Auroville, Puducherry/Tamil Nadu
About 15 kilometers outside of Puducherry is the experimental community of Auroville. Named after Sri Aurobindo and founded by The Mother, it is an utopian community that “is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”
I had read about Auroville before I left on the trip, and found the concept interesting and I wanted to see the 44 year old community to see if it lived up to it’s claims of being “a place where money would be no more the sovereign lord and individual merit will have a greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position”.
The drive to Auroville via autorickshaw was revealing in itself. Puducherry is a fairly clean city, especially in the French quarter and near the beach. But as you approach Auroville and look at the area adjacent to it, the garbage and litter start to pile up and the commercialism of Auroville is everywhere. Road signs and billboards advertising tours of Auroville or Aurovillian crafts for sale litter the highway and surrounding community. They stop when you reach the parking lot for the visitors center.
The visitors center is full of information on the community and includes a bookstore, a boutique, and a cafeteria (where they make their own cheese). There is information about how the community came to be, the town charter, and how to join the community if you wish.
There is also information about the structure at the heart of the area. The Matrimandir, or The Temple of The Mother, a large golden golf ball/Epcot centre structure that took 37 years to build situated in a garden that is simply named “Peace”.
In order to see The Matrimandir, you first need to watch a 10 minute video outlining the rules of visiting the temple, and then they issue you a pass and point the way to a 1 kilometer hike.
The walk in is scenic with lots of sign posts describing different projects in the area like self sufficient energy (solar and wind), irrigation advancements, composting and recycling facilities and experiments in organic gardening and other advancements for the greater good (the improvements in drinking water by letting the water listen to Mozart and Bach made me rise an eyebrow though).
At the main gate into Peace, you get to see the Giant banyan tree. Apparently in 1968, The Mother pointed to a map of the surrounding area around Puducherry and said “this is where we will build”. When they went to the place, they found a dry and arid plain with nothing except a 100 year old banyan tree. Every other tree and plant was planted later around this amazing tree. Banyan trees are a type of fig tree that creates arial prop roots, or new trunks that look like someone has propped up the branches with a big stick. A banyan tree can have over 100 separate trunks.
Past the banyan tree, Peace starts. An immaculately tended garden that uses vegetation and ground contours to create an acoustically quiet place. No traffic noise, no wind noise, just the occasional bird tweet or squirrel squeak.
As the path winds, The Matrimandar pokes its head out over the trees…
…and then the walk opens up to the viewing point with meditation spots on a perfectly sculpted lawn and red rock blocks to sit on.
When I arrived, I was the only person at the viewing point, so it was dead quiet. I took a few pictures, and then sat on one of the blocks. It may have been one of the most tranquil moments of my entire life.
A few more people arrived, and after about half an hour, a school group came by, but everyone was respectful of the silence.
I took a few more pictures, put a donation into the donation box, and headed back.
After you have visited The Matrimandir from the outside, you can apply for access to the inner chamber and the mediation room where the worlds biggest optical perfect crystal resides. Using a mirror on top of the temple, sunlight is reflected into the center of the crystal and the inner chamber is lit. It also works with moonlight.
I’m not sure about the experiment that is Auroville. There are a lot of aspects that sound like they were decided during an intense session of magic mushrooms and a bong (which would explain the abundance of vendors selling Doritos in the area). I half expected the guides to be wearing tinfoil hats and hemp pants. And it seems like it takes an awfully long time for the area to finish projects. Even Winnipeg finishes strange shaped buildings faster than this place.
I applaud the attempt though, and I really appreciate the space they have created for people, ANY people, to come and sit in silence and contemplate whatever they want to.