On the 29th of September, Dr. Karan Singh inaugurated a new building in the Savitri Bhavan complex
“I have a strong feeling that this place has its own programme and we just have to try and keep up with it,” says Shraddhavan, coordinator of Savitri Bhavan. “This place really has a dynamism,” agrees Helmut, the architect. “My whole time is taken up here now – I no longer go to meetings and I've stopped all my other architectural projects. But it's a very nice feeling.”
We are sitting under a cassia tree in the garden of Savitri Bhavan . Behind us workers are weeding a grass mound and putting the finishing touches to a lotus pond in preparation for tomorrow's inauguration by Dr. Karan Singh. “Some time ago we submitted a proposal for funding under the SAIIER development scheme,” explains Helmut. “Recently we got a phone call. ‘Can you spend 6 lakhs in the next three months?' I looked at the plans, I saw how I could slice off a piece of the larger project, and that's what is being inaugurated tomorrow – the first module of the core building.”
The first module consists of a meeting hall and office. It provides a spacious entrance to the other parts of the main complex – the library, art gallery, classrooms, amphitheatre and conference hall. Of these, only the library is already built, but funding has already been sanctioned for the next major phase. “When the core building is finished, only the Conference Hall and a 12-room hostel will remain to be completed,” says Helmut.
But what about the architectural challenge? How do you set about designing a place which, in the words of the organizing group, “will breathe the atmosphere of Savitri”? “Clearly,” says Helmut, “it can't be the kind of design which we architects habitually use. It has to be something which can stand through the years, something which seems to ‘grow out of nature'. To achieve this I had to find something which didn't push my personality into the foreground, I had to go beyond my superficial design ambitions to discover something which answers the deeper purpose of this place. The result may not be as fancy as some other architecture, but this is not important. What is important is that the buildings should not pose disturbing questions. They should simply be.”
I look around. The graceful white sweep of the first construction, inaugurated in 1999, is now complemented by the soaring curve of the north wall of the new core building. Inside all is light, space and simplicity.
But the dynamism surrounding Savitri Bhavan is not only expressed through funding and construction. “Almost every day something special seems to happen here,” says Shraddhavan. She leans forward, excitedly. “Let me tell you the Huta story.”
In 2001 Huta entrusted the whole set of her Savitri paintings – which she had worked on with Mother – to the care of Savitri Bhavan. “It was an absolutely unforeseen but marvellous offering: exhibiting them will become a main focus of Savitri Bhavan. But it is also a huge responsibility.”
For example, after 40 or so years the paintings are no longer in prime condition. Fortunately Aurovilian Manohar put Shraddhavan in touch with Dr. Laura Tacelli, Senior Conservator of Paintings in Genoa , Italy. She advised, among other things, that only a small number of the originals be displayed at any one time: the rest of the collection should be represented by reproductions.
These already exist – an Aurovilian photographer, Giorgio, had photographed the entire collection as part of a project to make a series of films. “So when the gallery is completed in the next phase of construction, we will show the entire series of Huta's paintings, all 468 of them, at the same time, just as Mother wished.”
Meanwhile, the regular weekly activities have expanded. Now, in addition to the Savitri Study Circle which has been meeting for over 10 years, there is a ‘Learning English through Savitri' class, and Shraddalu and Kittu Reddy from the Ashram give talks on The Synthesis of Yoga and The Foundations of Indian Culture respectively. A group also meets regularly to listen to Mother's recorded talks. Then there is the newsletter, as well as various research activities. These include Vladimir 's research on the Vedic references in Savitri and ongoing work on collating Savitri references in Mother's Agenda.
“One activity I'd like to start,” says Shraddhavan, “is a study circle on Sri Aurobindo's Practical Guide to Integral Yoga. I think it would interest those people who, like me, feel very strongly that all our organizational, economic and other problems are due to the fact that the innermost aim of Auroville is not upfront enough. From my own life I know that just having the knowledge is not enough: you really have to begin practising the discipline. So maybe a study circle is one way in which we can encourage each other to do this.”
“And then, of course, there are the gardens. So far most of the energy has gone into construction, but with Narad we are developing the concept of a Savitri park made up of small gardens representing key moments in the poem. At present we are focussing on the garden outside the new building. Here we are trying to recreate the atmosphere of the destined meeting place of Savitri and Satyavan.”
Talking of destiny, after laying the foundation stone of the Savitri Bhavan project on 24th November, 1995, Nirodbaran gave a message. He described Savitri Bhavan as a “twin” to the Matrimandir and went on to remark that “this new project has a great potential and will be growing up to an extent we cannot easily foresee.” Eleven years on, has the ‘great potential' of Savitri Bhavan been more clearly understood and realized?
“For many Aurovilians the most important thing is that it is a bridge between the Ashram and Auroville,” says Shraddhavan, “for here is a place where people from the Ashram can come and speak. Many Aurovilians can give intellectual talks about Sri Aurobindo, but people flock to listen to Ashram speakers because they carry something special. And the Ashramites are very happy to come here. When I took round invitations to the Ashram trustees for tomorrow's inauguration, I was bowled over by the welcome I received.
“Savitri Bhavan is also an aspect of Auroville which receives a lot of appreciation outside. It is open to the general public and it is something people can relate to because it's so obviously connected to our ideals. This is particularly important at the local level – there's an immensely growing interest in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother all over Tamil Nadu. Recently, when I was lying in bed with a bad back, I sensed that Sri Aurobindo was telling me, ‘It will be the people of Tamil Nadu who will build Savitri Bhavan'. So that's when we started our Tamil journal using transcripts of talks given here in Tamil.”
But perhaps there is one other bridge provided by Savitri Bhavan, and that is a bridge between the Aurovilians themselves. “Many of our visiting speakers attract a very diverse audience of Aurovilians,” says Shraddhavan. It is also significant that the House of Mother's Agenda has moved to Savitri Bhavan, for this will draw to Savitri Bhavan those Aurovilians who might otherwise not have been attracted there. And this may be a powerful means of dissolving residual tensions between certain Aurovilians stemming from our internal conflicts in the 1980s.
“Savitri,” wrote Mother, “is a Mantra for the transformation of the world.” Who knows? In its own way, Savitri Bhavan may already be playing a crucial role in the transformation of Auroville.
Progress in building Savitri Bhavan photo album