Shradhanjali is one of the older business units of Auroville, started in 1980. Making use of the beauty of nature, their creations are decorated with carefully pressed flowers. Abha, who has been running Shradhanjali since the very beginning, was happy to share more with us about this special unit.
Inspired by the Beauty of Nature
Shradhanjali cannot be separated from Abha, who came to Auroville as a young girl and met The Mother in Pondicherry: “When I was 13 years old I met the Mother, I was very young but it had a huge impact on me. This meeting stuck with me after. When I entered college in Delhi studying psychology I read a lot. There were three books which had an impact; ‘Prayers and Meditations’ from the Mother, ‘Savitri’ of Sri Aurobindo and ‘The Adventure of Consciousness’ by Satprem. These books guided me to Auroville.”
The time that she arrived was a tough one – it was when Auroville and the Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry were in conflict over how Auroville should be managed. “I arrived in Auroville in 1978. It was during the crisis with the Sri Aurobindo Society. I was only 19 years old at that point. We were all living in Aspiration and most of the meetings were happening in Aspiration Kitchen. I was often very hungry because we had close to nothing. So there was an urgent need of generating income of some sort, to be self-sustainable and independent. In the first two years after my arrival I actually milked cows in La Ferme Cheese, which was pure joy as I was coming from college where I had been studying all day. So after that I had this idea, which I shared with a friend of mine, to manufacture something beautiful. I had learned in the mountains how to press flowers; all my books were filled with them. We wanted to do something with our hands, we wanted to generate income, and we wanted to work with the beauty of nature – so Shradhanjali was started.”
Even today, that is Abha’s main inspiration: “The quote of the Mother ‘Life must blossom like a flower offering itself to the Divine’ really sums it up. Nature just gives. Look at all the beauty around us, the flowers, the trees, the wildlife. We as humans are so ungrateful and greedy, and still nature continues to give. This is of such importance at this very moment in history, connected to preserving what we have and not taking things for granted.”
Rooted in Auroville
Abha’s view on running Shradhanjali is still very much rooted in Mother’s original vision. “I actually don’t consider it as running a business – it is my Sadhana. I am creating beauty. I look after the remarkable women I work with. I have a responsibility and I consciously run an ethical business. I believe that an honest relationship with our clients as well as our suppliers is needed. I do not cut corners! There are no compromises when it comes to quality and the people I work with. And I do not see this Unit as something that belongs to me, it belongs as much to my neighbour as it does to me. When I started Shradhanjali everything was very collective. I never had this sense of ‘mine’ and I am very grateful for that – it gives me a sense of freedom.”
Auroville’s changes over the years have not affected this initial spirit – although, Abha admits, she is less interested now to engage with the daily turmoil of Auroville. “I see Auroville as an amazing possibility – a possibility of a real fraternity. We are so very lucky to live here. At this very point, we are somehow very stuck in the habit of pointing fingers at each other. It is time to refocus on ourselves, to go internal. The inner growth that we are here for is the most important. We came for this dream – we have to find it again.”
A Turning Point
When Abha is not working in the unit, she has enough activities on the side to keep her occupied. “I do my Yoga every day, or now, in the heat, I go swimming. Apart from Shradhanjali I am also working with the Auroville Village Action Group, helping them with their productions and boutiques. I am learning Sanskrit at the moment and I sing in the choir. So I have a lot of activities apart from the Unit. As for the work at the Unit we have a wonderful team with skilled people for accounts, stock and orders, the production, purchasing, and our garden. I hold this wonderful team together, and I am needed everywhere…”
Abha clearly loves her team, and is deeply concerned with their growth and well-being. Shradanjali has blossomed into quite a big unit and works with many women from the surrounding village. They are key to the team, and some have been with Shradhanjali for many years. “They are remarkable. The difficulties that they face in their life, this resilience that they have. This is a big inspiration to me, every single day.” Unfortunately, their income is getting more precarious, as running the unit is harder, especially with the Coronavirus pandemic. “At the moment there is a turning point, we are facing low volumes of orders which makes the business struggle, and since I am not young anymore it is a little on the tough side.”
Want to support Shradhanjali? Check out their products here.