I will not pretend and say that I understood Auroville. I believe that Auroville is a deep and intense concept and my half day trip does not take me anywhere near understanding even a hair’s width of it. But what I can tell you is that it requires a different level of appreciation.
When K and I went there, I felt a sense of tranquility. It could be psychological or it could be the environment. But the fact is that the place made me feel calm. There is an undefined happiness on some of the faces of the residents. And that is something you will have to go see for yourselves.
Auroville is an experimental township in Viluppuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, near Puducherry in South India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa and designed by architect Roger Anger. When we got off at Auroville, we first headed to the visitor’s centre to watch a short film about the history of Matrimandir and Auroville. We would recommend the video because it gives a good overview of the genesis of Auroville. At the visitor’s centre you will be greeted by many a meaningful lines, posters on the ideology, philosophy and the dream that is Auroville. We stopped to read each of them.
The vision of The Mother - a place where unity is celebrated with no discrimination based on religion and where truth is divine is portrayed beautifully by these several photos and verses.
Models of the township are also displayed and this was a huge plus for us. We did not have the whole day for Auroville and these models actually helped us have a bird’s eye-view of how Auroville actually looked. The little golden globe you see above the Matrimandir.
After watching the video and looking at the displays to our heart’s content, we collected the visitor’s passes from the desk. The person in-charge guided us by pointing to the pathway that leads to the Matrimandir. There are people stationed along the way to guide you along the right path and there is absolutely no way you’d lose your way.
Now, the walk to Matrimandir itself is beautiful to say the least. There is this anticipation of finally seeing something you have come for and adding to this is the serenity and stillness. No one is in a hurry. The few visitors who were around also seemed to be quiet. Occassionally a moped vrooms past and somebody from Belgium or Korea or Latvia will waive at you or nod his head as a sign of welcome. The universality of Auroville is in its people. They bring thoughts, beliefs as diverse as themselves and yet, when someone from Bulgaria gives a ride to an Ukranian, you get goosebumps just by looking at how natural and easy it all seems. As of September, Auroville houses 2200+ residents from different nationalities. (Reference)
What really awed me about Auroville is its emphasis on sustainability. I was not aware of the magnitude of its efforts towards sustainability and efficient harnessing of energy until I saw this – rows and rows of solar panels, on our way to Matrimandir.
Later, I got to know of The Earth Institute that focusses on research, development and promotion of using technologies that are cost-friendly and energy-efficient. They have a variety of courses and also collaborate with institutions abroad. They are looking at starting courses in this direction. K and I are very interested in learning more about sustainability practices and eco-friendly drives. Unfortunately, we just did not have the time to explore as much as we wanted to. A big reason to go back again.
As we inched closer towards Matrimandir, we became increasingly aware of a silence and calm. When I spotted it from a distance, I felt so excited. This was the picture I had often seen and it felt wonderful to be there finally.
Luckily for us, there weren’t too many people around that day and we could look at Matrimandir for as long as we wanted.
Ideally, we would have loved to spend a day at Matrimandir. We once again realized that while impulsive travels are good, they aren’t always recommended. It is best to make a booking in-person, atleast a day in advance and check for when they allow visitors. If you have friends at Auroville, it helps. I do have a friend residing Auroville who is from France but it was too short a notice to ask her even. Next time.
I did a fair bit of shopping there as well at the Kalki boutique and another one.
There are so many amazing hand-made products, many produced at Auroville ( not sure if everything is, but majority seemed to be made there). I came back proudly clutching ambrosial incense, car – freshner packaged beautiully, aromatic potpourri (the heavenly Maroma), handmade soaps, organic neem powder and some jam and marmalade – each of which I loved. I also got some soaps as souvenirs. Here, they accept cash (:P). But I understand that they do not accept cash in quite a few establishments. So, that was pretty much the only restraint. Else, I’d have bought an entire cargo. The products are not exactly economical but the quality is good. K just fiddled around with all the perfumes for trial and ended up smelling like a cute bouquet by the time we were out.
I have had a few people tell me that Auroville is nothing as its hype; that you can hardly spend two hours there without feeling bored. Don’t expect to see something amazing on first glance. You won’t find clusters of diverse groups huddled together everywhere either. I believe that, THAT is exactly why you need to go in deeper to understand what makes Auroville. The paths looks barren at places and you won’t encounter anybody at certain points. Superfically, Auroville may not impress you. Which is why, I feel a strong urge to know more about this place. I walked in with mixed reviews but a blank mind to form my own experience.
And I loved what I saw. The concept, the efforts, the people, the motivations that drive them – I felt inspired by all of it. But I do have regrets. I feel sorry for not having delved deeper, for not having spent time talking to people there, for not meditating inside the Matrimandir, for not having had a coffee with the residents, for not having visited the earth institute leisurely, for not having lunched at Solitude or grabbed a bite at Solar Kitchen. Hopefully, I will get to go back one more time and stay here for a week. I will learn some tai-chi and probably participate in some cultural exchange. Until then, I will hold close to my heart the memories and the vision that is Auroville.
Want to know more about my Pondicherry trip? Go on, read them here, here and here.