Auroville, the City of Dawn
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 12, 2001
The project of Auroville is now thirty-three years old. This city, a few kilometres north of Pondicherry, was born of a dream that the Mother (1878-1973) had in 1967: There should be somewhere upon earth a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all beings of goodwill, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth.
It was also directly inspired by Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), India’s great yogi, philosopher, poet, revolutionary and prophet of man after man: “The final dream is a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solutions of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and dream of individual perfection and a perfect society…” Thus, in February 1968, in the midst of a severely eroded plateau extending eastward to the sea, young people representing 124 nations and 23 Indian states each placed a handful of earth from their countries in a simple lotus-shaped urn: a gesture symbolising the start of the international township. The Charter of Auroville was then read by the Mother herself: Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual search for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.
The beginnings were auspicious: money poured in from many countries keen to have a role in the shaping of Auroville; the UNESCO took a keen interest in the project; journalists and television crews from all over the world came to report about the City of the Future; and the Government of India lent active support to the budding township. One million trees were planted by the early pioneers, dams were built to stop the rain water from running into the sea; and beautiful buildings, which were revolutionary for their times, sprang up from nowhere, such as the Last School and the Sanskrit School.
Thirty-three years later, what is the assessment? Well, certainly many hopes have been belied. Instead of the 50,000 population that the Mother had envisaged, there are only about 2000 full time Aurovillians; the development of Auroville has been severely curtailed because of lack of funds, and many of the ambitious buildings lie unfinished, although, money is starting to trickle in again. The pioneers of yesterday, clad only in loincloth, have been often replaced by executives with laptops. And the cultural, social and economic gap between the 5000 villagers living in city area and the Aurovillians, many of whom come from affluent western countries, has never been fully bridged, although the standard of living of the villagers has considerably gone up because of the work generated by Auroville.
Yet small hesitant steps have been made: the circulation of money has been reduced to the minimum between Aurovillians; it has been ensured that those who are in charge of running the City are chosen by consensus and have limited tenures; communities, such as Verite (Truth in French), have managed to evolve an interesting blend of collective sharing with a living spirituality; Auroville has also become one of the few green areas in Tamil Nadu and ecologists from all over the world come to study the city’s forest and water management. And above all the `Matrimandir’, the Mother’s House, an extraordinary 100-foot-high elliptical sphere resting on four pillars sunk deep into its foundation, where in the inner chamber lies a sphere of pure crystal, 70 cm. in diameter, illuminated by sunlight channelled from an opening at the top of the chamber, stands today as Auroville’s spiritual centre.
It is no coincidence that the project of Auroville is happening in India with its tradition of tolerance and encouragement to all kinds of experiments, regardless of their unorthodoxy. Indeed, today the Government of India is once again actively helping Auroville, a positive development. For Auroville’s greatest virtue is to show that there is still, in this world engulfed by uniformity, globalisation, MTV and Coca Cola, a place where men and women of goodwill are attempting to live differently, to evolve novel ways of controlling money and power. This is why Auroville deserves our respect and help.