Auroville: Giving time a break in Pondicherry 4

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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Luckily for us, there weren’t too many people around that day and we could look at Matrimandir for as long as we wanted.

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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.

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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.

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35 comments

  1. Destination Infinity · November 13, 2013

    I have meditated inside the Matrimandir when I was very young. I remember the green crystal ball in the center of the hall which illuminates the entire hall by reflecting a small ray of sunlight. Luckily, we were there at the right time. Not sure if they allow people without prior intimation, these days?

    Auroville is an excellent concept that has survived the test of time. We need more sustainable communities similar to Auroville across India. They are one of the first users of concentrated solar power (heat) for centralized cooking. They have taken renewable energy to great heights. I should visit this place sometime soon…

    Destination Infinity

    • kismitoffeebar · November 13, 2013

      YEs DI. I did see a miniature version of the green crystal ball. They require prior intimation these days.
      Absolutely! An excellent concept that embodies good sustainable practices. The solar kitchen apparently works on that. Sigh, so much I missed out on. Pls do share your visit when it happens!

  2. The Girl Next Door · November 14, 2013

    Like you, we had just a half day to visit Auroville, and got only a bird’s eye view of the place. I felt a sense of tranquility, some very good vibes, as soon as we entered the community. We saw the exhibition and watched the video, visited Matri Mandir, but were not allowed inside. We loved the boutiques there and bought some wonderful products, which we found not too economical but of good quality. That’s about it. We got a feel of Auroville, but I don’t think we have even begun to understand what it actually is. I think we need to stay there for a longer period of time to really know it. And then, I suspect, I will want to go there again and again and again. It will change me.

    I didn’t understand Auroville, too, thanks to the brief glance we threw at the place. I didn’t understand why I never wrote a post about our Auroville visit; your post made me understand that.

    • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

      I understand what you mean. I am waiting for a chance to go again. Not sure when that will happen, but I really want to. Hope you get to do it soon 🙂

  3. greenboochi · November 14, 2013

    Kismi Kismi Kismi.. how did you just say everything that was on my mind about Auroville? I loved that place so much, but just like you we also had only half a day there. I enjoyed watching the video about Auroville and Mantrimandir. I had goosebumps reading about “The Mother’s Dream”. There is such calmness around Mantrimandir which made me want to experience the insides of it. S promised that we could register there the next time, if we are lucky – we will get a chance!

    I spent close to 2hrs in the souvenir shop. I got a beautiful basket made out of newspapers. I was so inspired that I wanted to try making one after coming back home. It never came out right LOL 😀

    I got two rose plants for Amma from their nursery and I loved how they named each plan as to why Mother loves it. The food there was awesome! How friendly all the people seemed – always giving you a smile or a wave! very nice experience overall.

    I can go on and on about this.. so let me stop here. I am going to read your post once more 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

      Absolutely GB! I hope you and S get to go there for a longer time soon. The souvenir shop is one christmas basket! 🙂 I did not visit the nursery, sadly. Yeah, people are very friendly. Hope you get to go again!

  4. Sugar and Spice · November 14, 2013

    I’ve been Auroville twice. Once, when it was being constructed and the 2nd time after it got completed and I just love the place! And no, I don’t think I will ever be able to understand the entire significance of it all! Loved to read your experience.

    • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

      You must have had a good visualization of the transformation, no? Were you there for a longer period of time? Somehow, I felt I did not do justice to it. Thanks SnS 🙂

      • Sugar and Spice · November 14, 2013

        I’ve not been there for long periods of time. In fact, very little! 😦 Hope to, one day.. some day!

      • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

        Someday someday 🙂

  5. Jas · November 14, 2013

    Ok, so Auroville is a mystery and it is on my list too. I haven’t visited that part of the country yet but soon I will 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

      Yeah Jas. Hope you do it sometime soon. And maybe you can avoid the mistakes some of us have done 😛 Do share what you felt 🙂

  6. onehonestwriter · November 14, 2013

    I was there past month too…and the way you have explained it, wow. I could never actually jot down what i felt there in words. Too bad that we couldn’t visit the Matri Mandir from inside, but there is always a next time. It was a beautiful experience, and let me now go back and read all your previous posts and fill up for the absence in past couple of months.

    • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

      Yeah, I read about your transit and the many places you journeyed to 🙂 Must have been one awesome experience for you!
      Thanks OHW. This was pretty hard to express since I couldn’t experience it the right way. Hopefully, I will be able to someday. Hope you enjoy digging up the archives.
      And yes, so good to see you back! 🙂

  7. KP · November 14, 2013

    I am so near to the place and yet have not visited Auroville.Thanks to you,I could get a glimpse of what it contains.I will try to visit sometime.But I was taken in by the quaint and old beauty of the heritage hotel you stayed bringing to mind the old style homes of rich people in villages and small towns.I think both K and you know how to be choosy and selective of places to stay and visit.

    • kismitoffeebar · November 14, 2013

      KP, please do visit this place and if you like to meditate or experience it, please try to book a visit to Matrimandir as well. I hope you enjoy the place 🙂

      You are absolutely right! That heritage home we stayed in was a king’s summer palace it seems. It sure resembles the old style homes of rich people. My grandma’s house is like that – with a well in the centre. I cannot share how much we love going there!
      Thank you KP. You are always very generous and kind 🙂

  8. Bindu · November 15, 2013

    Haven’t been there yet, but I know that’s the place I want to spend my retired life in 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · November 25, 2013

      I missed seeing this! Yeah, it is a lovely retirement plan 🙂

  9. pixie · November 16, 2013

    Its a beautiful and intense place no?
    I didn’t understand it either… But, its very peaceful and serene

  10. Visha · November 18, 2013

    I visited Auroville when I was 10 and apart from the foreigners, nothing interested me 🙂

    Next time we are in Chennai for a long break, we should plan a trip to Pondy!

    • kismitoffeebar · November 20, 2013

      He he can understand that.. Yeah, I highly reco that too!:)

  11. Swaram · November 20, 2013

    Su studied in Puduchery for 2 years and keeps talking about Auroville. And we have been planning trips for so long now, somehow the time is yet to come. Hopefully soon 🙂 I can so relate with what you felt there though, already 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · November 20, 2013

      Ah! Look who is here !:)
      You must so totally go there Swar! It is a beautiful place that will charm you. And Pondy too – coz’…. erm, you will know when you go there! 🙂

  12. Nilu A · November 21, 2013

    Wow! Awesome pics.. Hope to visit this place someday.. Do visit my blog.. http://kitchenserenity.blogspot.in/

    • kismitoffeebar · November 21, 2013

      Thanks and welcome here Nilu! 🙂

      Will definitely check out your blog.

  13. techie2mom · November 22, 2013

    Wow Toffee!! Now i am totally drawn to the place!!
    So many things to do, so many places to go…

    • kismitoffeebar · November 22, 2013

      Absolutely T2M! I think you will like it a lot when you are actually there 🙂
      So good to see you here !

  14. Yash the PolymathGeek · November 27, 2013

    Hey Kismi Toffee Bar! Nice series. Pallavi and I have been planning a trip to Pondicherry for a while now. One of these days – I always say :). and this series of posts by you may just be the push that we need to finally visit Pondi. Thanks and keep ’em coming!

    Goa, Pondi, Rajasthan, Ladakh… Decisions! Decisions! 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · November 27, 2013

      Hi Yash!

      I strongly strongly urge you to go to Pondi ! It is a lovely place 🙂 And knowing you two, I am sure you will have lots of fun 🙂
      When you do, pls share it with us 🙂 I have done Rajasthan and Pondi. I an do both again and again. Rajasthan is beautiful but do plan a good stay and not a rushed one. You need that kind of time to appreciate the beauty. Goa and Ladakh – ah, same pinch. And Sikkim and northeast in general. Sigh.

  15. Ramya · November 30, 2013

    Kismi, as always, another greeeat post.I had a vicarious feeling that I travelled along with you ..Havent been to Auroville, heard about it, hope to go there sometime soon. An award waiting for you at my blog:) Will ya accept it pleasee 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · December 2, 2013

      Ramya! Thanks a lot dearie 🙂 Hope you go there too!
      Arey waah! Thank you thank you thank you thank you. I LOVE awards 🙂 Very nice of you to share it with me. Thanks a ton 🙂

  16. Dew · December 3, 2013

    Kismi, have been planning this for a while now. And looking at your pics.. I am strongly determined to fulfill it sometime soon. Thanks…!!

  17. Pingback: A Visit to Matri Mandir | Priyakala

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