Food for the gods
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
"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
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.
"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.
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.
Auroshilpam, Auroville 605 101