In search of solitude

Auroville

In search of solitude

Nature, left on its own, has an intrinsic energy, and sometimes human activity contributes harmoniously to the energy so that it becomes palpable to anyone entering into the particular environment.

Auroville, a township 10 kilometres outside Puducherry along the Coramandel coast in Tamil Nadu, is one such place, where the complementary character of the landscape and the people who have occupied it allows for a relaxed and rather enchanting atmosphere. “Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.

The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.” This is one of the salient purposes of the settlement as stated in the literature of Auroville. The experimental township was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (known as The Mother). She had envisioned the concept as early as the 1930s, after having been a spiritual associate to Sri Aurobindo (originally Aravind Ghose), and having gathered and organised a group of followers around him. After his death in 1950, she began the Sri Aurobindo International Center for Education to fulfil his wish to provide a new kind of education to Indian youth.

Sri Aurobindo had been a Nationalist leader, and participated in the Indian freedom struggle — he was also arrested on charges of treason and kept under trial for lengths of time at the prison in Alipore, where he had a life-changing spiritual realisation and understanding about the dharma of human beings.

A universal communityThe sprawling area of around 20 sq km is approximately 160 km south of Chennai and  is home to a diverse range of people, also reflecting a lively influx of tourists, artists and persons seeking to know more about the humanist spirituality of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. With a green belt surrounding well-planned areas of residential, commercial, public, educational and industrial spaces, the region has transformed from a barren and marginal land in 1968, to a developed and productive land, entirely through the efforts of Aurovilians.

With their hard work in collaboration with local villagers, the early residents worked towards checking soil erosion, planted and reared trees in large numbers. Over two million trees have been planted in the last 40 years, many of them indigenous species like neem and those types found around local temples. A lot of this work was supported through the Government of India projects such as waste land regeneration, watershed management and reforestation projects. Today, it is a thriving community with representatives from about 45 nations, from different backgrounds, social classes and cultures sharing the place, as its charter says, “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole.”

The residential area comprises both villages (largely inhabited by local fisher-folk and other communities) and Auroville community settlements. At present, there are 95 Auroville residential communities; some of the inhabitants are involved in artistic and craft based production like pottery and metal casting; bio-farming, traditional medicine, spiritual research, social work and alternative education among other things.

These communities range from three to 80 residential units. Apart from these, there are a few houses in smaller clusters connected with raw mud and tarred roads. The main town boasts eclectic eateries, reflecting the multi-cultural atmosphere. From the classy Café Le Morgan at the centre, to Tanto, the best place for pizza and salad; the Auroville Bakery, Roma’s Kitchen, Ganesh Bakery and tiny nooks that offer anything from Tibetan steamed momo, idli to specialised organic and vegan food, it is easy to eat out once you know the lay of the land. Guest houses and home-stays abound, and it is possible to enrol for a class in meditation or clay modelling while staying at these places.

Culture of its ownAt the very centre of Auroville is the Matri Mandir, an enormous ball-shaped structure clad with golden plates containing a meditation chamber within. It is described as a place of peace bathed in light refracted through a prism inserted in the topmost part of the dome.

You need to be there between 10 am and 12 pm or between 2 and 4 pm to enter the gardens, and make prior bookings to enter the meditation hall, as only a certain number of people are allowed at a time. The peace area in which the structure is situated has three main features: the Matri Mandir itself with its 12 gardens, 12 petals and future lakes, the amphitheatre and the banyan tree.

The Mandir represents the soul of the city and was visualised as the place to find one’s consciousness by the Mother. From here, the township was supposed to radiate in harmony in all directions. The gardens are full of trees, plants and shrubs, an ode to nature and her benevolence; the universal Mother. Here silence and creativity go hand in hand, and those who pass through feel the essence of tranquillity, carried through by the unpressured atmosphere.

Today, Auroville is recognised as the first and only internationally accepted ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with — and studying and documenting — sustainable living and the future cultural, social, environmental and spiritual needs of the world.

Fact file

In the mid-1960s, the Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry proposed to the Mother that a township should be started. The concept was then put before the Govt. of India, who gave their backing and took it to the General Assembly of UNESCO. 

In 1966, the UNESCO passed a unanimous resolution commending it as a project of importance to the future of humanity, thereby giving their full encouragement. 

On 28th February 1968, 5,000 people assembled near the banyan tree at the centre of the future township for the inauguration ceremony attended by representatives of 124 nations, including all the states of India.
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