‘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.’
Auroville is a place that I’d heard whispers about many times in the South; first back in Varkala, then in Kanyakumari, then in Pondicherry; what I’d heard of it varied from ‘great city’ to ‘spiritual town’ and more. The place, from what I’d gathered, almost seemed mythical in the way people rambled on about it: ‘Oh you must go to Auroville, you’ll find spirituality there’ and ‘It’s the future’, Y’know, all that kind of shit. So, being open minded, I decided I’d see what all the fuss was about; luckily, the girl and guy I met in Kanyakumari had found a place where I could stay with them and another Spanish guy; this was a stroke of luck as I’d heard that finding accommodation could be tricky in the ‘township’: I entered Auroville without assumptions and tried to be as open minded as I possibly could be.
Auroville was founded by ‘The Mother’ in the late 60’s and is in part a namesake of Sri Aurobindo; the Mother’s ‘spiritual collaborator’. The general idea of Auroville is that an international community can live together; always learning, always growing, and making constant peace with each other through divine consciousness. Auroville is a place where no man is above another, where the community builds and enhances itself voluntarily; it is a place seemingly without outside help. What surprises me here is that though it doesn’t really want any outside help, it relies on a certain degree of tourism and funding from other ventures; this is the first problem; there are only 2000 residents of Auroville, and most of the help with construction comes from the 40,000+ people who live in the vicinity of the area.
The whole town is based on the basic planning design of a circle; all the ‘roads’ (not all of them are finished yet, a lot of them are still made of dirt) run in a multiple mile circle around the centre, which houses the Matrimandir. Beyond each circle is a smaller community; these places are named in such fashions as ‘hope’, ‘certitude’, ’miracle’, ‘discipline’ and ‘bollocks’. These places are scattered around the town in a seemingly planned way and house maybe 9 or 10 houses per community. One of the great and perhaps promising things about Auroville is the fact that it’s been created completely from scratch, which means that multiple architects are involved in every single building here; this has great potential which I feel isn’t really being made the most of. Of course there are some interesting buildings in the town but, on the whole, it’s disappointing; it almost feels like a wasted opportunity for a place that is supposed to be revolutionary and be a direct link between the past and the future. However, there is no rush to complete Auroville; some even say that it’ll never be completed until it has found perfect unity within (which is why I presume it was designed in a circular fashion).
There are, impressively, a few buildings that are genuinely eco-friendly, such as the solar kitchen and visitor centre. These places are generally open to the public but, strangely enough, given that 30% of Auroville’s income comes from tourism, nobody seems to be too helpful; in fact, I’d say that the guys in the visitor centre are the most frustrated, unhappy people I’ve ever come across in India; working for the greater good is obviously beneath them and they’d rather find a more dignified way of creating an equal society, which of course isn’t what Auroville is about. You could argue that these people are snobbish in the way that they’re trying to create a unified society based on equality for all, in which case, these guys have got it all wrong.
The idea that Auroville can live above politics is highly problematic in the fact that the town itself is hugely run by internal politics; there are people here who, in a hierarchical sense, are far higher than anyone else. Of course, in any town or city there has to be some sort of collective governing (without it there would be some sort of chaos), but one thing I found interesting is that many of the workers in the ‘tourist centre’ wear baby blue uniforms, reminiscent of Bond movie henchman. I wondered why these people, unlike the rest of the folk in the township, wore uniforms, then it became clear; they’re not actually Aurovillians! Some of these low workers may have been born around the township, but it is very clear that they were born outside of it. It became even more clear during my time in this little bubble that the Aurovillians are very much a ‘sat inside the tent pissing out’ type of people. Yes, they love tourists to come and volunteer on their farms and other places but, ask anything of them and, well, you’ll be laughed out of town, literally. One other thing of interest is the many videos that show the creation of Auroville and its basis on the ‘Mother’s’ ideas; these, again, are shown relentlessly, creating an atmosphere not unlike Orwell’s 1984…
‘…all assets, all properties belong to Auroville and Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole.’
Now, I’m not saying that all of the people in Auroville are brainwashed people- in fact, I’d say that very, very few of them are- but it’s the general ideology of the place that seems to either alienate them, or anyone from outside (I’m not quite sure which yet). Auroville is based upon the Mother’s Agenda, which is a series of volumes containing spiritual guidance and various rules and thoughts by the Mother on how best we can all live life in harmony; some of the people in Auroville no doubt live by these volumes without questioning them, as though they are gospel, and there are perhaps (hopefully) other people in Auroville who don’t really have much time for them or the spirituality that envelopes the place; maybe some people just want a simple life away from anyone else (this part in particular appeals to me).
‘Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.’
The approach to the way the place is constructed and developed is interesting enough. Over the last decade or so more nurseries and schools have been built in the area, schools that are approaching a ‘free choice system’ (whereby I imagine and hope that the more intelligent of the kids will choose to learn about things outside of the township). Also, the arts are encouraged, if not forced upon the children here; arts and performance are considered hugely important subjects, with the hidden, but obvious aim of creating a meritocracy. Of course, some of the town’s other aims are actually in full force such as the renewable energy sector (evident everywhere), the organic farming (heavily relying on outside volunteers), and the integrated urban planning (which is in full flow, but is decades away from completion). I could go on for hours about the many ideas and aim of Auroville, but, well, I’d go on too long…
Auroville really does have a great chance of becoming a different city entirely. The infrastructure isn’t all in place yet, nor may it be for decades, but if the people there can learn to live alongside the spiritual aspects of the idea, rather than be encased by them, then it may have a chance. However, I do have a sneaky feeling that once the township is fully up and running and is completely self sufficient, as is the goal, then all those who’ve helped from the outside to make it possible will be shunned as outsiders; there will be no need for volunteers, and any tourists that do wish to enter the place will be followed around like those visiting Tibet or Korea (this sounds extreme, but I’ve heard stories of people being told to stop taking pictures when walking around, and the press gets a hard time when in the area.)
Seeing the people in Auroville get along with their lives and the idea becoming a reality is actually easier to accept rather than trying to believe in the ideas themselves. In other words the ‘Mother’, and her many thoughts and ideas, are hopefully outweighed by the common sense of the people that live in the township- and the non-leaders that actually lead the place are hopefully overshadowed by the greater idea of the place itself and stronger minded people. The ‘Mother’ and her ideas can come across as pretentious at least, and in my opinion be seen as misguided idealism, as I don’t believe people were ready when Auroville was founded, nor are they ready now, or maybe will they ever be ready for living in an international community ‘owned by no one’. Maybe the ‘Mother’s’ words and ideas should be seen as things to think about rather than a lifelong set of rules to follow?