Auroville - city of the future

3 December 2004

Auroville is a utopian city just outside of Pondicherry. The population is 600 Indians (mostly Tamil), 300 or so French, 300 Germans, 100 Americans, some Russians, and bits of another 40 or so countries. Founded in 1968, it has international recognition and gets outside funding. These are big budget hippies.

Its kind of like your local health food store got a little out of control and turned into a city.

Some people have built seriously luxurious hideaways deep in the forest behind gates. There's some really nice modern architecture (the architects live here too) in private houses and all the public buildings. Many of the houses look almost exactly like the house in the countryside in a Clockwork Orange.

Some people live on organic farms, or in multi-story apartments (modern french architecture), or in small (hippy) communities or in wood/banana leaf tree-huts. Everybody has solar panels, their own wells (showers drain directly into papaya trees). Some people do internet work, teach yoga, teach school, make crafts (sold here or in Europe during the summer), live off the land or just endlessly build more things in Auroville.

The original charter for Auroville states that it should have no money, especially internally. There are some barter systems and then there is an internal computerised money system that makes you feel like your not trading money, but of course you are. You can eat at restaraunts or shop at the grocery stores and just use your PIN code.

Some people run guesthouses. This has several effects: People can visit as tourists, medium or long term visitors. This is good since most people are being exposed to ideas or witnessing part of the experiment. During the high season most of the guest houses (maybe 30 total) are booked solid a month ahead. Especially the beach front huts. Some people are making a fair bit of money off of Auroville, and there's some tension in the community about that. All guests contribute a tax to Auroville itself, which it definitely needs to support all of its public buildings and works. There's some tension in the community about that too.

There are also a lot of farms and communities where guests can stay and work every day. Its the ideal place to get your earth-hippy vibe on. By chance (or somesuch) I stayed the first week outside of Auroville central at a fledgling forest. We ate breakfast at 6am everyday, watered the trees and worked the soil till 11am. More on that scene (Sadhana Forest) later.

Everybody digs the farms, since that's what we're eating. The food is really good and very cheap. Everything is uber-organic (natch). They export high quality organic seeds. 25 years ago the entire area was rough shrubs and dry red soil, now its a lush paradise of really amazing trees and jungle.

Some people that live here are travellers that found a way to make travelling permanent and not go home. I would have to report that there are some very jaded and snobby attitudes floating around out here. Infamous New York City is more open and friendly (or at least in my memory--who knows how 5 months in India has distorted that ?). I think its that some people have found their hideaway from the big bad world and are worried somebody is going to come along and disturb it. So often people don't really answer simple friendly questions; they drag their feet and then half answer it; like they've heard it all before.

The real Auroville, it is often said, is hiding; which is what I would probably be doing (with my DSL connection deep back in the forest). I am trying my best to run into these people and have a little contact.

Lots of Tamils and other Indians live in Auroville too, often sharing communities with the Foreigner Peoples. Of course as economics dictates, they end up doing paid work most of the time. The New Hip-Colonialism. But it goes both ways. There's good education and a lot of encouragement and help to get more education. Balu who lives out at Sadhana Farms was finishing his B.A. in World History. After that... he wants to work on the farm. With a college education ? He could do other things but he still wants to work on the farm like his family.

Auroville itself is intertwined with a couple of typical Tamil villages. This makes for great scenery for us and great income for them. But there is still "us" and "them". Lots of employment for the 40,000 (?) villagers, much improved education and hospitals. The Aurovillians are even going into the Tamil villages to teach the villagers about their own herbal medicines which they have forgotten. But still there's some resentment.

And then 2 weeks ago some personal disagreement ended up in the murder of a Dutch man by a member of a local village gang. So everybody is very sensitive about the relationship with the villagers, though no-one has really spoken about the argument that started this whole thing. Its pretty shocking, the only real violence to happen since 1968 when the city was founded.

For the most part its seemingly alcohol and drug free, but there is a definitely a dark underbelly. I've met some guys who grew up there, and they are a bit wild and crazy, but we might blame the tourists for that one; or the "Chinese Vampires".

Its a little bit hard to sum up.

This article catches some of the contradictions (and a lot of the architecture: http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_0702/ind/

Matrimandir


This is totally sci-fi. Its bigger than your average planetarium. After some serious run arounds and form filling (pretty normal for Auroville anyway) you can get into the most intense meditation chamber on the planet. No pictures inside of course, and the bizarreness of the interior is something I wouldn't want to spoil. Its very sci-fi, with a HUGE crystal projecting the sun from the top of the dome into a very very quiet chamber. You can hear every fluid in your body move. I was overjoyed that someone actually farted while I was in there; the echo was spectacular. The Mother planned this as a place for people to discover consciousness. Tourists are allowed to glimpse inside for 3 seconds, just to appreciate the seriousness of it. Its hilarious and it really does have awesome presence.


  1. 1 saciji says...

    I enjoyed the article. I was in Pondi back in the mid 90s when we livedand my partner worked in Chennai. I had known of Pondi and "mother" etc since my first visit to India in 1970. On the 'trek' it had a sanctimonious "wow" factor. I didn't make it then. Perhaps it's my age, so many decades down the road, but I was not impressed by the dome hangers on. I love the idea of Auroville. But I think that the local Tamils were doing most of the heavy work – and in a way old colonial dynamics were being sustained. Generally I loved the layout, the guest huts, the atmosphere of the grounds. I disliked the almost horizontally laid back approach of those serving the food in the restaurant area. At the Mandir no one told us our water would be taken away. And there was no real provision for putting water bottles in a shaded place, or with some kind of name tag (as many looked the same). It was just a heap of sandles and bottles – sort of a general scrum!! The helpers anything but helpful. At that time, they were rather arrogant – the art of communication was not their strong point. They expected us non-pondi people to accept their rather out of date "hippy speak". And not even sofar below the surface, I got the impression this was about 'rakeing in money' and offering as minimum as possible. I think being shepherded in and out on masse into the Mata mandir does not facilitate a spiritual experience. I can pay to go to the zoo to watch and gawp. Therefore for me, it was an extremely disappointing experience.

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