Founded in 1926, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has grown, under the Mother's guidance, from a small group of two dozen disciples into a large diversified community with almost 1200 members. Counting the 400 students of the Centre of Education and the hundreds of devotees who live nearby, the larger ashram community consists of more than 2000 people.
Situated in a busy city of over 700,000 people, the Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat but a vibrant centre of life in a modern urban setting. The dynamic character of the community reflects the life-affirming aim of Sri Aurobindo's Yoga. Work as an offering to the Divine is an essential aspect of the Yoga, and all Ashramites do a certain amount of productive work each day in one or another of the Ashram's departments.
In the sadhana or spiritual discipline at the Ashram, there are no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations or systematic instructions in Yoga. Sadhaks are left free to determine the course and pace of their sadhana in accordance with their own natures. But the general principle of the sadhana is the same for all: there must be a surrender to the Divine and an opening to the Divine Force so that it may work to transform one's being.
The Ashram is located in the eastern part of
. Ashramites live and work in a large number of buildings spread throughout the area. The focus of community life is the Ashram main building, usually called simply "the Ashram", which consists of an interconnected block of houses, including those in which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother lived for most of their lives. At its centre, in a tree-shaded courtyard, lies the Samadhi, a white-marble shrine where their bodies are laid to rest. Pondicherry
The Ashram provides its members with all they need for a decent and healthy life. Various departments have been organised to look after the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter, as well as medical care. There are also libraries for study and facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits. The Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Unlike other institutions of its kind, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram does not follow the tradition of a Guru succeeding as the spiritual head of the ashram. Even after their lifetime, the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are still the Ashram's only gurus and its raison-d'être. In fact, as the Mother herself once stated, Sri Aurobindo is still amongst us. Their works, which comprise several printed volumes, act as guide and inspiration to the sadhaks.
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, a public charitable trust formed by the Mother in 1955. This trust is managed by a board of five trustees. Inmates of the Ashram, known as "ashramites", work in any of several Ashram departments as a voluntary service to the community. The Ashram looks after their well-being by providing food, clothing and shelter as well as health-care. They receive "Prosperity" every month, which includes clothes, toiletries and other necessary commodities.
The Ashram consists of over 80 departments which include farms, gardens, healthcare, guesthouses and engineering units among many others. Most of these departments have emerged spontaneously, sometimes because of a need for a product or service that wasn't available, often because the Mother encouraged a sadhak to pursue his art. Under Her personal guidance and care, these small units soon grew up into well-established departments.
While externally they help sustain the Ashram, the real purpose of these units is to serve as a field for sadhana, the spiritual discipline. Work in the Ashram is to be done unselfishly, in the spirit of service and as a means of offering oneself to the Divine.