A visit to the beautiful French colony town of Pondicherry is incomplete without a trip to Auroville. It was founded on land provided by the Indian government in the year 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, popularly known as ‘The Mother’. It was built as a project of Sri Aurobindo Society and was meant to be a global, universal town where everyone– men and women alike, are able to live and coexist in peace and progressive harmony above all faiths, politics and nationalities.
Pondicherry lies in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu and is located along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Due to its location, the weather in the town is almost always hot and humid, with things worsening during the summer months. However, the temperature within Auroville is tolerable and evidently cooler, thanks to the citizens of Auroville who ensure a plant cover throughout the premises and plant more trees.
Inside the premises, we noticed barely tarred roads that were occupied by cyclists and motor-bike riders, and the beautifully designed buildings which seemed to blend well with the friendly crowd. The view of this environment takes you back to an era and age quite different from the present. But, the journey to begin this Auroville experiment was yet to begin.
The first pitstop in our Auroville journey was the Matri- Mandir or the temple of the mother. It had a shining dome, which was shining due to the gold sheets that were embedded in glass and one can also spot it from miles away. This temple was built on the Mother’s vision and for the purpose of meditation. For someone with even minimum imagination, it looks like a gigantic shiny golf-ball on the top of a mountain, waiting to be teed off.
On entering the Matri Mandir, we climbed a spiral ramp after wearing the white socks that were provided to us, in order to preserve the pristineness of the sanctum. On reaching the inner sanctum, we noticed a crystal ball at the centre of it. There is a single ray of light which is always directed at the ball with the help of mirrors from the top of the structure. The hall was dark and there was absolute silence for about 20 minutes. The only illumination came from the light falling on the crystal globe. In the presence of this tranquillity, peace settles gently like a feather drifting to the earth and lying still for a few moments. This was a kind of indication that ‘we are now ready to see Auroville’.
When visiting Pondicherry, there are primarily two types of tourists– who like to explore every part of the city and others who are picky and choosy about what experiences they want to have in that city. I was visiting Pondicherry and in fact Auroville, with an open mind. Quite unlike my other trips, I had done no research on Auroville. This way I had no pre-conceived notions that were clouding my mind or allowed any opinions to colour my judgements. Our guide continued to tell us about the life of the people at Auroville and we were all taken aback on hearing that the entire township follows a ‘no money exchange’ principle and every Aurovillian has to work. The fruits of the labour will be shared by all. But, really? No Money?
Our guide then clarified that there was no paper money that was used within the premises and a monthly stipend of Rs. 6000 was paid to the bank for the work done by each person. Instead of using coins and notes, people living in Auroville were given account numbers to connect to their central account. So in lieu of payment, the shopkeepers at the market cafes, dining hall etc., took signatures in the register and depended largely on the honesty of the people of Auroville. The entire township has a population of around 2000 and fifty nearby villages contribute to the labour force comprising of 5000 people that are needed to maintain the township.
The concept of Auroville might or might not echo with people but what attracts one here is the architecture, planning and eco-friendly designs. The township uses local materials like rammed earth, stabilised bricks, sundried mud bricks and daub walls to construct. Our guide showed us a two-storeyed structure made from bamboo ladders and tetra pack material for roofing that was mounted on a recycled sugarcane cart. This structure had apparently withstood cyclone winds a couple of years back. The township is divided into zones for specific purposes such as residences, farming, administration and industry.
The town also has a school, which was an unconventional cluster of colourful round buildings that had a large open-air mess. The infrastructure at Auroville also has organic farming, water management, rainwater harvesting, waste treatment and management plant and renewable energy. We also saw the ‘free store’, where residents are asked to deposit their clothes and other personal items that they do not need anymore. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, they say. We see many handicrafts including clothes, bags, incense sticks, candles etc., sold by Aurovillians, where the labour is provided by the locals.
Residents of Auroville find solace in one or the other aspect of life here – spirituality, the teachings of the mother, the communal life or the eco-friendly environment. The vision of Auroville is quite revolutionary and the achievement of the same cannot be smooth or quick. But, given the caprices of human nature, it is, in fact, commendable that Auroville not only exists today but is also thriving. We can hope that Auroville will eventually achieve the pinnacle of the Mother’s vision but this will require infinite patience and lots of time. Planning a trip to Pondicherry? Do not miss the visit to Auroville!