Auroville: What is it?

We spent almost two weeks in Auroville, which will make for a very long blogpost, so we have decided to make this post; a separate intro post, describing a little what Auroville is. What we did in Auroville, our personal experience of the place is not so relevant to what Auroville actually is, so for me it’s important to keep these two separate.

During our time in Auroville, an Aurovillian girl reached out to us, offering to give us some intel about Auroville in order for us to understand it better. Her name is Inge and we had breakfast on two occasions, where we basically interviewed her about her life in Auroville. Some of the information below comes from her, some from a farmer and some are general facts we’ve picked up during our stay. There is lots of information on Aurovilles webpage, but that is a complete jungle, so I will try to explain Auroville in short from what we’ve learned during our two weeks there.

Inge, me and August at La Terrace café

Short history

Auroville was created after a model constructed by Mirra Alfassa. Also known as “The Mother”, on the ideal of human unity. She wanted a place on earth where people from different cultures and backgrounds could live together. She wanted to give humanity a place where the dreamers can go and focus on creativity in order for human consciousness to eventually evolve. Auroville is named after a man named Sri Aurobindo. He was the Mothers spiritual companion, and the Mother was working with him in his ashram in Pondicherry. They were advocates of an Integral Yoga which basically means that we could actively try to evolve your consciousness. They thought that the human that live now is not the end product of evolution, and that if we focus we can speed up the process of evolution. So to be an Aurovillian one must be “willing to server the divine consciousness”. I am not sure what this means, and I think that there are many ways to explain it, but the main point is that the divine consciousnesses have no religion, its a concept deeply integrated in the Mothers and Aurobindos philosophy. So Auroville was founded on the 28th of February 1968, people representing 23  Indian states and 124 countries participated in the ceremony, all of them pouring soil from their homeland into a lotus shaped urn.  

Statue of Sri Aurobindo, who Auroville is named after

Basic Idea

Auroville is supposed to be an experiment, a model for a united world. The mother said that max 50.000 inhabitants should be in Auroville. In Auroville people of all cultures and countries are supposed to live together in harmony, and whatever problems Auroville faces as a result of these culture clashes, will be solved so the world can learn from it. I think we can all agree that a united world is a very noble goal. In Auroville, the basic needs shall be provided, so people can focus on evolving, being able to focus all their time on creative outlets, or researching topics they are passionate about.

Matri mandir

The Mother had a very detailed vision about the Matri mandir. She wanted a golden ball with a room inside, in which only one single ray of sun light should penetrate, and hit a crystal globe in a room with 12 sides, which was supposed to start in the middle of the Matri Mandir globe. The Matri Mandir is for silent meditation. In fact the whole Peace area in which the Matri Mandir lies is for silent meditation. No chanting or praying or yoga in the Matri Mandir. The Matri Mandir is a golden globe that seems to come out of the earth. It has four pillars, which are called petals which are in the directions of north south, east and west. Under it is a small pond with a small glass ball in the middle. It took some 30 years to build it, but now it is finished. First I want to explain to you about the petals. There are 12 of them I think, and every room in the petals have one specific colour that has a meaning. For example the room “Sincerity” is light blue, and “Generosity” is purple. To meditate in one of the petals, one must go to the reception at 9 or at 10. I don’t think you need to register before. The Mother had a thing for colours and for flowers, she said they represented the divine consciousness in the plant kingdom. So in the garden around the Matri mandir, each garden will be designed around a concept with a flower at it’s center. For example, now they are working on the garden of the unexpected, which is supposed to symbolize youth. The Golden ball itself is actually made of gold; thousands of thin 24 karat flakes have been pressed between two glass plates, and glued to the big discs. I don’t remember how many of these they needed to make, but it took 30 years to build, and its quite a big building. There are two ways into the Matri mandir. The Mother wanted it to only be one, but I don’t think she planned for how much tourism the golden ball would bring. Inside the Matri Mandir everything is white, or in gray tones of white. The floor is marble, the stairs are marble, and as you enter you have to put on white socks to protect the white carpet that cover a lot of the floors. Coming into the Matrimandir is like entering a spaceship. The outside looks so alien and that feeling is only enhanced by the inside design. The inner chamber takes up the upper half of the building. The acoustics in there are amazing, so when it’s quiet it’s really quiet. If you are coughing you will be kicked out. So inside the inner chamber there is a crystal in the center, which is not a real crystal but a big camera lens, basically, which was specifically designed for letting the single ray of sunlight which enters the inner chamber move through it and down through the rest of the golden ball. The roof is really high and the floor is covered with a white carpet, everything is white, and the 12 pillars that stands around the center of the room, doesn’t reach the ceiling. It was build mainly by volunteers, so it is impossible to estimate how much it cost to build it, but the account book says it cost 400 000 000 rupees (40 crore).

View of the Matri Mandir , from the amphitheatre, early morning

Education

Education in Auroville is what I like the most about the place. In the Sapna Ranch post I speak some of the vision Hasmuk has about EBHLE. In Auroville it’s similar. In Auroville the kids aren’t stuck to a bench with text books, with the fear of failure hanging over their head, no, in Auroville the children learn at their own pace and get relevant knowledge for them, from an Auroville perspective, and learn useful skills, such as meditation. If you want, you can study for grades, doing some exams according to the British school system, in case you would like to study abroad at some point. Teachers are free to use their surroundings in education, like field trips or just being outside. We heard one story from Inge that one geography teacher had taken the children up to a river on a month long field trip to actually get to know the river. Education in Auroville revolves around the child and there are around 10 schools I think which all have similar but slightly different approaches to education. Your child doesn’t have to go to school either in Auroville, a golden example of a child who didn’t go to school is the daughter or the  original family of the Sadhana forest. Its a reforestation project which was started by a Jewish family some years ago and now have expanded to have reforestation projects in Haiti and in Kenya. When their daughter found that reading and writing was relevant to her, she learned it in 2 weeks. Another example form the same family is the daughter who asked how the moon works. Her dad couldn’t give her a great answer so he asked in the hall filled with volunteers if anyone could explain how the moon works to his daughter. Someone raised their hand and acclaimed to be an astrologist. This could definitively work if you are in an environment where knowledge comes to you, such as in Sadhana Forest, which hosts thousands of volunteers every year.

Work and Finances

As an Aurovillian there is a lot of work to do. Some people open their own business, a café, yoga, guesthouse, healing center etc. Tourism is big business in Auroville, not as big as i could be, but its still  a viable source of income. As a “unit”, you pay 33% of your income to Auroville. Aurovillians does not have to pay income tax to the Indian government, and pays instead the same amount that the Indian government would receive, to Auroville (33% is the general income tax in India). If you aren’t into the hassle of business, Aurovillians will work in the service sector. Work here could be being a teacher or working with “international relations”, working in the Matri Mandir, in the visitors center or anything that Auroville needs that doesn’t in it self generate money. There is a special process in which people are placed in the available departments or institutions or services or whatever I should call them. During a three day period, you can nominate your self or someone else to a position in a service that you deem suitable. Then after that 3 day period, a council will allocate each person to a position, and this position will be held for three years. People in the services all get the same amount of money every month from the Auroville Community pot. This is where the taxes from the units ends up. Don’t quote me on this, but I heard somewhere that they receive 16 000 rupees a month. As an Aurovillian you are also entitled to lunch at the Solar Kitchen and you get everything from Aurovillian businesses either a lot cheaper or for free. For example, all activities in Auroville are for free for Aurovillians. At an Auroville place, you can keep a tab and pay at the end of the month.

An important note is that not everyone who works in Auroville is an Aurovillian. There are 3000 Aurovillians, of which at least 2000 are adults, and these adults employ around 6000 locals in their shops, bakerys, restaurants, farms, schools and so on. I did not talk to anyone who were employed by Auroville but not an Aurovillian themself, so I cannot write anything of their experience. But everyone seems happy and are nice, which could be an indicator in a good way.

Most of Auroville has been built by means of private donations, like the Matri Mandir for example. The Indian government and EU have also invested money in Auroville. In Auroville there are pavilions in which some countries have their culture represented. For example in the African Pavilion, where we stayed, they had a drum cirkle every Thursday, lots of arts and just a general African vibe. There are also a HUGE Indian pavilion, and a French Pavilion, among others. The idea is that the respective government of each country should finance the pavilion and keep them running. This way the respective countries will be invested in Auroville.

The Mother said that the flowers represent the divine consciousness in the plant kingdom

Newcomers

To become an Aurovillian you have to go through a one year long process of volunteering, participating in courses, lectures and classes, all in order to see weather or not Auroville is the place for you, and if you, in turn, are right for Auroville. This process is expensive since you have to provide for your self during this one year, and also pay for your classes. But most of the people I have spoken with, and my self included, had another picture of what Auroville was, before going there (I am still not even close to sure but have a better idea). That is why it’s so important for people to learn what Aurovile actually is and the processes through how it works before just moving there. Auroville has the right to refuse you membership also, an example could be if someone want to use Auroville for their own goals, such as using it as a retirement plan perhaps.

Volunteers

Besides being a home to many different people, Auroville also hosts many volunteers from all over the world. Many come to work on the different projects that take place in here and some stay for as long as a year. The Indian government is even issuing a special volunteer visa that covers this. As Auroville is home to so many different and unique projects, you can participate in pretty much anything you want. We have met people interested in farming, horse keeping, tree planting, art, crafts, water conservation, renewable energy, music and many other activities. Auroville really seems to attract people interested in doing things a bit differently then most of the world, and it is amazing to have met so many passionate people during our time here.

Volunteering also takes different forms and while many stay in the same place for a longer time, there are also places that accept people for the day only, which means you can split your time between different projects and check out what you find most interesting. Many projects do require you to have the volunteer visa, as the Indian government is pretty tough in this matter. But some found ways around this and still accepted people with a regular tourist visa.

Auroville seems to benefit greatly from the volunteers. Besides putting in time and effort, some projects require you to pay some amount each day for food and housing, which might seems strange since you are giving them a lot already. But if people get something from the experience of volunteering, perhaps it is a fair deal for both sides.

Cafe Cortado at Marc’s café

Democracy

Auroville is based on 3 pillars which are stated in the original resolution of Auroville, by the Indian Government. On top of it all, is the Auroville Foundation, as per the Auroville Foundation Act, passed 1988 by the Indian Government. In this act the three pillars of Auroville are also established; these are the Governing Board, International Advisary Council, and the Residents Assembly. The International Expert Panel is currently empty, because these individuals have to be nominated by the Indian Government themselves!

Everything in Auroville seems to be run by a council or a board of some sort. As a member of the community, it is encouraged to participate in at least one of these councils. For example, the gardens of the Matri Mandir are still in the process of being designed. There is a council which works with that, deciding and coordinating designs and such. For these specific gardens, Aurovillians are welcomed to submit their designs of the gardens, and then there is a vote, and the top three candidates usually cooperate on making the garden in the end.

In the Aurovillian resolution it says that everything Auroville does must be within the framework of Indian law. Meaning that a legal process conducted in Aurovillle, also must hold up in court.

For more information on governance of Auroville, kick here .

Lots of Love

August & Linnea

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