Puducherry (Pondicherry) Temple

Pondicherry has the indelible stamps of its French rulers, who first set foot here in 1670.  Much before that, in the Vedic age, Sage Agastya had his ashram here when it was called Agastiswaram/Vedapur.

Pondicherry is today internationally famous for Sri Aurobindo Ashram, established by Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), one of the India's greatest rishis, and his spiritual collaborator, the Mother (1878-1973).

Sri Aurobindo Ashram Sri Aurobindo was born Aurobindo Ghose in Bengal in 1872, and educated in England.  Returning to India, he plunged into the freedom movement as a fiery revolutionary.  He was jailed for sedition, but later released for want of evidence.  Sri Aurobindo settled in Pondicherry in 1910, which was then under the French, mainly to ward off police harassment in British India and to concentrate on his spiritual work. In1914, he first met his future spiritual partner, a French woman, Mirra Richard, who was interested in occult and practiced yoga.  In 1920, she came again to stay in Pondicherry permanently.  According to Sri Aurobindo, while he represented the Purusha or male element, she represented the Shakti or female force.  He called her the Mother, a named used to denote the creative Shakti from the Vedic times.  Without her, he said, his conception of a divine life on earth could never have materialized.

In 1926, he announced the descent or a flow of energy of the Godhead of the Overmind.  The Overmind is the source of man's higher intuitions, and is the plane of the gods.  This is the highest state of consciousness achievable within our mental barriers.  Beyond it is the supramental the Supermind.  During the thirties and forties he spent his spiritual energies to bring into the overmind the Superamental light and power or Sat Chit Anand.  Sat Chit Anand means pure existence, pure consciousness and pure bliss.  The three together constitute and Absolute Reality or Brahman or the Divine. During this period, the Ashram took shape under the guidance of the Mother.  From his seclusion, Sri Aurobindo oversaw the development of a spiritual community, while producing a huge mass of prose and poetry until he passed away in 1950.  The Mother continued to look after the Ashram, till her demise in 1973.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram is at a stone's throw from the shore.  A very modest gatewayleads to a small rock garden.  The samadhi of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo is marble topped and tastefully decorated with flowers, while a huge tree and a canopy overhead provide protection from the blazing su.  Silence pervades the air.  Overlooking the samadhi, on the first floor is the room where Sri Aurobindo lived, and above it the Mother's room.  The rooms are open during select days, for instance, Sri Aurobindo's birthday, the Mother's birthday, etc.

The Ashram today is a thriving community of members drawn from all over the world.  There are several departments where the inmates work to produce things the Ashram needs, as also sell to the public.

Sri Vedapureeswarar temple lies 2km to the west of the seashore.  It is an ancient Shiva temple , dating back to the period when Puducherry was known as Vedapuri.  After the advent of the French, during a clash in 1748, the original temple, nearer to the coast, was demolished and a church established in its place. Forty years later, in 1788, it was rebuilt in its present location.

The five-tiered Rajagopuram is 23m (75feet) tall.  Inside, in the sanctum is Sri Vedapureeswarar, in the Lingam form.  In a separate shrine is the divine consort, Sri Thirupurasundari Ambal.  The swayambhu Lingam is said to have been brought here from Sri Samba Eswara temple, in Mission Street, about 100 years ago.  There are several sub-shrines here, including one for Sri Subramanya and Sri Dakshinamurthy.  Saint Ramalinga Swamigal, popularly known as Vallalar, has sung in praise of Muruga here.

Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple is one of the most popular shrines in the union territory.  The temple is 3 hundred years old, and has had a chequered history.  It is said that the French rulers tried to prevent the annual Brahmotsavam, which caused a mass unrest.  As most of the locals were working in the textile units here, the authorities feared that the unrest would affect work in the factories and rescinded their decision.  Despite this, the French authorities tried to disrupt the festival in the following years too, until, Dupleix, the French Viceroy, himself developed an affection for the temple.

The temple is a small, well maintained shrine, close to Sri Aurobindo Ashram.  The Mother donated a piece of Ashram land to help devotees circumambulate the temple.

Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple is the most notable Vishnu temple in Pondicherry.  Built in the 12th century, the temple has been renovated recently.  A majestic Rajagopuram greets the devotees at the entrance.  The temple is on Gandhi Road.  There are several sub shrines here, including one for Lord Narasimha.  Also here is a replica of the Golden Lizard on the ceiling, as in Kanchi's Sri Varadaraja Swamy temple.

Panchavatee, 9km from Pondicherry, on the Tindivanam road, is the site of one of the world's tallest Hanuman idol. The nearly 11m (36feet) idol is a major landmark on the Tindivanam Pondy road. Built fairly recently by Sri Jaya Maruthi Seva Trust, the idol has five faces, Garuda, Narasimha, Varaha and Hayagreeva, with Hanuman's as the central face.

The favorite offering for Hanuman here, as indeed in all his shrines, is the Vada mala: Garland made of vada, the south Indian delicacy.  The vada is said to have ingredients that would please the planets, Sani(Saturn), Rahu and Kethu.  Devottees of Hanuman are, therefore, not affected by adverse planetary positions, it is further said.
Auroville, also on the Tindivanam Road, is an international township, the city of tomorrow, founded by the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.  Supported and administered by the Government of India, and endorsed by UNESCO, it is just across the Puducherry border in Tamil Nadu. Representing an experiment in international living, it was launched in 1968 at an inaugural function, attended by representatives of 124 nations and all the states of India.  This City of Dawn is growing, though the Matrimandir, the central building intended for silent concentration, is now functional, as are many other major facilities.  The nearly 2,000 Auroville residents, from over 40 countries, live in about 100 scattered settlements spread across the landscape, either in the city area or the surrounding Green Belt.  The Green Belt, once dry and arid, has been transformed into a lush green area.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram runs a twice a day service to Auroville, at specified timings.  Buses will take you to about half-a-km near the central reception office.  Autorickshaws are another option.

How to get there:  Buses ply every ten minutes or so from Chennai to Pondy.  There is also a train between the two cities, but that is more for the locals.  Pondy is now connected with Howrah through an express, which passes through the north-east coastal areas of India.  Chennai is the nearest airport. Accommodation:  The Ashram runs several guest houses.  There are plenty lodges and hotels.

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