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Food for the gods

FrancoIncense has been considered a 'food for the gods' since its invention. In India there is no religious ceremony or similar consecrated activity undertaken without the use of it. Daily poojas, prayers, marriages, burials and funerals, mediations and business ceremonies are all accompanied by the fragrance, and not a single day passes without the lighting of some incense sticks. During the boom resulting from the 'discovery' of India by the West in the sixties and the 'hippy era' in the seventies, incense became a well appreciated ingredient of life in the west, too, and led to countless production workshops and factories being established all around the world.
We asked Franco, the founder of incense producing Mèreville Trust, why he started one more in Auroville.

Ethnic textiles and related cultures
"Business activity in Italy gave me the opportunity to analyse the market in the field of ethnic textiles and subsequently in the context of related cultures. Incense was part of it and I realised that there was a need for good quality products particularly by those who are, like me, concerned with a more holistic vision of life," says Franco. "I also discovered that some of the major manufacturing companies of incense only offer exclusive contracts, thereby leaving a space in the market for new brands from other suppliers. By starting this new venture with incense I seem to have satisfied those particular demands."

From ethnic-style garments to incenseRolling the incense,  in Mèreville..
Born in Italy, Franco came to Auroville for the first time in 1978 and felt immediately a very strong connection with it. In the beginning he spent most of the time with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry as the central point for his research. He became a newcomer in Auroville in 1983 as a  result of the Ashram experience, leaving his Italian company which had been dealing with ethnic-style garments manufactured in Nepal, Bhutan and south America, and distributed in Italy, behind. The company was also dealing with handicrafts and incense received at that time from some of the Auroville units. When Franco finally settled in Auroville, he initially joined Aurosarjan where he was looking after the production of garments for several Italian buyers, but he then decided to start a unit handling the packing of incense. The next step was to set up of a manufacturing unit in order to have full control of the process in its entirety.

Natural powders and pure essential oils
Having studied pharmacy, with a background as an agronomist (herbs) and his previously acquired business experience, Franco felt ready to start his own commercial unit in 1994. "Originally I was more concerned with the quality than the quantity, so I studied Ayurveda and aromatherapy and learned the ancient process of manufacturing incense. A major part of the Mèreville range is made of wholly natural powders from flora and pure essential oil blends, while a few more commercial lines have been maintained at the level of 85% natural, with 15% of non-toxic synthetic blended fragrances. As a result of constant research and development efforts this last percentage is slated to be reduced to a negligible 5% in the near future. The majority of our products are 100% natural", says Franco - like the new Zen series, beautifully and simply packed in naturally crafted recycled paper envelopes, made with selected aromatic herbs, resins and wood barks in their pure state in the scents of Myrrh, Camphor, Sambrani, Jatamansi, Juniper, Frankincense and Sandalwood.Folding the envelopes..

Day-to-day learning process
"Apart from the holistic concept, Mèreville wants to express a kind of perfection, which is to be considered progressive. Our work, in the context of Auroville, is an expression of self discipline; the product is just the final step..," says Franco. His philosophy centres around self-dedication, steadiness,  cleanliness and harmony. "Mèreville Trust activity has not only a profit orientation but includes several other aspects. All of our products are supported by information in order to divulge the culture behind them, so that they are not merely consumer fashion products, but vehicles of knowledge and interest too. The day-to-day learning process makes this activity interesting. You deal with people and you share experiences with them. The work is a great opportunity to express something harmonious and creative. Without these peculiar aspects I wouldn't do it," he adds.

MusicianThe final product..
Part of the profits is donated to specific Auroville projects. Currently Mèreville Trust supports the idea of a music studio, as Franco is a musician himself. In his rare free time you can see and hear him playing the bass guitar with some fellow Aurovilians at jazz concerts in the Visitors Centre. But his heart beats not only for art. The company employs mainly women from the villages as a way of empowering them and improving their life conditions as well as that of their children. Mèreville Trust is also planning to support various development programmes in the villages.
In that way, the circle closes again. Incense that is produced by the women is used by them again for their daily prayers at home. And the gods are nourished with the wonderful fragrance of rose and jasmin and a great variety of other scents.

Mèreville Trust
Auroshilpam, Auroville 605 101


contact: mereville@auroville.org.in
see also: http://www.merevilletrust.com/

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