such as the text to be played, the installations or what flowers to be used for the floral arrangements.
The theme changes every year as do the text or music that is played after the bonfire is lit at 5.15 a.m. There was live music by a couple of child talents—Shandra on the flute and Vera ringing the bell —in fact, the bell was done especially for the Russian Pavilion by a bell master in Russia.
Also, this year the floral decorations reflected symbols of Sri Aurobindo. It was also decided to play the text of The Mother’s readings from the 1960s of a final passage of Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri.
One of the high points of this year’s celebrations was the theatrical presentation of ‘Savitri, in which The Mother, his spiritual collaborator found “the supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.” Efforts are on to organise a staging at The Ashram theatre later this week.
A really simple, quiet and sacred ceremony
One of the interns at Auroville’s International House