Extraordinary in the ordinary

Hearing the deafening sound of silence

Experiencing calm in Auroville. Photography is not allowed inside the Matrimandir, the edifice where I heard the sound of silence.
Published at Hindustan Times.

I made a short trip to Pondicherry (now Puducherry) with my husband Shantanu and my LSR college friend Nidhi. It is an idyllic, delightful, coastal city that offers interesting shades of Franco-Tamil art and culture. It had always been one of the places that I had wanted to visit as I was very intrigued by the Matrimandir at Auroville, the brainchild of Shri Aurbindo and his spiritual partner, referred to as ‘Mother’.

Matrimandir, on its exterior, is a massive golden dome in the middle of sprawling lawns and banyan trees that lend an exquisite serenity to the place. In its interior, it is one of the most impressive and scientifically designed structures that I have seen. Milky white floors beautified by an artistic interplay of flowing water and soft marble welcome you. Lit up only by the natural solar light, a single stream of the sun’s rays enters through the top of the dome and falls on a strategically placed crystal ball in the middle, reflecting solar energy at all angles. Most importantly, it is a place to concentrate on the inner self in all the calmness that could be possibly offered.

An overwhelming part of my experience at Matrimandir was the 45-minute meditation session that I had in complete silence. We were a batch of over 40 people inside the Matrimandir at that time. Not even the slightest whisper was to be heard. It was meditation in its purest form – practicing peace with oneself without any distraction.

In such a quiet environment, I could hear myself breathe as I inhaled and exhaled. I could feel every heartbeat and sense every vibe around me. As I grew calmer, slowly, I began to hear the tremendous ‘sound of silence.’ It felt like vibrations ringing through my head, a thick aura that penetrated my mind and slowly settled in my heart. I felt I was in a state of nothingness. Nothing other than me and the silence that enveloped me, existed. Soon, heaviness grew within me. Thinking of nothing in particular, I felt the need to cry. Rather than holding back my tears, I allowed myself the liberty of releasing my emotions without inhibition. Silent weeping ensued. After a while, I felt better. Much lighter. By the time my meditation session got over, I felt a true sense of clarity, with my mind was verging on emptiness.

As I look back at the experience, I wonder why I cried. There was nothing bad or sad, in particular, that should have welled up tears in my eyes. After much introspection, I understood the reason. Never before had I been in an atmosphere of such a high magnitude of silence, almost feeling like vacuum! Such complete silence that I could actually hear it. And that was overwhelming.

I know that we are surrounded by noise and sounds of all kinds, all the time. Someone’s footsteps, the hum of the air conditioner, clock ticking, birds chirping, dog barking, people talking, phones ringing, machine printing, pressure cooker whistle blowing, horns blaring, door closing, and tapping sound of the keyboard. Come to think of it, there isn’t a single moment in 24 hours that qualifies as ‘soundless’. Our sense of hearing is undoubtedly one of the most used functions of the body.

To top it all, we put various kinds of instruments in our house to ‘hear’ specific sounds. I have personally inundated my ecosystem with chimes and clocks that make a distinct sounds that I enjoy. Even on vacations, our inclination is hardly towards a soundless experience as if it is an irreplaceable component of every joyful moment.

However, in the deafeningly silent environment of Matrimandir, when apart from me, I only had silence for a companion, I discovered that without ever realising it, how helplessly dependent we are on sound. So dependent that we don’t realise that silence itself has a voice. It is all pervading, accompanying every note of sound, enveloping each of our actions. It is there. And hearing the sound of silence is empowering. It strengthens us from within. Its vibrations are waiting to hit our ear drums. It is up to us whether we wish to hear it or not.

This article was published at Hindustan Times.

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