Accepted Paper:

Sacred Art and Agency - Auroville's Mandala  


Shreen Raghavan

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the agency of the creators, sacred structures and symbols of the Aurovillean mandala in India and their mediation in the self-realization and transformative experiences of the pilgrims.

Paper long abstract:

Gell (1998) proposes a framework for analyzing art, which he terms as the Index (I), through its interactions with the Artist (A), the creator, and the Viewer / Patient (P). This model is used as a starting point for understanding the theurgic nature of the mandala at Auroville, India. The process of elucidation commences by analyzing the background and mystical experiences of its creators, Aurobindo Ghose and Mirra Alfassa; next, the artistic, architectural and arboreal forms of the Aurovillean mandala are examined; finally, the spiritual experiences of both Aurovillians and pilgrims are investigated, providing emic and etic perspectives respectively. The paper seeks to link the three entities - Creator, mandala and pilgrim - via a common denominator of congruent Self-realizing experiences, in the 'abduction' of the mandala's agency. First, the case facts are presented which serve as data-points for the Gell framework. These data-points are then hermeneutically mapped on to religious literature, exegeses, theories and research findings on the mandala / sacred art / initiatory rites (Gonda 1965, B├╝hnemann 2003, Van Gennep 1960, Sanderson 1984) to distil the underlying affective process. Pilgrim experiences at another sacred site are compared with those at Auroville. Finally, facts, theory and hermeneutics together serve to affectively link founders, mandala and pilgrims, establishing the 'union'. The author also shares his auto-ethnographical perspective.

Panel P081
Comparing Notes: Realising the Sacred and the Self in Art