t's close to ten in the morning on a Sunday, the heat is already building up and the elder singers from Kottakarai sing traditional devotional songs to gods such as Ganesh, Durga and Mariamman, to the accompaniment of the Kottakarai temple drummers. They also perform their recent compositions extolling the magic and beauty of Auroville and Matrimandir. The Sangamam had opened with the same troupe performing a Mangala Isai – a traditional Tamil musical prayer offering and invocation. Shankar, the Tamil teacher from Aspiration, who will ably emcee the morning's three hour programme, explains: “They, the temple drummers and musicians, came to the Sangamam, so as to provide a taste of the local tradition. It's a tradition where stories are told at night on lamp-lit village squares through street plays.” He further adds that most of the day's performers work in Auroville. A steady flow of people, mostly local villagers, many of them groups of women in their dazzling saris with clusters of well-dressed children in tow, are streaming onto the dusty palm-ringed football field. Blue-banded volunteers check passes at the entrance as three large traditional tents near the far goalposts shade the hundreds already seated.
The 2004 Sangamam – which means ‘confluence' or ‘coming together of rivers' in Tamil – was the first to be held in Auroville in over ten years, and was the result of the brainstorming, dedicated planning and concerted effort of a grassroots group of Auroville volunteers who called themselves the Unity Walk Group. The idea for a Sangamam event came from the local Aurovilians who run the Abri workshop and Electrical Service. It was a result of the success and the positive energy generated by the first Unity Walk through three villages in February, as a response to the tragic and brutal murder of Sydo. The Unity walk group has met several times since and organized two full-moon walks in Auroville. Two meetings have also recently been held, bringing together Tamil and Indian Aurovilians concerned about what they can do for Auroville. According to Arumagam of Abri, at the two ‘What can we do for Auroville?' meetings, attended by over a hundred and twenty five and eighty people respectively, it was widely stressed: “It's time to stop blaming each other and time to start building Auroville.”
According to Renu of the Working Committee: “Both these events are grassroots efforts coming out of a frustrated populace. A lot of Tamil Aurovilians have finally found a dynamic role which they can participate and feel comfortable in. Previously they were lacking a focus because of the way the Auroville organization is set up. But we are all dying to live in an Auroville where we can all take an active role in its development. There was a real sense of belonging that was felt by local Aurovilians during the first Unity Walk. Ever since Sydo's death many people feel it's no longer time to just wish and hope, but that it's time to act. The message is we can't keep complaining about Auroville as we are Auroville and if we're not happy with the way it is then we have to take on an active role in its development.”
Arumugam adds: “There were lots of problems between Auroville and the villages and we wanted to try and bring them together to create a good relationship. This Sangamam is a starting point.” Wazo and Segar, both actively involved in organizing the Sangamam event, stressed the importance of creating and building up a positive atmosphere together and recognized the need for more interactive happenings and performances in such events in the future such as joint Auroville-Village theatre, Kabbadi and musical performances.
The show unfolded with folk songs and classical dance performances by young girls and boys from Sanjeevnagar and Alankuppam, and an impressive stick dancing troupe from Bommaiyarpalayam. It ended with a one hour performance of an original play written and performed by the Kuilapalayam Yatra School of Arts. Its social and environmental message emphasized the need to plant more trees and avoid using plastic. Srinivasan, who directed the play, as well as played the lead role of a Tamil King's minister, had the children in the two thousand strong audience thrilled and captivated throughout with his engaging comic talents.
It was no mean feat providing lunch for two thousand people, despite some complaints as regards a lack of shade for the queue. And as people who had not signed up for the organized visit to Matrimandir lingered under the colorful tents, one felt that there is much more that unites than divides those that reside on and around the Auroville plateau. Events such as these do much to help foster and strengthen that bond: born of memory, shared endeavour and a very particular spirit of place.