Auroville’s Morning Star Birth Centre

On the 21st of February, 2018, a small crowd gathered in the woods between Sante Medical Centre and the Matrimandir gardens, to bless the land that will soon become Auroville’s first, dedicated Birth Centre. Young and old, boys and girls, babies, bumps and twinkling eyes were all in attendance, as songs were sung, prayers were offered and a symbolic sapling was planted to mark the occasion.

What first peeked the interest of this one-time lecturer in Literature was the name of the place, Morning Star Birth Centre. Speaking with Paula Murphy, Nurse Midwife and mother to the whole project, I learned that the name came from Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, specifically Book III, Canto IV, The Vision and the Boon.

I saw the Omnipotent’s flaming pioneers
Over the heavenly verge which turns towards life
Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;
Forerunners of a divine multitude,
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn…

Into the fallen human sphere they came,
Faces that wore the Immortal’s glory still,
Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,
Bodies made beautiful by the spirit’s light,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire…

Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature’s face.

This passage has always reminded me of William Wordsworth’s ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ (1804). The English Romantic poet was undoubtedly an influence on Sri Aurobindo as both a writer, and indeed great reader of classic English Literature. Like much of Wordsworth’s poetic output, the Ode focuses on early childhood and its importance for the human spirit. The fifth stanza of the Ode says,

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

For both poets, the newborn child is one with the divine. For Wordsworth, the child, (and indeed his own childhood), represents a spirit as yet untainted by the world, closer to the gods and ‘trailing clouds of glory’ from our former, heavenly home. As can be seen at the end of the quotation above, it is all too easy for adults to lose touch with their magical, heavenly origins, as our vision becomes clouded by ‘the light of common day’. However, the poem goes on, and as with much of Wordsworth’s poetry (especially his autobiographical work) Nature becomes the guide that can lead the human spirit back to its source.

Living in harmony with the natural world is central to the spirit of Auroville, and will be the primary focus of the Morning Star Birth Centre. When I asked Paula Murphy, playfully, who might be considered to have the leading role in a birth, mother or midwife, she replied with lightning speed, ‘Mother Nature! The mother needs to surrender to a higher power.’ Paula has been a midwife for her whole adult life, and has seen over 2,000 children into this world over the past 40 years. Her wealth of knowledge and experience is the bedrock of the Morning Star. She told me to ‘imagine a river that represents the changing perceptions towards childbirth – the clinical approach, drug use, water births, eastern and western ideas and traditions – then the midwife is a solid, immovable rock in that river.’

Paula’s first independent birth as a midwife took place in Auroville in 1976. Having trained and qualified in the US, her knowledge and experience encompasses both eastern and western traditions. Consequently, the Morning Star Birth Centre will include both a traditional Indian birthing room, with a rope hanging from the ceiling for the mother to hang on to while in a squatting position, as well as a large birthing pool and beds. There will be ballet-style railings on the walls for mums-to-be to walk, supported, during the early stages of labour. There will be stairs going up to a large terrace, as climbing stairs is a particularly good pelvic exercise. There will also be private gardens for parents who arrive a little too early (a common occurrence) as well as a gateway from the Centre to the Matrimandir gardens. ‘Can you imagine a soul swooping down to earth, passing the Matrimandir on its way to find its incarnation?’ Paula asked.

As the Morning Star Centre is yet to be built, Paula and her team are currently housed in Sante Medical Centre, and also come out for home births. She told me of one recent birth which marked a milestone for one local, Aurovilian family. The birth was an Indian-style, rope-and-squatting affair, but what was unique in this case was the involvement of the father. He told Paula that, not only had no man from his family ever attended a birth before, but also that he did not know of any man who had ever attended a birth, in his whole community’s history! Such a thing needed careful preparation, planning, and weeks of education and rehearsals, to equip both the father and the first-time mother for this life changing experience. As a result of this dedicated process, the father was able to sit behind the mother as she gave birth, and the baby entered the world into all four of its parents loving arms. Try to picture that without tears coming to your eyes!

Furthermore, the involvement of fathers in births is a crucial element to the empowerment of women in any community. When a man sees his wife give birth, he is seeing a whole new side to her that can never be shown elsewhere. The strength of a woman cannot be denied after witnessing childbirth, especially if it is a first birth, or if there are complications. One cannot view a woman as being only a sex object once one has seen her give birth.

And so back to 21st February 2018, and to the birth of this Birthing Centre. The sapling planted then is now six months older, and construction plans gather apace. Also, returning to Wordsworth’s idea that children and youths have a natural affinity with the spiritual realm: this idea is also reflected in the Auroville Charter, which states that Auroville is to be a place of ‘unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.’ Indeed, regarding this concept of unending youthfulness, recent studies at the University of Virginia has concluded that we all have two ages – a chronological age and a subjective age; i.e., the age that we feel. Intriguingly, it is this subjective age that has the greatest impact on our lives, far more than our chronological age, and those of us who feel younger than our years are healthier, less likely to get dementia, more able to fight disease, quicker to heal and happier.

We all ‘come trailing clouds of glory’ into this world, and for our own good it is best not to forget it! As Wordsworth put it once more (in ‘My Heart Leaps Up’ also known as ‘The Rainbow’), ‘The child is father of the man.’

Matthew Brinton Tildesley, August 13, 2018.

Further reading:

The Auroville Charter:
William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality:

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