By Roli S
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother – the names take us all to Auroville Township that has become synonymous with Pondicherry, a union territory located on the southeastern coast of India. Some ten years ago, during one of the episodes of finding myself, I had discovered Madhuban, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram situated at a height of 5,000 ft above sea level, overlooking a picturesque village in the Kumaon range of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. Madhuban, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, is an extension of the Delhi branch of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. I had taken to reading a lot about people who had progressive mindsets rooted in ancient and nationalistic fervour. Sri Aurobindo’s name figured in one of those readings. Curiosity and a need to escape from the regular had brought me to the Madhuban Ashram a decade ago and the ashram remained with me since then. The pandemic and the churning processes happening in my life once again propelled me to come to the ashram and soak in the ‘Valley of Divine Love’ and get a grip once again on the space that beckons each one of us to pause and to connect to one’s inner ecology amidst the abundance of flora and fauna. No wonder Sri Aurobindo called the place, “My Foothold in the Himalayas”.
The journey on 3 October from Kathgodam station to Talla Ramgarh took me about two and a half hours and my eyes looked around eagerly for the familiar Madhuban Ashram that is situated at a height from the main road and, there it was, shining like a pearl in the ocean. My eyes and heart both lit up.
Madhuban is the place where the beekeeping association of India took birth more than 60 years ago. I am told that the property was offered to the Ashram by a devotee in 2003 and is continuously being developed since then. The meaningful signboards that guide one from the entrance pathway, that is a steep climb of half a kilometer, are welcoming and friendly. I took to this path with lots of hope and anticipation, once again, after a long time. Remembering Sri Aurobindo’s words that this Ashram has been created with another object than that ordinarily common to such institutions, not for the renunciation of the world but as a centre and field of practice for the evolution of another kind and form of life which would in the end be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit.
When I reached, the ashram was abuzz with the animated voices of school children who had come from New Delhi for a weekend camping trip and were excitedly busy choosing and buying their favourite stuffed toys and other products made by local village craftswomen. This win-win spirit of the Madhuban Ashram was a big takeaway for me the last time I visited here and I was so glad to see the same tradition continuing and the involvement of Dr Anju Khanna , who is central to all the activities happening at the Ashram. I was so glad to find her there, right where she belonged. The beauty of Madhuban, the exquisite fragrance of the flowers all around, the majestic mountains, and, above all, the simplicity, love, care, and dedicated service from all the other members of the Madhuban community had made a deep impact on my heart. All that was in place and had bloomed and prospered for the better, I noticed with a happy heart.
What I like about the place is that all the ashram residents as well as visitors need to be mindful of their own personal routines while being respectful of the community’s fixed daily practices that include morning yoga/shramdaan, strictly followed mealtimes, collective reading, sports/physical fitness session and daily meditation practice. In the Ashram, there is skill building for youth and women, as well as other vocational training taking place within a fixed monthly schedule based on availability of volunteers and permanent residents. This time around, when I came here, I was so impressed and blown away by the community work that the Madhuban Ashram has been doing especially during the pandemic lockdown period. The Teacher Resource Education Centre, (TREC) and Community Perspective on Education, Health and Livelihood Survey, (CPEHL), together have not only developed programmes and training aiming at opening up education and livelihood opportunities especially for educated and less educated women of the villages around Talla Ramgarh, but also developed and conducted surveys and applied Participatory Action Research (PAR) to get to the root of the issues that impact the overall development of the eight village communities of the region that the Ashram has covered.
I am glad that there are plenty of dedicated places for meditation, yoga, group activities and sports/fitness at the Madhuban Ashram and every step here is a learning experience. One must do his/her own housekeeping and keep the living areas clean. Though the helping hands and friendly faces are always available, but the place inspires one to do one’s bit to become worthy of staying at such a divine and friendly place – a perfect blend of thespiritual and industrious! The world needs more of this, I thought to myself as I witnessed the concept of putting spirituality into action for the uplift of local communities so beautifully at Madhuban Ashram. The satvik food cooked by a very dedicated staff member, Munna, who worked here even when I came here last time, combined with the modern amenities and comfortable rooms are more than one can ask for in a supposedly spiritual retreat. I witness and learn about the concept of putting spirituality into action for the upliftt of local communities in Madhuban each moment I am here.
Natural beauty and trekking are the two trademark specialties of Madhuban Ashram. I found that the valley in the foothills of the Himalayas that is seasonally changing to herald new beginnings has had its impact on the Madhuban Ashram as well. There are plenty of flowers still blooming and making the place beautiful even in the month of October! In the springtime, the place must be a riot of colours and beauty I thought to myself. Anyway, I was the witness to a water lily come to life in the pond and a sunshine yellow dahlia dance merrily with the wind, and a tree house where one can meditate under the green canopy.
I feel truly blessed to have “discovered” this quite extraordinary place where the aspect of integral education has been a focus since its inception and TREC programmes are a step forward towards education which is holistic in nature to benefit the local community. What can I say but wish that the place flourishes and carries forward the true spirit of The Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s teaching and message to the world.