“I like this photo because it shows the aspect of strength,” says Kalyani of the photo where she appears in a warrior's crouched stance balancing her Kalaripayattu partner on her thighs. “In Savitri, the triple soul forces are wisdom, love and strength; without one, you cannot do anything.”
Kalaripayattu is the martial art of Kerala and in the quiet hush of the Laboratory of Evolution Kalyani is showing me her collection of Kalaripayattu photos. “Typically it is men who practice it,” she explains, “so when I began to learn it in Kerala in my Guru's gurukulam, a local magazine ran a story calling me the new Unniyarcha from Joan of Arc country.” Unniyarcha, explains Kalyani, was a legendary warrior queen from Kerala. “For me that statement had a special meaning because Mother was Joan of Arc, and it made me feel so inspired!”
Kalyani is French and has been living in Auroville since the late seventies. She was brought up as a Catholic. “But I had a lot of doubts and I wanted some deeper understanding that I could not get in my religion. I began looking towards India . When I was sixteen, Swami Chidananda from Rishikesh came to my town in the South of France and I went to a lecture given by him. At one point he jumped on the table and started to do yogasanas, and then I had my first spiritual experience. Because when I saw the asanas everything disappeared – there was only a light and nothing else, not even myself. So when I came back, I understood this is what I should do. That is how it all started for me – with Hatha Yoga!
Kalyani heard about Auroville in 1969. “The first caravan was leaving for Auroville and I wanted to join but I was told to first read Mother and Sri Aurobindo's books.”
Kalyani decided to wait. For four years she worked as a stewardess, “but the longing for something deeper persisted.” She met someone who gave her a copy of Sri Aurobindo's letters. “I had read many Indian Gurus – Ramakrishna, Vivekananada, Sivananda. But when I read Sri Aurobindo, I had that feeling that he was answering all my questions, and I wanted to come to Auroville very quickly.”
She travelled to India in 1974. When she arrived in Auroville she got a huge shock. “I had read in a review that there would be a university of peace in Auroville and another university of metaphysics. But when I arrived I found people showering outside in the fields, and nothing else!”
Kalyani decided to stay in the Ashram and visit Auroville. But she was feeling weak. Finally she decided to return to France . There she met two Aurovilians and they started to live a collective life on a farm. When Kalyani returned to Auroville in 1978, she was ready. “Nothing bothered me or shocked me, and I settled in.” For the next 18 years, she made her home in the Aspiration community.
“At that time there were more than 100 people in Aspiration, and there was such a beautiful energy. All kinds of people were mixed together: the collective life at that time was very rich. We believed everything was possible. The Agenda had just been published and we were listening to the cassettes. The fire in our hearts was very strong at that time; everything was focussed on Mother and Sri Aurobindo.”
Kalyani still makes constant references to the vision of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. “Well, I came for that. I think everybody comes for that. Even if people are not aware of it, it is the soul which answers the call. For me, human unity is a consequence of finding of the soul; it is only in the soul we are one. But it is not easy to find the soul immediately, so we have also to build human unity in the outer way.
“When I came, Auroville was presented as the cradle of the new species. Everybody was clinging to that ideal, that we must find a ‘new' way of being human. But it takes years and years to discover what that means deeply inside.
“‘Kalyani' is a strong name. My original name was Christiane; it was very Christian. At one point I wanted a new name so I went to see Champaklal. It was the 15th August, 1990. Champaklal explained that ‘Kalyani' means the best wishes one can formulate for all beings in all the universes. It really satisfied me because I always wanted something as large as possible. Of course, it takes a lifetime to ‘become' your name. But the more the years pass, the more I understand what it means to be called Kalyani.”
Today Kalyani divides her time between taking care of the Laboratory of Evolution, offering workshops in Pranayama and Ayurvedic massage, and practising Kalaripayattu. Kalaripayattu, she explains, is all about “the energy of the Shakti; it is not your own energy. It really helps me in my Integral yoga because it opens the body to the universal energy and you no more feel attached to the ‘personal'. Also speed is very important. When you practice with weapons, you have no time to think about yourself or the other or the weapon.
“But it's hard work: I had to endure the pain, the toughness of the exercises. Mother said that if you want to undergo this integral yoga, you must develop endurance and perseverance. You must overcome pain. Sri Aurobindo says in The Life Divine that pain is only a greater intensity of sensation. Now I apply this all the time. When I have pain I think, ‘No, it is not pain, it is greater intensity', and then everything changes. I believe this is the work we have to do – to change the way we view every detail of our daily lives.”
Kalyani has been working at the Laboratory of Evolution (LOE) since 1992. “Kireet Joshi made it very clear that this is the place where we should present the vision of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo regarding evolution. Some people wonder about the term ‘laboratory' because it implies test-tubes and chemistry. But as Sri Aurobindo writes in the first chapter of The Life Divine, Man is the living laboratory of evolution where God wants to manifest Himself. So the experimentation is upon ourselves.
“That's why we collect not only the works of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo but also other books which show what humanity has been, what it is and what it will be in the future: in fact, everything relating to human evolution. So we gather from ancient cultures like the Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and Amerindians. We have books on the new physics, the new biology. We even have comics because, once you understand Sri Aurobindo's vision, you realise nothing is superficial.
“The LOE is the best place I could be because it is a constant reminder of The Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's vision and aim. And that, for me, is my main reason for being in Auroville – to accomplish what they have written and experienced.
“For many years I was very unhappy and suffered a lot because life is so imperfect. But then The Life Divine helped me understand there is nothing but the Divine and that this manifested universe is the Becoming of God. Slowly the whole Manifestation is climbing back to the Divine state and that is why it includes all this imperfection.
“Once you understand the essential divinity of your body, you really want to do something with it. That is what makes me overcome all the pain, the suffering, fatigue and laziness.
“As for Auroville, in the early days it was a different way of life; we were satisfied with little. Now Auroville has changed, but I look at the changes as something that have to be. Sri Aurobindo says there is sometimes a need to go back and take up things that were not worked on in order that they be transformed. I believe Auroville is going through that process.”