Before arriving in Pondicherry, I had heard of an alternative community just outside of the town called Auroville. These types of communities are new to me and as a result of the unknown I find them fascinating. The thought of a group of individuals attempting to create a utopia amongst the chaos of the world is radical and this is something I wanted to dip my toes into. Auroville aims 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 realise human unity. As a result, they aim to be a cashless and sustainable society.
There are mixed reviews about the community. Some describe it as a utopia where creativity and sustainability flourish and others lay claim to it as a cult with their own self-interest always a priority over the surrounding Indian communities and a place where sexually transmitted diseases run rampage because of the “open love” philosophy that’s said to be present.
When I told my mom about my upcoming visit, I reassured her that everything would be O.K. and I was simply going to explore for a couple days. Her reply was: “Oh I’m not scared for you. I’m scared for them.” Thanks mom…
We went into the community open minded and tried our best to stay unbiased. I believe the most enriching way to approach all things in life is this way. Only after you experience something first-hand should you come to a conclusion. What one individual may experience is usually very different from the way someone else does.
In the centre of Auroville is the “soul of the city” which they call the Matrimandir. This area is called “peace” and from this center the future city is intended to radiate outwards. The atmosphere is quiet and charged, the landscape beautifully manicured, and a true definition of bliss and perfection. Within the walls of the Matrimandir is a place of meditation and silence. Only with special permission are you granted access to it at very particular times of day. The Matrimandir was breathtaking upon arrival, but what did not sit well with me was the perfection of it and the amount of money and maintenance that obviously goes into maintaining it. Why? Because two kilometers away people are living in huts without proper insulation with hardly enough food to eat and no running water.
The visitors center is the first stop you make upon arriving in the community. It’s open to the public and it’s a peaceful spot amongst the forest that has been planted by the community. There are rooms with philosophy writings on the walls from the founders. In the next building, you’ll find a handful of souvenir shops and a lovely organic café with the best salads I’ve ever had in India. All of which you can purchase with cash or even credit card.
Driving through Auroville feels as though you are on another planet that is similar but different from earth. The roads are either laid brick or a rich red mercury sand. Trees and forest brush are in every direction you look. It reminded me of what you would see in a futuristic movie. Everything within Auroville felt as though it had purpose in one way or another. No presence of street names could be found, but arrows particularly situated helped guide you - pointing you towards the next community: “Progress”, “Aspiration”, “Equality”...
The architecture was something I’d never seen before. One house would look like it was built by Fred Flintstone and the one right beside was straight out of Architectural Digest and had breathtaking accents that were unmistakably Nordic classicism.
Auroville is open to the public but it’s also not. The communities within are private and only Aurovillians are allowed access to these buildings for the most part. Some are open to all, but I never really knew where I was allowed to be or not. We had heard of a solar powered kitchen where you could have a meal. Upon arrival, I noticed that everyone was in fact an Aurovillian and not a visitor. I was determined to make my way in, so doe-eyed I approached a lady who was working and told her I had forgotten my Aurovillian card and asked where I could go to get a temporary one. She motioned me up the stairs to an office and without question I was given a temporary pass for lunch. Within the solar powered kitchen, a variety of vegetarian offerings were available. It felt a bit like a school cafeteria but you could come back for seconds or even thirds. There was a sign on the wall that stated that you should only take as much as you can eat and that yesterday there was 21KG of waste accumulated from lunch.
Known to be spiritual and have experts living within the community that specialize in meditation and mindfulness, I saw a poster in the solar powered kitchen for a “heart energy class” later that afternoon and knew I had to go. The class was held in one of the Nordic architecturally built buildings that had mini pools within the walls. I was asked to sign in with my name when I arrived and I then took my place on a meditation pillow. The other students were from all over the world, there was a woman from the U.S., a man from Japan, and a handful of French women. The class started with silence and our eyes closed, by the end of it we were moving aimlessly around the room allowing our bodies to move with the energies of our heart without thinking. There were a couple times I caught myself holding back giggles, but I knew that if I started to laugh they would think I wasn’t taking this seriously.
When you’re in Auroville, you feel nothing else in the world exists. It is a utopia in a way. An isolation from the rest of the world. But is isolation from the rest of the world and living in your own little bubble healthy? It was a place I visited a few times throughout my month in Pondicherry, but I never found myself wanting to stay for long periods of time. It didn’t feel right to stay when my time could be better spent helping others only a handful of kilometers away versus singing kumbaya and praying to a gold ball.
When I got home after my first visit to Auroville, I opened my laptop and typed: “at-risk and disadvantaged girls in Pondicherry, India” into Google. I knew what I needed to do in Pondicherry, and that was to start to have even a small impact on the lives of other girls who needed it most. I didn’t know what would come to be, but I do know now that everything does happen for one reason or another.