Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year.
Seeds symbolize the promise of life, of hope, of the future.
Just as these delicate seeds prepare to take wing, may we leap into 2012 with courage and determination to make a better tomorrow for this planet.

With warm regards from all of us

Monday, December 26, 2011


The Mother gave significances to hundreds of flowers, corresponding to their innate vibration.
She once said:
"I have noticed a first elementary psychic vibration in plant life, and truly the blossoming of a flower is the first sign of the psychic presence. The psychic individualises itself only in man, but it existed before him; only it is not the same kind of individualisation, it is more fluid and manifests as force or as consciousness rather than as individuality. Take the rose, for example, its great perfection of form, colour and smell expresses an aspiration and is a psychic gift. Look at a rose opening in the morning with the first contact of the sun-it is a magnificent self-giving aspiration."
Physical Curiosity
We are presenting today, a cute red flower called 'Curiosity'.
Its botanical name is Holmskioldia sanguinea. It is native to the Himalayan lowlands. Its common names are 'Chinese hat plant', 'cup and saucer plant', and 'parasol flower'. It is an erect shrub that loves to climb. 
Mental Curiosity
The shrub produces spectacular narrow, trumpet shaped flowers with crimson petals and red to orange or yellow-green sepals. This plant blooms from summer to fall. It grows up to 6 feet in height and can get up to 5 feet wide. For faster growth and support, use a trellis or some other support to help your plant.

I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious...
... The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  
Albert Einstein

Curiosity is used in our Pushpanjali  and Dharti ranges

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The First Years of Shradhanjali

It started 30 years ago!
Last year, we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Shradhanjali. On the occasion, we interviewed Abha
Here are excepts of the interview:

Q: Tell us how did you get the idea to start Shradhanjali? When was it?

Abha: It was sometime at the end of 1979, that we had the idea, because we began in early 1980, sometime in January. I don’t remember the exact date. Those who were living here at that time will remember how difficult it was to make ends meet in terms of even a proper meal everyday. We had just dry bread for breakfast, with sometimes a bit of jam. There was a need for more finance and that was the first motivation. The second reason was that Radhika and I had planned to work with our hands and make crafts in order to support ourselves during our Newcomers period. We had planned this while studying at the University in Delhi, before coming to Auroville. When we got here, it was not required and we both got immersed in other work. So, it was only one and half years later that we started the project.

Q: Why dry flowers?
Michel right at the beginning

Abha: It is something that both of us had already done. I, in school and I think Radhika too. It was something in our minds. It was not just dry flowers, it was also spray painting, or with a tooth brush, etc. We definitely wanted to do something with flowers. We had already collected ferns and grasses from the hills. So, the idea was there even if we did not implement it immediately.

Q: How did you start, how did you find a place, the funds, etc.?

Abha: The first thing we did was fundraising: a few people like my parents and a few people donated some 5000 or 6000 Rupees. The first thing we did was to buy the equipment for screen-printing. We bought ink and learnt screen-printing and printing a fund-raising letter. We said: “We are 2 young Indian girls wanting to set up a handicraft unit, bla, bla, bla and we sent it to a few people”. We probably got 5,000 Rupees or so more and then 500 Rupees here and there. We started with a maximum of 10,000/12,000 Rupees. It was really, really small.

Q: What about the place?
Abha: At that time, there was this place vacant where the Maison de l’Agenda is in Aspiration near Pour Tous. It was after Aurofuture, the architect office had shifted and it was pretty much empty. There were a few small activities happening, but we were told that we could use a small corner, a tiny corner which was in a mess. It was more like a storeroom and we were told, I don’t remember who was in charge, but we were just told, you can use this corner. It is where we began. We just needed the place for the screen-printing table and our small tables.
In fact, we were given a table by the Aurofuture Office, the architecture office which had shifted. So, we had the place to start.
The first outlet in Aspiration, Auroville

Q: Do you remember your first order?
Abha: The first customer was the Auroville Today Exhibition which toured India in 1980. We sent our first products with the exhibition to Mumbai in February 1980. Both Radhika and I had school and college friends there. We wrote to them and they came and bought the things, just because we had done them ourselves. It was our first sales.
Then a friend who was working for what is today Maroma, it was known as Bati (incense) Company or Encens d’Auroville then, she took some of our products to her marketing contacts.
Our first client in Mumbai was Contemporary Arts and Crafts, they are still our clients, then The Shop in Delhi and in Kolkatta, The Good Companions. Except for The Shop, it was people that this friend put us in contact with. In Mumbai, we contacted the Bombay Swadeshi Stores. So, it started with 2 shops in Mumbai, 1 in Delhi and 1 in Kolkata. It was more than enough for the two of us. Sometimes we had to get helpers; all sort of people used to come and help us, mainly from Aspiration Community where we lived. Whoever we could catch in Aspiration, came to be our screen-printing tambi (younger brother), to pass the paper from the screen-printing table to the racks. We had so little funds, that we built the infrastructure very very slowly. It was slow and laid-back.

Q: When did you get your first export order?

Abha: I don’t remember, two young French men, Christian and Michel joined us in 1981. Around the same time, we had taken our first girl; she had gone to Encens for an interview, they did not take her, so we asked her to join.I don’t remember now if she joined first or after Christian and Michel. We were five: Radhika and I, the two French boys and one Tamil girl.

Q: What about your first Export order?

Tashi, Abha & Radhika

Abha: It must have been around 1985, but in the meantime, we had built more contacts in India.
It was working rather slowly, but it was working by then. Soon we could shift to the other side of the building, in two rooms in the front of the building. An Aurovilian was looking after the screen-printing for the Bati Company on the other side of the building.
Around 1988/89, the space became insufficient, we had by then 6 or 7 girls and not enough place to work, to store our raw materials and finished goods. We were bursting out of the place.
At that time I got pregnant (my daughter was born in May 1990), so it is only in 1991/1992 that we decided to shift and started looking for another place. The previous year, I was too preoccupied to look after the construction. When I joined again in early 1991, I started to look for a place. There was that tussle with Aurofuture not giving us land, a lot of heartache with the people living in the Industrial Zone not wanting a new unit.

Q: Why they did not want such a ‘soft’ industry?

Abha:  They did not want their day-to-day established routine to be disturbed by something new.

Q: How did you find the money to build your new workshop?

Abha: We had been saving since the end of the 1980’s.
New Building in the Industrial Zone
Since it was clear since sometime that we had to shift, we had put some money aside, with the agreement of the Development Group which was looking after planning at that time.

Q: Did you take any loan from the Bank?

Abha: We were lucky that a piece of land near the Center for Scientific Research was up for sale. Someone helped us to broker a deal with the villager wanting to sell it. Because this land came up for sale, we were able to get this place. We finally bought the land through the Auroville Land Service.
We had kept some money aside, some 10 lakhs to buy the land and start the construction. It was not enough to finish. We took a loan from the commercial unit Auroville Revolving Fund which we refunded in about two years.

Q: You are celebrating 30 Years of Shradhanjali? What are your thoughts 30 years down the line?

Abha: Well, 30 years ago, I certainly did not think that I would be at it 30 years later. What I feel most positive about is the change it has brought in the girls that we employ. I mentioned the first girl 28 or 29 years ago and the girls that we now employ from the local area, I can see such a huge difference. It is a generational difference. It is very encouraging. The girls are more educated, individually more self-assured.
In terms of raison d’ĂȘtre, Shradhanjali has kept the same objectives, the same goals: to create beautiful things. I feel that it has become much more important to work harmoniously with the people that we employ, with the women. Over the years, I have become more and more convinced that the keys to a change in the life in our area are in the hands of the women. There has been a growing awareness in me on how important this resource is, the women from the local village. I would like to spend more time training, training in the form of exposure. They should be able to have another outlook than the male bastion which is the village setting. They should have more self-esteem, more self-value, larger horizons of thought, both in terms of social thought as well as in terms of outlook to life, education or environment. I want to ensure this.

Q: Do you want to grow big?

Abha: It has always been an issue for me. I don’t want to grow big at the cost of loosing the handmade beauty, the handmade quality, an attention to each individual piece, but we can’t remain at the same size without, in a way, going down or collapsing. The answer would ‘yes, I want to grow’, but not exponentially, in a phased organic manner.

Q: What is your vision for the next 30 years?

The Workshop
 Abha: Oh gosh! I don’t want to be here for 30 more years. It should be taken up by young people with enthusiasm and a different energy. The Vision would be to continue to work harmoniously with women and with Nature, to create beauty in our products and to continue to support Auroville substantially.

Q: Auroville has changed tremendously in 30 years. How do you see Shradhanjali in this changing scenario? Is it easier today?

Abha: I think that people who come now have no clue what we had to go through. Last week I went to a meeting for ‘quality control’ for Auroville products. Everybody in the meeting was relatively new to Auroville, the common complaint was that there is no infrastructure for new people to start: “there is no path for new entrepreneurs!” When I think back how it was, at that time one had to be a fighter to just survive. Today, everything is laid out, there are of course difficulties, ‘matter’ is difficult. But there is just no comparison in terms of material difficulty. But today as the life of the city is way more organized, people expect to come to a full-fledged Chamber of Commerce, with everything well-set and handed down, with buildings, infrastructure and organizational help. People expect everything ready; it is a totally different ballgame.
Thirty Years of Shradhanjali
Q: As a motto, you are using: “Life must blossom like a flower offering itself to the Divine”. Tell us why did you choose this motto?

Abha: This phrase of the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has always touched me deeply. There is such beauty and spontaneous offering in a flower or a tree, in nature in general. It is a life lesson for us who aspire to do the yoga of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Look at this flower in the garden (showing a rose).
Even in the most arid, hard conditions, it opens itself, it gives itself. This flower or a bush, a tree has no demands, it just gives itself. It is a very beautiful lesson for life, for the path to tread. And the analogy is appropriate since we work with flowers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Red Sandalwood Seed

Let us continue with the seeds which we use at Shradhanjali.
On this blog we would like to keep giving information about the seeds, flowers, leaves and plants which are the ‘raw materials’ of our natural products.
Today, here is a short introduction on the Adenanthera pavonina.

What does Adenanthera pavonina mean?
Adenanthera comes from ‘aden’ (gland) and ‘anthera’ (anther) which are tipped with a gland.
Pavonina is the name of a Spanish botanist, Pavon, JosĂ© Antonio (1754–1844)

Its Common Name: Red Sandalwood, Coral Wood, Red Bead Tree, Red Wood

Where do you find it?
Mainly in India, China, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia (Northern Territory) and Solomon Islands.
It has been ‘naturalized’ in tropical Africa, Asia, United States, West Indies, Seychelles or Pacific Islands.
In India, it is found in the sub-Himalayan tracts. It is also grows in West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Gujarat, Maharashtra, South India (in Auroville of course) and the Andamans.

What does it looks like?
It is a deciduous, spreading, fast growing, unarmed tree, up to 15 m in height and 2 m in girth. Bark dark brown or greyish brown, rough on old trees, white or brownish white inside; leaves bipinnate, up to 30 cm long; flowers yellowish, scented; pods narrow, up to 20 cm long, twisting while opening, exposing hard, shiny, scarlet seeds.
The seeds, known as Madatya or Circassian seeds, are traditionally used by apothecaries and goldsmiths as weights, each seed being equal to approx. 0,25g.
It is said that roasted and shelled seeds can be eaten with rice and it is good. The powdered seeds, mixed with borax and water can make good cement.
The smooth, pale grey bark is rich in saponin and can be used in the manufacture of both detergents and medicines, while the shredded bark yields a red dye.
The reddish-purple heartwood is hard, heavy, strong and durable, a valued timber in many countries, where it is used for cabinetry or construction and for making articles of fine art.
The red paste made by rubbing the wood upon a moist stone can be used as a tilak.
The red wood, rubbed on a stone with a little water and applied to the body can cure prickly heat. The timber is used as a substitute for true red sandal wood (Pterocarpus santalinus).
A multipurpose tree, in other words.

The seed is extensively used in our Beejika range.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Calligraphy with flowers

We have a new recruit in Shradhanjali. Miran is a Korean artist and calligrapher who has decided to spend one year in Auroville.
She is working on new ‘calligraphic’ designs at Shradhanjali.
The idea is to find a harmonious blend between brush painting (Miran’s expertise) and dried flowers.
To start with, Miran is painting a design for venetian blinds.
She is working on Hand Made Paper and using traditional Korean techniques to paint the large sheets which will later be laminated and used as sample blinds for our office.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Little Egret

We had an unusual visitor outside our window this morning.
After looking up Salim Ali’s The Book of Indian Birds, we decided that it was an Indian Reef Heron (Egretta gularis) or Little Egret.

According to Salim Ali:
Field Characters: the Little Egret has two colour phases: (1) pure white, (2) bluish slaty with a white patch on throat; some examples parti-coloured. A backwardly drooping crest of two narrow plumes is acquired in the breeding season. White phase difficult to differentiate from the Small Egret, but its seashore habitat is suggestive.
Sexes alike. Singly, on rocky seashore, mangrove swamps, etc.

Distribution: The coast of western India; Pakistan; Ceylon.
Habits: Not appreciably different from other egrets and herons, except that it is essentially a bird of the seacoast, seldom found far inland above tidal influence. Food: Mainly crustaceans, mollusks and fish, especially the mud-crawler (Periophthalmus).
Our friend was probably looking for a free meal from our beautiful pond.

Salim Ali says: “Wades into the shallow surf or in a rock pool left by the receding tide, crouching forward on flexed legs, ‘freezing’ with poised neck and bill and jabbing at quarry blundering within range. Nesting: Season – March to July, varying with locality. Nest – a twig platform like that of other egrets, commonly built in colonies on mangrove trees in a tidal swamp, or in a large peepul or jambul, often in association with other egrets, paddy birds, etc. Eggs, 3 or 4, pale sea-green or blue-green, un-marked.”

We hope he will continue to visit us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Ashoka tree

Ashoka tree
A couple of years ago, Shradhanjali introduced a new range of items – Beejika, jewels of nature. In this collection, Shradhanjali showcases the exquisite artistry of Nature, reflected in the seeds and seedpods of Auroville’s trees, planted over the last 43 years.
For us it is a way of preserving nature’s rich diversity; creating awareness and knowledge about the importance of protecting the environment.
The range consists of cards, jewelry accessories (earrings, bracelets, necklaces, hair-sticks and key-chains), mobiles and decorative flowers.

Profits from these products go towards planting indigenous trees.

The Ashoka or Mast tree
The name of the tree derives from the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka the Great who ruled the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. In Indian history Ashoka is considered one of India's greatest emperors. After he had conquered the kingdom of Kalinga, (present day Orissa), he embraced Buddhism and promulgated it as a State religion. He dedicated the rest of his life to the propagation of Buddhist precepts which still today can be found engraved on pillars or rocks.

The tree
Belongs to Anninacea Family, its botanical name is Polyalthia longifolia.
The word Polyalthia is derived from two Greek words: poly, meaning much or many and althea meaning to cure, thus polyalthia means ‘many cures’ which is a reference to its medicinal properties. Longifolia in Latin means long leaves.
The tree is known differently in each Indian language: Hindi, ashoka (devadar); Bengali, debdaru; Malayalam, choruna; North India, debadar; South India, ashoke.

Seeds and leaves
Where is it found?
A native tree of Sri Lanka and Bengal, it is found growing wild in the southernmost parts of India. It is a very common tree in eastern India.

A short description:
A tall evergreen tree with straight trunk and slender branches which are more or less at right angles to the stem and have a symmetrical pyramidal crown.
Beautiful lance-shaped glossy leaves narrowing to a long point, with wavy or undulating margins. They are light green, translucent when young, and occur in great profusion. The flowers are star-shaped, yellowish-green in colour, inconspicuous, borne on long slender stalks, appearing from February to April.
The fruiting season is in July and the fruits are egg-shaped. On account of its graceful column with downward sweeping branchlets and glossy foliage, it is highly esteemed as an avenue tree. The bark yields good fiber. The wood, light and flexible is used for making drum cylinders, pencils and boxes. When ripe its fruit is eaten by bats at night and the seeds are scattered over the ground the next morning. Festoons of its leaves are used for decorating ceremonial gates and arches.
It is different from the real Asoka (Saraca Indica) and should not be confused with it on account of its name.

Beejika range
 Interested in gardening?
It is propagated by seed, sown in July in flower pots and planted out when of suitable size. It transplants well.
When grown 15 feet apart on the southern side of the compound wall, the trees are a very good protection from the heat of the sun and dust and also act as a wind-break. It is an excellent tree for border planting in parks and homes.

Shradhanjali is extensively using the Ashoka seeds in the Beejika range.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Newsletter — Summer 2011

Welcome to Shradhanjali's Blog.

We inaugurate this blog by publishing extracts of our last Newsletter.

It has been a hot summer. But the wearing heat and dust of this season are greatly mitigated by the immense beauty of the blossoming trees around us. The glorious golden-yellow of the Copper pod (Peltaphorum pterocarpum) or the flaming orange-red of the Gulmohur (Delonix regia) light up the horizon and also the heart. And the lilting birdsong of innumerable feathered friends give it wing.
At Shradhanjali, we have sweated and struggled through unending power-cuts, but have also further explored new designs and styles for our product ranges. 

Table ware
Neemoli frolic – a playful, colourful theme with hand painted (stencil) neem sprigs and Vitex negundo or peepal (Ficus religiosa) leaves. Table mats, trays in all sizes and coasters are available in 5 colour collections.
Shweta kamal, Shweta neem - The white on white theme.
We continue this range of delicate stencil painting combined with Vitex negundo leaves; the lotus flower and the neem leaf, in shaded tints of white and grey, are transformed when lit up. Available in glassine and lokta papers, in 4 sizes of hanging lampshades, the candle shade and the small cube table lamp.

We continue the lotus theme on all-purpose notebooks in assorted sizes, along with other designs.

You can read our Newsletter by clicking here.