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Auroville - The City of Dawn

Auroville which means the ‘City of Dawn’ was founded by The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram on February 28, 1968. The disciple and spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, she had built up the Ashram into a multi-facted, spiritual community and had established the Sri Aurobindo International Centre for Education earlier. Auroville was her creation too.

“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 life freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority – that of the supreme truth”. It should be, “a place of peace, concord and harmony where all fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weakness and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities. A place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyment.”

Auroville 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” said the Mother in 1965. Three years later at the inauguration ceremony of Auroville on Feb 28, 1968 young boys and girls representing 121 nations and 23 Indian states placed a handful of earth from their part of the world in a lotus-shaped urn, symbolizing the creation of a city dedicated to peace, international understanding and a hopeful future for humanity. That was the beginning.

At the centre of Auroville is the Matri Mandir described as ‘the soul of Auroville’. The main building is a flattended sphere, 36 metres in diameter, within which is located the ‘Inner Room’ visualized by the Mother. It is a place “for concentration and ….for trying to find one’s consciousness”. In the hall with the crystal globe – the largest single crystal in the world – everything is in white. There are no flowers, no incense and no music and no music because The Mother did not wish it to be a typically religious place – “there must be absolutely no dogmas, nor rules nor rituals”. Here amidst total silence, people are free to sit anywhere for quiet meditation. It is open to visitors (who have to obtain a pass) between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day.

The Matri Mandir is surrounded by four zones – Cultural, International, Industrial and Residential. The Cultural Zone has education, cultural and sports activities as its main focus. It consists of schools, a sports complex and the Youth Centre. A centralized structure (Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research) which is involved in research on new teaching methods while recognizing traditional educational levels, co-ordinates the whole system of education in Auroville. The sports complex provides facilities for tennis, football, handball and riding. Cultural activities include drama, musical and dance programmes. The International Zone in meant to be like an international campus, a place for events and a meeting place for compatriots.

The Industrial Zone has money-generating units for Auroville which aims to be a self-supporting city. It has several industries such as food processing units and concerns such jam and pickle making, bakeries, manufacturing readymade garments, assembling electronic components and so on. The Residential Zone includes structures which range from huts to individual houses and apartments. But the houses are not owned by the individuals. They belong to Auroville. A central community kitchen caters for all Aurovilians though there are some separate community kitchens as well. Auroville is now an expanding community of nearly 2000 people from Indian and some 30 countries around the world. The Auroville residents have created a basic infrastructure of roads, water, electricity and telecommunications, including an electronic communication network.

In tune with the environment

The site of Auroville was once a backward and impoverished rural area, surrounded by 13 villages with a population of over 40,000 people. Bare and eroded, it was mainly wasteland. A number of Aurovilians took up the task of ‘bringing this land back to life’ with the help of these villagers. After twenty years of hard work they have succeeded in regenerating the soil on a long term basis through biological farming methods without using my artificial fertilizers or chemical products. The two million trees planted by them on 2800 acres of once-arid land has successfully created a lush green belt which is really beautiful to behold.

At Auroville you find an increasing utilization of natural energy. Out of a total of 400 houses over 85 are run entirely on electricity produced by photovoltaic panels while others combine solar power with the state grid. 30 windmills and 2 wind turbines pump water in addition to 100 solar photovoltaic pumps and a 36 kw photovoltaic power-plant which provides electricity for the Matri Mandir. More than 70 solar cookers, a dozen solar heaters are used by the community while 15 biogas tanks produce methane for domestic use. The recently opened Auroville kitchen has been designed to use a 15 metre diameter solar bowl – the biggest in India – for cooking.

Auroville has several education centres for the Tamil villagers. New Creation is a primary school for 180 village children 20 of whom are boarders. There are training centres for young people in pottery, wood-work, painting, weaving, metal work and stone-cutting. There are kindergartens and night schools for adults which conduct regular training programmes in organic agriculture, watershed management and environmental education.

Outsiders often wonder how the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville are related. Are they one and the same? Or is there no love lost between the two? While both the Ashram and Auroville were founded by the Mother according to the ideals of Sri Aurobindo, the two are separate legal entities which have been evolving independently. Broadly speaking, while the Ashram focuses on the inner development and transformation of individuals, Auroville’s main focus is the creation of a new society and city which is global and universal, belonging to humanity as a whole.

The Auroville Charter, 28.2.1969

  1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.

  1. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages.

  1. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realization.

  1. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.

Sri Aurobindo, His Philosophy

Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta on August 15, 1872. He was sent to England for his education and graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in Classical Tripos. He also qualified for the Indian Civil Service. Returning to Indian in 1893, he worked for the princely State of Baroda for the next 13 years. He was also a professor in Baroda College during the time. It is during this period that he got involved in the Freedom Movement. He returned to Calcutta in 1905 and soon became one of the leaders in the movement. He was the first to express openly the concept of total independence for the country in his journal Bande Mataram. He was prosecuted twice for sedition and once for conspiracy.

He had already started the practice of Yoga while in Baroda. In 1910 he withdrew from politics and went to Pondicherry in order to devote himself exclusively to his spiritual life and work. During the next 40 years he evolved a new method of spiritual practice which he called the Integral Yoga which aims at a realization that not only liberates man’s consciousness but with the possibility of acquiring a new consciousness, the Truth-consciousness and capable of living a life perfectly harmonious, good and beautiful, happy and fully conscious.” He gave all his time to establish in himself this consciousness which he called ‘supramental’ and helped those around him to realize it. He founded Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926 with the help of The Mother, his disciple and spiritual collaborator. A prolific writer, Sri Aurobindo’s work include The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga and Savitri. He passed away on December 5, 1950.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

The Ashram which originally comprised a small group of two dozen disciples ahs now grown into a large community with over 1200 members, around 400 students belonging to the Centre of Education and hundreds of devotees who live nearby. Sri Aurobindo had said – “This Ashram has been created…not for the renunciation of the world but as a centre and a field of practice for another kind and form of life which would, in the final end, be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit”. In keeping with his words the Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat secluded from the world but a vibrant centre of life in a busy, urban setting. Work here is essentially karmayoga – an offering to the Divine. There no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory mediations or systematic instructions in yoga. Each devotee is free to determine the kind and pace of his/her sadhana and decide what work he or she wants to do.

Everyone does some useful service everyday in the various departments as part of their Sadhana (devotion). There are many fields to choose from. Those interested in teaching or academics work at the International Centre for Education. Other departments include the library, various art galleries, photo section, publication department, art houses, weaving department, travel agencies, furniture and leatherwork, agarbattis, ayurvedic section, batik works, cottage industries, restaurants, perfumery, Hablik handweaving, hand-made paper factory, woodwork unit, marbelling unit and the embroidery department, among others. But the general principle is the same for all – it is work offered to the Divine hence there should be a total surrender to God in whatever they choose to do.

The Mother

Mirra Alfassa (later known as The Mother) was born in Paris on February 21, 1878. A pupil of the Academie Julian, she was a talented artist, pianist and writer. But her primary interest was in spiritual life. She visited Pondicherry for the first time in 1914 to meet Sri Aurobindo, her spiritual mentor and guide, and returned finally in 1920. When the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded in 1926, Sri Aurobindo entrusted her with its entire responsibility. Under her guidance covering a span of nearly five decades the Ashram grew to be a large, many-faceted spiritual community. She also established the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1952 and Auroville, an international township, in 1968. The Mother passed on November 17, 1973.

Getting There

Auroville is 160 km south of Chennai, 10 kilometres from Pondicherry. There are buses plying regularly from Madras, Bangalore, Ooty, Madurai, Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram.

The best way to get around is by bicycle which can be hired in Pondicherry. To get the feel of the place it is recommended you spend several days here as everything is so spread out.