also the photo gallery
K. Raman, a Tamil Aurovilian, has been in Auroville almost since
its beginning. As a youth he worked at and around the Amphitheatre
during school leave to make some extra money. Later he worked at
a variety of jobs. He credits the late Ruud Lohman with much early
support and his introduction to Auroville. Raman is one of the Aurovilians
who, after joining the township, has made full use of the opportunities
given to develop many of his various latent skills. Widely appreciated
in the community, he is known by some as an artist, by others as
an architect, and today Raman devotes his time to cultural restoration
& awareness projects and video film-making.
to his architectural background, Raman quickly points out that he
has no formal 'school' training as an architect. He learned this
craft through practical apprenticeship in the early Aspiration architects
office, as well as through practice itself, building buildings with
low-budget contracts such as the night-schools in Kuilapalayam and
Bommayapalayam. In 1994 he astounded Indian officials by completing
a government commissioned day-school in Poothrai (near the Hermitage
settlement) using less than the allocated budget of Rs.1 lakh 20,000.
"Probably the first time in Indian history: there was even
a notice in the Hindu (newspaper)", he says. Raman's work in
Auroville can be seen in a number of places, including ABC at CSR,
Verite Hall and Auroville Bhakti, which, while initially meant to
be a large factory, today contains many of Auroville's small workshops.
Although structures he has built abound, he says, "Still, I
wouldn't call myself an architect."
his current practice, video film-making, he talks about his first
film, in which he "looks at Auroville from the villager's point
of view." He traveled around the three main villages in the
Auroville area, asking questions. "It was a huge work. The
amazing thing is that people f.i. working in Matrimandir for twenty,
twenty-five years don't know what Auroville is, what Matrimandir
is..! So that's the angle I was tackling. But I did feel awkward.
The people are very sweet, smiling: typical Tamil Nadu faces. We
should include them also - this place is not only meant for people
who read literature, Sri Aurobindo and Mother; it must be also for
Although the villagers generally may not know the ideals behind
the practice, Raman agrees that nonetheless their involvement in
the work here has had a strong influence on them. His film, 'Voices
from the Village', was shown a number of times in Auroville, and
is available at the video library as well as at various AV International
Pursuing video filming
entails varied challenges for Raman. With no definite money source
to draw on, essential materials such as tapes can take time to acquire.
"The work is very slow. If there is money you just take your
footage, get the editing done, and things like that. I have to learn
to do it myself. Often my machine crashes because it's not upgraded;
often I make mistakes because I don't know the programme well; so
it takes time."
of long ago
to his film-making and architecture, Raman has been promoting the
ancient Tamil culture through projects such as the restoration of
Irumbai Temple, which he initiated and oversees. "I want to
introduce Auroville to the Tamil culture as it was long before the
time that neon and loudspeakers proliferated. Mostly what Aurovilians
get to see is loud music during these very loud festivals; they
aren't able to see the very quiet and beautiful things that happen
too." Twice in Irumbai and once in Auroville itself, Raman
has facilitated such celebrations, poojas "which touch the
heart of the people."
temple I respect particularly, not only because of its ancientness
- it dates from the 7th century! An amazing thing is that a saint
from Seergari, who became enlightened at the age of three; sang
straightaway the praise of Lord Shiva; and lived only thirteen years,
travelled to 256 famous Shiva temples during that time and also
visited the little Irumbai temple. So there must be something here,
which we'll have to discover somehow. Before I started some three
years back with cleaning up the place it was like a jungle, unclean,
thorn bushes everywhere, that kind of thing. Since then the temple
got its own life. Now there are twice a month celebrations, attracting
a big crowd. It doesn't matter how they orqanise them; at least
now the temple is alive again, and draws a crowd from the neighbouring
villages, they'll take care of it. ( >> see also the Irumbai
Around the region of Auroville there are a lot of these ruins, and
I'm strongly attracted by them. Because of their age, because of
the life involved in the 'ancientness' of the place. Even with nobody
else around one gets a feeling for the ancient atmosphere by visiting
these old sites and listening to the worn stones."
As for future
projects, Raman outlines one he'd really like to see materialise:
"There is a Peruman Temple ruin down at Neyvelli. It's amazing.
Huge pillars about 8 or 9 metres tall, granite, just standing unfinished.
Amazing sculpture. I'd like to initiate a project to give a one-day
or one-night festival there, something like what they did once at
the Taj Mahal, but on a smaller scale. Get some nice musicians,
take three bus-loads, and give a programme there. Light the temple,
decorate it all, so that the whole village becomes aware: "Wow,
such a rich thing is in my own village!" Like this there are
so many ruins. If there were funds we could do one such a ruin each
year - Rs.5,000 to 7,000 (roughly $ 100 to 150) would be more than
enough for each. If you do it just once, the place will become alive,
that's how it worked in Irumbai. And no modern music, just the classic
stuff, because modern doesn't last for long; through time it changes.
And once people have caught the 'fire' then it goes on by itself."
Raman is working on a video about money - 'MONEY', a hot topic in
Auroville and the world today. Raman tells about two original Tamil
words for money and their meanings: "Of course I'm tackling
this thing from my own culture. Long ago, two Tamil words were given
for the first coins: 'Naanaiyam' and 'Selvam'. Selvam itself also
has two meanings: one is your offspring, the other is money. Very
interesting. The word Selvam indicates "who has completeness".
Money/Selvam means prosperity, abundance of land, cows, wealth.
The second word, Naanaiyam, means trust, honesty, and coin. One
can have a very good relationship with this.
talks about a long-term video project which will follow the progress
of talented local children through their varied pursuits. One girl
whose case he wants to document, for example, is studying Bharat
Natyam and computers, and is first in her academic class. By showing
such a study he hopes to make a motivating impression on other local
Auroville: "Living in Auroville is neither living in the East
nor living in the West. Being here helped me to learn to read, and
to understand. I keep hearing the English expression, 'a fish in
water knows nothing about water'. If I had lived in Madras or elsewhere
in Tamil Nadu, I don't think I'd have been the same person."
As Auroville occupies
the space between East and West, living here gives us the opportunity
to see ourselves better, and what is valuable and undesirable about
our native culture. A viewpoint that, had we remained in our native
culture, we might not have gleaned, or only with great effort and
through good fortune.