Aurobindo, a famous Indian philosopher, moved to the former French territory of Pondicherry in 1910. Aurobindo spoke of people coming together above politics and nationalities, of transcending the ways of the past. A few years later Mirra Alfassa journeyed to the city and after meeting Aurobindo, decided her place in the world was at his side. She earned the name, “the Mother”, which is a common Indian name for a female spiritual teacher, and lived in Pondicherry for the rest of her life, running the ashram after Aurobindo’s death, and creating the plans for Auroville.
The spiritual village and eco-town of Auroville was personally designed by the Mother from her visions. (I love a story with a good vision!) She saw a heaven created on earth: a place where people from all over the world could express their personal visions together and jointly create something that is beautiful for others. It was her idea of the world living in harmony.
We came too late for the last Sunday tour, and I stood outside the visitor center door, wishing we could go in. Instead I snapped pictures of a beautiful bowl filled with water and floating flowers.
We explored a small area set up with visitors in mind. Several bulletin boards displayed the many projects of Auroville: electricity from the sun, wind power, dc appliances, solar-thermal, bio-gas, fuel from oil seeds. Another bulletin board spoke of Aurovilles’ plans to create a city of fifty thousand people. The future plans allowed for a large main road through Auroville, for non-polluting public transport, and closed off to private vehicles. Part of this plan included cycle paths, electric two-wheelers, and recyclable cars.
Back in the day the British had paid people to clear tropical India, not only for agricultural purposes, but also because of an old belief linking malaria to forest decay. And so was the case for Auroville. Turned into a dry, barren desert, Auroville had hardly been a place someone would consider a great place to farm or live. But the people of Auroville figured it out as they went along. By constructing barriers made of mounds of earth, they were able to catch the heavy waters during the rainy seasons. They planted trees around them to reduce the wind and stop soil erosion. Over time they planted over a million trees. The animals and pollinators began to return.
Even if they started out not knowing what they were doing, the people of Auroville, over seventies years or so, ended up creating one of the most peaceful places in India. Kevin and I approached the giant geometric gold dome known as the Matrimandir. Originally seen in the Mother’s visions, it is a meditation hall and the center of peace for Auroville.
We wanted to go in but a man apologetically explained to us, “Sunday is for residents only.” A woman was walking by, and must have heard our conversation because she stopped to explain, “You see, Auroville gets over ten thousand visitors a day. We had to close it off on Sundays, so that our residents can use it for meditation.” I suddenly remembered where I was, and the Indians’ love for spiritual pilgrimages. I could vividly imagine thousands of people flocking through the gold dome in front of us. Meditating to find peace in that would be an exercise indeed.
We headed back, stopping in the several shops that sell goods and crafts made by Auroville residents. I picked up an unusual looking stringed instrument and discovered Auroville residents had designed an instrument that sounds good no matter how you play it. All the strings are meant to sound nice together, so anyone can be a musician. Kevin came over and picked it up, spending a good few minutes fascinated with his sudden ability to make beautiful music. (I bought him one online when we returned home. Although the shipping cost quite a bit to the U.S., it was worth it for sentimental reasons.)
After grabbing a bottle of essential oil perfume, several handmade soaps, some blue green algae harvested in Auroville, and some naturally scented candles, I gladly accepted the basket a salesperson offered to carry it all. It was the first place in India I felt truly excited about shopping at. The goods were designed with tastes to suit a Western audience, probably because they were made by a mixed group, including many Westerners, and the prices were great. Yes, it did add more bulk to my bag, but some things are just worth it. Auroville goods can be bought online, too!
If we had designed it better, I would have loved to have spent more time in Auroville, maybe even taken some of their classes. But as it was, we had plans to meet friend in Tanjore the next day. Maybe next time!