“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth.”
Tamil Nadu, with its mystical fervor, has so far shown me two of its typical aspects: Mamallapuram temples, entirely carved into the rock, and those in Tiruvannamalai, with their characteristic colorful Gopuram used as access doors.
But Tamil Nadu would not be the same without its many ashrams, yoga centers, meditation courses and hippie communities living in search of a slow and conscious life. That’s why I decided to stop in Auroville, the most famous hippie town in Tamil Nadu.
Just 10 km from Pondicherry, the most European city of Tamil Nadu, is a thriving hippie community that could not be further from Western cultural models. Although, to be honest, Auroville is the main reason why travelers visit Pondicherry.
Auroville means “Dawn City” and is an eco-village founded in 1968 by a yoga master, Sri Aurobindo, along with Mirra Alfassa, a French woman and spiritual guru who everyone calls “The Mother”. It is especially because of her, and her powerful charismatic power, that this incredible international community exists.
About 4,000 people from more than 50 different countries now live in Auroville. They are mostly foreigners who came to India during the Cold War years looking for a peaceful place to live, although today there are many young people born and raised here.
Auroville is about 20 square kilometers and includes 5 neighboring villages. Inside there are schools and hospitals, sports areas, restaurants and craft shops.
The rules of the community are perhaps utopian but really fascinating: the residents of Auroville in fact receive a standard wage, regardless of the work they do. A doctor and a yoga teacher earn the same amount, about 170 dollars a month. In return, they receive food, accommodation, electricity, education and health service. Personal expenses are recorded on a card, so the circulation of money is completely absent.
Life in Auroville is based on eco-sustainability, slowness, the practice of yoga and meditation. There are no laws to abide by here, and yet the crime rate is 0%. A small community based on mutual trust.
But the added value of this reality is not only spiritual: Auroville carries out work projects ranging from organic farming to computer science, through renewable energy, and gives work to about 5,000 people who live in nearby villages.
I visit the ashram paying an entrance fee that actually allows me to see very little of the daily life that takes place there.
The large park in the center of the city is not open to visitors, nor are residential districts, schools, health facilities, community premises. I mean, if you’re not a resident’s guest, you’re basically not gonna see anything.
While I understand the reason for all this reserve, I wonder if it makes sense to let tourists in. So, visit Auroville if you are willing to help this little village support its finances and, on a more spiritual level, to have actual proof that such a wonderful place really exists. It is not only the fantasy of some utopian, but a dream come true, and an invitation to the world to follow its example.
As soon as I arrive, they invite me to get on a bus that takes me straight to the main attraction of the center: the Matrimandir, the spiritual center of the city, that I can photograph only from afar. It is a gigantic golden dome, inaccessible to visitors, where residents can go to meditate in absolute silence. It is not allowed to pray, it is not a place you go to connect with God, but to listen to yourself. His spherical form does not represent the perfection of God, but the human aspiration to become divine himself.
The Matrimandir is located in the center of a large park, divided into sectors, each recalling a spiritual truth. In 1968, the UNESCO Youth Conference was held there and young people from 128 countries brought a sample of land from their country and placed it in the park, inside a large white urn, as a symbol of unity.
On the way back, a giant ficus tree draws my attention. The branches seem to extend endlessly, projecting large roots to the ground. It makes me think about how much we can grow as individuals, if we do not set limits nor accept those suggested by our spiritually poor society. Are we really more than our bodily wraps? Do we really have infinite potential just waiting to come to light?
Aurobindo and the Mother founded Auroville to help men who are discouraged in politics and in the consumistic model to realize the aspiration towards a world where there is acceptance towards all human beings, regardless of their race, gender, culture and religious diversity. Today 4,000 people call home Auroville, and live free from prejudice. It would be worth taking note!
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