Dear Friends and Well-wishers,
The ninth ‘Auro Ratna Award’ ceremony was held on Sunday, 25th November 2018, at the ‘Hall of Harmony’ in Pondicherry; hosted by Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, the ceremony was attended by a number of members of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville including Shri Manoj Das Gupta (Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and Registrar of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education), Padmashri Manoj Das (senior member of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and internationally acclaimed writer), Shri Debranjan Chatterjee (Librarian of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Library), Shri Swadesh Chatterjee (senior teacher of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education), Paulette Hadnagy (eminent writer from Auroville), Aryadeep S. Acharya (who represented the Working Committee of the Auroville Foundation), Alan Herbert and Carel Thieme ( the publishers of Auroville Today) to name a few. The ‘Auro Ratna Award’ for the year 2018 was presented to Dr. Aster Patel for her long and manifold services to Auroville and to the vision and work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The programme began with the playing of the Mother’s organ music after which Shri Anurag Banerjee, Founder of Overman Foundation, briefly spoke about the objective of the award and its past recipients.
While introducing Dr. Aster Patel, Shri Anurag Banerjee said:
‘Born on 17 March to Dr. Indra Sen — a genius in the field of psychology who also developed the course of Integral Psychology in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s vision — and Lilavati, known as Violette in the Ashram community who was also a reputed social worker, Dr. Aster Patel was initially named Mira. Having visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in 1940, she joined it in April 1943 at the age of eleven with her mother and brother. She received — from the Mother Herself — the new name : Aster. She was one of the first students of the Ashram School when it was started in December 1943. Her very first work in the Ashram was to arrange flowers in big trays which were taken to the rooms of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. While she was still a student, the Mother asked her to start teaching. Therefore, at the age of sixteen, Dr. Aster Patel started teaching the young students of the Ashram School. Later she also worked as Dr. Indra Sen’s secretary, managed his correspondence and typed his writings. From 1962 to 1970 she stayed in Europe. During this period she obtained her PhD. in Comparative Literature from the University of Paris (Sorbonne), the subject of her thesis being A Comparative Study of the Philosophies of Sri Aurobindo and Henri Bergson. She returned to Pondicherry in 1970 and resumed teaching at the Higher Course of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. She has held the Sri Aurobindo Chair of Philosophy at Benares Hindu University. In 2005 she received the prestigious ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’ awarded by Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata. For almost 48 years she has been associated with Auroville and held responsibilities in the International Zone at the Centre for Research in Indian Culture and the Centre of Indian Studies in Bharat Nivas. She was also a member of the Governing Body of the Auroville Foundation. She has participated in numerous seminars and conferences organized by various institutions and universities in India, Paris, New York, at UNESCO and the United Nations. She is also a brilliant writer who has authored and published papers in philosophy, integral psychology, education and yoga. An anthology of her writings was published in 2006 under the title of The Presence of Time.
‘Dear Friends, it is our privilege to be able to present the ‘Auro Ratna Award’ — named after Sri Aurobindo — to Dr. Aster Patel — a most sincere child of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.’
Shri Anurag Banerjee then requested Shri Manoj Das Gupta, the Chief Guest of the ceremony, to say a few words about Dr. Aster Patel. What follows is the text of Shri Manoj Das Gupta’s speech:
‘Anurag — as usual — is a very clever boy. He says all that has to be said and then asks me to say something. He has not left anything for me to add. The only thing I would add is that we have grown up together. In fact, her [Aster’s] family and our family were very close, specially her mother Violetteji. She was like a twin sister of my elder sister Priti. You see the photos when Mother used to come to the Playground. You would often find them together at the side of Mother. And she [Violetteji] was my teacher for sometime. I dare say, I was a favourite of her because she found a lot of resemblance in naughtiness with her son Kuku. The present juncture what I can say is that Aster is one of the strongest links — if not the strongest link — between Ashram and Auroville. Especially her work in Bharat Niwas is there for all to see. I don’t think I shall elaborate too much because I can see Aster blushing. So we go with the ceremony. But before that, it would be nice if Aster says something; specially I would like to hear from her when she was at Sorbonne, I believe, she was one of the representatives of India from Sorbonne to the States. So if she could tell us some stories about that period.’
Following Shri Manoj Das Gupta’s request, Dr. Aster Patel narrated the following incident:
‘You know, Manoj-da put me on the track of stories. There would be too many to tell. So I will content myself with just one. I worked at the Sorbonne. It was the first time a work on Sri Aurobindo was accepted by the Sorbonne. When the work was over, Mother sent me a letter through Monsieur André, Her son, who handled Her foreign correspondence, saying that the United Nations was celebrating its 25th anniversary in a very unusual manner. It invited young people from round the world — young university people i.e. — there were about 750 and they should be given the running of the United Nations for three weeks when none of the senior people were present to hear them. How do they see the future; how do they want the future to be? — so that the political leaders hopefully would work out their policies according to the dreams and ideals of young people. Mother wanted me to go to that and represent Auroville. I was not here in 1968 so I really had no idea of Auroville except that it was obviously Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s dream and idea that would be worked out on a world stage. So I was attached to the Indian delegation as an alternate because the delegates had already been formed. And when I reached there — it was very strange — the appointed delegates in the month of July — end summer — was held up in London by fog for two days. So for all practical purposes I was the only one from India talking about Auroville and Sri Aurobindo in the United Nations. So this is a story. And as soon as my work was over, the fog in London lifted. And everyone else came. And so the whole thing started. So that was the beginning of Mother putting me in touch with Auroville and with the United States. Under this connection I would like to say something because I think after Aryadeep will have his chance to say what he has to share.
‘I am very grateful to Manoj-da [Manoj Das Gupta], Manoj-da [Manoj Das] and Anurag for creating this occasion on the 50th anniversary of Mother’s founding Auroville. It is seventy-five years — this year that the Mother started the school — of which reference has been made — which later became the Centre of Education. And all of us are here in the Hall of Harmony. I find it extremely significant. And I would like to share with you a sentence of the Mother’s. She writes somewhere in the early days of Auroville: ‘The existence of Auroville could prevent a world catastrophe’. This has somehow got settled here [pointing to her heart] and I think it remains with all of us. Thank you.’
After Dr. Aster Patel, Padmashri Manoj Das was requested to say a few words. Here is the text of his speech:
‘Manoj-da, Aster-di, thank you Anurag-ji for giving me this chance to pay my tribute to Aster-di. I will say only one thing. Over the last half a century we have been together in several seminars in different cities of India, mostly in Delhi. Well, you know how seminars go here: intellectual exercises with everything minus the soul. I suddenly one day woke up with this truth, I should say, that whenever I had Aster-di in the same seminar with me, without my being conscious — I became conscious of it later — I was feeling a kind of sacred solace because not only was she an articulate speaker who could show the most important point and was loved by everybody but what I felt at that time was: more than words she was armed with a quality of silence. And when I read one of her statements before the Aurovilians recently, she has very clearly told them that from Mother she learnt many things but most important of them was silence. What Mother has communicated through silence, I am sure, a bit of that quality she had imbibed and that is what I used to feel. Whenever I found her along with me at the seminars, well, I was absolutely confident of some reasonable outcome of any event of that kind. It is quite obvious what trust Mother had in her. Today hundreds of Ph.D holders are there on Sri Aurobindo. When she did her Ph.D on a very unusual subject: ‘Sri Aurobindo and Bergon’, the subject itself symbolizes the vastness of Sri Aurobindo — how He covers, embraces so many systems all over the world. But anyway, that apart, the moment she completes her studies, the Mother instructs directly to her to come to the United Nations and represent Auroville which was just an infant at that time, speaks of Her trust in her. Such is she: a living example of justification of the trust. I congratulate Aster-di, I congratulate Overman Foundation, to Anurag Babu for bestowing this award on her. Thank you very much.’
The next speaker was Shri Aryadeep S. Acharya who represented the Working Committee of the Auroville Foundation. Here is the text of his speech:
‘Manoj-da and Manoj-da, dear Aster, when I was coming from Auroville, I had the idea that only three people will come with me. But I am glad to see so many people from Auroville. Before I come to the topic, I would like to say something about Overman Foundation. I am aware of it for the past few years. I have communicated with Anurag several times but it is for the first time we are meeting physically. In Sri Aurobindo’s article on Dayananda, Sri Aurobindo gives the image that before him there is a series of hills — a mountain series — but one mountain-top is quite distinct, quite separate, quite unusual and that is Dayananda. Quite distinctive imagery! When I look at the Aurobindonian landscape, there are centres in many cities. There are organizations but two places stand out quite distinct. One is the Gnostic Centre in New Delhi. And another is Overman Foundation. With its work as we see in its website, he is serving the cause of Sri Aurobindo — the cause of the future — in a very, very appreciable way. He is giving the Aurobindonian community a certain organic shape. So I complement Anurag very much for his work. I remember there was one online platform — an elderly lady — she was coming out of this online platform and she said, “Okay, I am going out of this online platform but I have Overman Foundation to refer to.” So he may not be knowing but hundreds of people worldwide gets certain support — mental support, inner support, psychic spiritual support — through his work. We only request Anurag to take good care of himself. He once told me that he was sick, he could not attend to certain work we were trying to do. So I want him not to tell me the same thing again. Be always healthy.
‘We can interpret Sri Aurobindo’s vision and work in many ways. One of the ways to interpret is revolution. Sri Aurobindo brings a revolution. It is not the revolution as we know it on the physical plane. It is a silent revolution. And Aster — from that perspective — is a part of this revolution. She is a revolutionary. When I take up the image of Sri Aurobindo, several images come up. Each person can have his own image of Sri Aurobindo. If I am allowed to have a little bit of departure — I can tell that one person — one student of Sri Aurobindo. He was the son of the first Speaker of the Indian Parliament, Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar. A few months before his demise, he told me three images to explain Sri Aurobindo’s work. He told me that it is like a fantastic film in the making. And you have been shown only a few shots of the film. It is a long film but you have been given only a few seconds and you say, “Oh! such a great film is coming!” It is in the making. Another image he gave me was that of music. A heavenly music is under preparation and you are made to listen to a small notes of it. And you are transported. Yet another image he gave — a funny image — he said this is like an extremely delicious ice-cream in the making and you are given a spoonful of this ice-cream and you are enchanted. You are into a blissful state and you forget everything else. I have my own way of approaching. The image I get is that of two globes: one is the globe which we live in. And this globe is made up of mostly dirt, inconscience, almost 50-60% . Another 35% is made up of red — vitalistic life. And very little is yellow — mental light. And very little is culture, art, literature. And more than 90% of people love this whole drama, including our spirituality, which is a part of this old world. But now a totally new globe — after the descent of the Supramental — is born. And this globe is completely different. There is an eternal youth, there is a constant progress, there is spontaneous joy and this globe is slowly, slowly sliding into the old globe. Why I am telling this is that in Auroville if there is one person who has put stress on this aspect of Sri Aurobindo, the new vibration, the advent of a new creation, new world — that is Aster. She has brought out quite a few booklets which ordinary people cannot completely understand. Just a small mark on a page and on the top a sentence — something new — or some other sentence like this. So, credit to point out this new aspect of Sri Aurobindo, this new advent goes to Aster in Auroville. Another thing which I noted is her capacity to go to the heart of the thing. If there is any discussion — for example, during community meetings in Auroville — when there are discussion, many people voices their views. And when Aster speaks, she picks up the central point, just two or three sentences but there is a pregnancy of thought-substance. Or perhaps, I would say, intuition. This is what Prof. Manoj Das also hinted at. That is her other contribution. And third contribution, I would say, is commitment. A scholarly person, a person who is more oriented towards research, keeps himself or herself aloof, separate. But Aster — whenever there is a collective meeting — Residents’ Assembly meeting in Auroville — she comes and imparts herself even if it is for one hour, two hours or three hours. She will sit there and take an active part. She will not stay at home. And this has helped the community’s moral fiber. Whenever there is, for example, a V.I.P. visit, like Vice-President’s visit or when Abdul Kalam came, Aster was there. The Working Committee told her; Aster was there to accompany them, to guide them, to answer their questions. I remember when the Vice-President came to Auroville, he asked some questions. And I was surprised that Aster could give this kind of answer. He asked Aster: “How to concentrate?” And Aster gave the answer. Because he was told that Matrimandir is for concentration, so he asked this question. Then he asked: “What is the difference between religion and spirituality?” And Aster had a very beautiful answer to give. She said: “Spirituality goes directly to experience.” This is a big insight even for us also — that spirituality goes directly to the experience and begins with experience.
‘So, I am glad that Aster is being recognized. And I really want — what I said to Anurag — I also say to Aster that she take good care of herself. She has many more years to live. She should reach 100 years. There is a club of people like Nirodbaran and Amal Kiran. They have reached century and she should also join that club. Thank you very much.’
After concluding his speech, Shri Aryadeep S. Acharya read out four messages sent for Dr. Aster Patel. The first message was from the Working Committee of the Auroville Foundation:
‘The Working Committee of the Auroville Foundation was pleased to learn that Dr. Aster Patel is being honoured by receiving the Auro Ratna Award from the Overman Foundation, Kolkata. Dr. Aster Patel has been one of the dedicated servants of Auroville in the light of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. For many years, she was part of the Governing Body of the Auroville Foundation, where her work and efforts have contributed invaluably in the journey of Auroville in many ways, and she continues to contribute, still today.
‘We appreciate that the board of Overman Foundation has chosen her for its 9th Auro Ratna Award and commend their step. We are also aware that earlier, another Aurovilian, Shraddhavan, was also honoured with this award.
‘We convey our appreciation for the work that Overman Foundation is doing and hope for a growing association between Auroville and the Overman Foundation.
‘The Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly of Auroville.’
The second message that was read out was sent by Mr. Julian Lines of Matagiri:
‘Aster was witness to the revolutionary spirit of the youth of Paris in 1968 as it spread around the world. She maintained her friendships abroad, especially with Michael Murphy at the Esalen Institute in California (who ultimately served on Auroville’s International Advisory Council) and George Nakashima and his daughter, Mira, in New Hope, Pennsylvania, who brought the Peace Table to Auroville. Aster has been a keynote speaker at our All USA Meetings and brought her quiet dignity and insight to those already in our spiritual family as well as those learning Integral Psychology, the legacy of her father, Indra Sen. We at Matagiri Sri Aurobindo Center and the integral yoga community in America are most grateful for the time she has spent with us abroad and for the seeds she has nurtured in establishing the New York City Study Circle.’
The third message that was read out by Shri Aryadeep S. Acharya was sent by Uma and Patrice — the latter also known as Shankar — from France:
‘Heartful congratulations to you for this well deserved Auro-Ratna Award!
‘Uma and I are glad that your valuable contribution to Sri Aurobindo’s fame throughout the world be thus recognized.
‘As for me — Big Patrice — I shall always remember your smiling benevolence for our shenanigans during the “Revolution”.
‘Lots of love from Uma and Shankar (France)’
The fourth and last message which was read out by Shri Aryadeep S. Acharya was sent by Margrit:
‘Always I will be grateful that you let us know so vividly about your stories and experiences with The Mother as a child and in the Ashram, so that we can know better about The Mother’s special work in education and life. These experiences are so precious. And it is a gift that they are recorded and sadhaks of the Integral Yoga can listen to them.
‘And deep from my soul I am most grateful that you are a living embodiment of Divine Love and Compassion and Knowledge; this is something very very special and rare to meet in life. With lines of Savitri I like to express my honor to that.
A deep of compassion, a hushed sanctuary,
Her inward help unbarred a gate in heaven;
Love in her was wider than the universe,
The whole world could take refuge in her single heart.
The great unsatisfied godhead here could dwell:
Vacant of the dwarf self’s imprisoned air,
Her mood could harbour his sublimer breath
Spiritual that can make all things divine.
For even her gulfs were secrecies of light.
At once she was the stillness and the word,
A continent of self-diffusing peace,
An ocean of untrembling virgin fire;
The strength, the silence of the gods were hers.
In her he found a vastness like his own,
His high warm subtle ether he refound
And moved in her as in his natural home.
In her he met his own eternity.
With light and love and joy…and in offering all to The Mother and Sri Aurobindo…
Shri Anurag Banerjee then said the following:
‘Aster-di does not only belong to the Ashram or Auroville. She is a global personality. That’s why people from all parts of the world have sent messages to her. But unfortunately due to paucity of time, we are unable to read out all the messages. These messages would be duly uploaded in our website. But I will take two minutes to read out two messages sent by two dear friends of Aster-di. The first message is from Sumitra Nahar from France and the second one is from Suprabha Nahar.
‘When she was born she was named our Sweet Mother’s namesake. So, when she came to the Ashram the Divine Mother made her a shining star in Her and Sri Aurobindo’s eternal and infinite blue sky full of Their Smile and Light. Thus she became our very dear ASTER.
The deep friendship between us is evergreen in my heart. I feel as if we have known each other in all our previous lives.
She is universal. Besides she has so many qualities that it is impossible to enumerate them!.
My loving thoughts are always with her and my memory remembers all we did together since we met first time in the Ashram in this life.
Be happy and be ever smiling, dear Aster.
So, on this occasion, all I can say that she is one of Their dearest sweet child.
The next message was from Suprabha Nahar:
‘Got it straight from the horse’s mouth!
Shri Anurag Banerjee, founder of Overman Foundation, gave me the happy news that this year’s Auro Ratna Award is being given to Dr. Aster Patel. For us, she is only Aster, our childhood friend, and we are still friends though in between she has done her doctorate in philosophy. So many achievements to her credit which I need not narrate because these will be there in the citation. In spite of holding high offices she is still very friendly with us. We studied and played together and grew up under the Mother’s eyes.
‘I am really happy that she is being conferred this prestigious Award this year.
After reading out the messages, Shri Anurag Banerjee requested Padmashri Manoj Das, who is also a Board Member of Overman Foundation, to present the angavasram and citation to Dr. Aster Patel. Shri Manoj Das Gupta was then invited to present the trophy of the ‘Auro Ratna Award’ and the cash prize to Dr. Aster Patel.
In her acceptance speech, Dr. Aster Patel said:
‘I perhaps do not have the absolute exact words. The Mother wrote something a long time back: “And all of us are united in a very special work.” These were Her words. “Let’s not forget” — these are again Her words — “that that work is there for all of us and that is to hasten the advent of the new consciousness. And this is the moment to be together and work together for that.” I wish I had my card with me but maybe I can share it with others afterwards. Her exact words, that this is a special moment; don’t lose it. And we are all together. Ashram, Auroville, all of Mother’s children round the world. Auroville has the word over there — right here… I will have that card given to Carel to put it around and I will give it to you, Anurag.’
Shri Anurag Banerjee thanked all the guests and audience for gracing the award ceremony with their august presence.
Photographs courtesy: Ms. Shruti Ramteke.
Video: Shri Sushil Patel.
What follows are the remaining messages sent for Dr. Aster Patel which were not read out during the ‘Auro Ratna Award’ ceremony:
Tribute to Dr. Aster Patel
Congratulations to Dr. Aster-ji on receiving the Auro Ratna award, which she richly deserves, not only for her role in developing Auroville, but for her many precious contributions to awareness and understanding of the vision and work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
Daughter of the illustrious Aurobindonian philosopher Dr. Indra Sen, she grew up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram from early childhood, amidst the illumining Presence and Influence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother themselves. She was taught to recite Savitri in her teens by the Mother herself, and had the benefit of instruction from many learned and devoted sadhak-teachers of the Ashram School.
The Mother encouraged her to take up higher studies at the great Sorbonne university of Paris, where she was awarded a doctorate for her comparative study of the philosophical views of the French philosopher Henri Bergson with the teachings of Sri Aurobindo.
Returning to Pondicherry, she in her turn became a teacher in ‘Knowledge’, the higher studies section of the Ashram School, a position which she continues to hold to this day. So many generations of students have benefitted from her guidance!
Since Auroville’s Foundation in 1968 she has been an inspiring beacon to the growing township, in charge of the Bharat Nivas, the Pavilion of India, which has developed under her leadership into the central focus of the International Zone, and as a long-serving member of Auroville’s Governing Board. At Bharat Nivas she has annually hosted gatherings where Auroville residents could mingle and exchange with internationally renowned Aurobindonian scholars. She has been a leading figure in CIRHU (Centre for International Research in Human Unity) since its inception, and remains today a guiding light to many aspiring consciousness-explorers from India and around the globe.
Long may she continue to spread her guiding Light!
Asterji has been the calm, quiet but effective and authoritative voice of Auroville – much like a ‘diya’ in the inner sanctum of a temple!
Aster-di’s uncompromising and singular dedication to the ideals of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and her life-long service to Auroville stands as an example for others to emulate.
Chairman & Managing Director, Usha Stud Farms
Founder Trustee, The Gnostic Centre
Dear Aster, I am happy that the high intellectual and spiritual level of you unique contribution to humankind is finally recognized by this Auro Ratna prize. It is a great day for you. And my heart and soul will be present at this Award ceremony.
Dr Marc Luyckx Ghisi
Aster Patel has been a great inspiration to me as an Ashram sadhika and as an Aurovilian in her role as a major support for Auroville’s steady development. She has given me very helpful encouragement for my work for Acres for Auroville. I admire her as a gracious woman and as a strong Shakti. Like a fairy godmother she has often appeared suddenly in the same place as me when I was in a moment of need, setting things right with her smile, intuitive understanding, depth, and warm loving heart.
Mandakini (Madeleine) LUCIEN-BRUN
To watch the video of the award ceremony, kindly click on the following link: