Auroville: Making Your Own Experience


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Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Auroville
September 7th 2019
Published: September 7th 2019
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Auroville. It’s a place unto itself, belonging to no one in particular, instead belonging to “humanity as a whole.”

I first visited this place in 1974, six years after its founding when it was still a dusty landscape. They were building something. It was so unremarkable I can’t remember much. Just that there wasn’t much here.

Now, after massive erosion control and the planting of over 2 million trees, the place is a shady oasis. It covers an area of over 20 square kilometers, containing villages and guest houses, cafes, schools, learning centers, workshops, stores, residential spaces, and public buildings of astounding and eclectic architecture.

My rented electric bicycle zooms me around the place. I get lost as I weave along dirt paths and paved roads, but I always end up somewhere. Google Map is my companion.

At the center of the settlement is the Matrimandir, the sphere that “the Mother,” the founder of Auroville, envisioned as the focal point for bringing the people of many nationalities together in community.

About 2500 residents call Auroville their home, and most whom I spoke with love Auroville. Some were born here, have traveled abroad and returned.

I booked a slot to “concentrate” in the Matrimandir’s interior. I had to wait several days to get a space. Over fifty people, many traveling from other parts of India, followed our tour guide on the red sandstone paths through landscaped gardens and grassed areas yet to be manicured. She led us to the banyan tree, spreading its 100-year-old branches out, out, wider and wider. Aerial roots prop up the heavy branches. Some of those roots look like huge tree trunks, giving sustenance to its expansion.

The architects had asked the Mother, where should we build Auroville? She concentrated for a while, placed her finger on a map, and that was the location of this very banyan tree, now the geographical center of the development. It is revered and nurtured. The tree seems like the mother of Auroville, now that the Mother left her physical body in 1973.

People in our group stood like the aerial roots around the banyan tree, silent and reverent, holding the mighty matriarch in their attention.

We were ushered into the great golden sphere, up up into small rooms where we donned white socks. Then one by one we floated up the spiraling ramp, figures rising in a line, like a futuristic movie from the 50’s. It was rather weird. No one uttered a sound. Even the ushers inside were eerily silent, waving slowly with their arms, pointing the way.

I was the first inside that cavernous space, lined with white marble, white cushions placed around the walls in two rows so that everyone has a perfect view of the center. A single ray of sunlight, guided by computer driven mirrors, streams from above into an immense crystal ball created in Germany. Energy, vibrations, manifesting the physical.

All is well. All is well.

The experience defies description. Utter calm, utter peace. Until someone belches, or sneezes, or farts. Which happened when I was there.

Auroville. You can make your own experiences happen here.

I went to the “sound bath” held every Wednesday evening in a public building. Musicians played bells, gongs, bowls, clackers, whistles, strings, chimes, flutes, and other jangly percussions as I drifted and soaked it into my skin.

Then I heard the distant thunder. I knew a big one was on the way. I started feeling agitated as we came back into the world. “I need to go, I need to go now.” I kept thinking that, but I would have been super obvious and rude had I stood up and walked among the reclining figures enjoying the music and free form dance underway. Yikes, the flashes outside. And it was getting dark.

“Please help us roll up the mats,” the man said. That was my cue. Get up, run as fast as possible to my bicycle. Darn, I can’t get the lock off. I can’t see, it’s too dark! My flashlight is not working on my phone! Plop plop. Wet. It’s coming. I can’t stop it.

I get the lock off, flip the power on for the electric assist, and into a downpour I go. I had forgotten the bike light. I will the IPhone light to work and hold it aloft. Rain in my eyes! In my eyes! My contacts, they’ve floated off my eyes‼ Blink. Blink. I can do this. I can do this. Just a mile and a half. Please help me. Please keep me safe. Who will hear me? The music gods of Auroville?

Water puddling on the road. Angry puddles. Dirt surface, slick and unpredictable. A sari-clad form hurries across the road ahead. A dog dashes the other way. Does it have shelter? Where is the sari going?

I’m alone. Alone in the storm. Flashes of lightning sear my spine, propelling me on. Thunder barrels into my cells. Now I’m on a road that dead ends. I’ve missed my turn. Where am I? Back up, just a few feet further to my road. I’ve found the right road, and I’m looking for my next turn.

A lonely street light is on the sign. I get down from my bicycle, rain is pounding me still. My light still works. OHHH, my IPhone will be ruined by the water! Just get me to the guest house, just get me there. I don’t care if I’m soaking wet. I’m the only one out here in the dark. Lightning will surely find me with my bicycle and zap me. Or hit a tree and drop a limb on me. No one is here. I’m alone and soaking up all the water from the heavens.

I’m ok. I’m ok. I’m walking the bicycle now, too dangerous to ride on the dirt road. At least two inches of water swirls. I slog and slog, and push the bicycle through the inky darkness. I’m on the right road. I know the way.

At last the pavement starts, the final lap. I mount the bicycle, allow the electric to push me along, water still pounding me, pounding, pounding, oh so bathed in the heavenly rain.

And then the last stretch. I walk, stumble through the gate, under the shelter for parking the bicycle.

The night watchman is there. He sees my IPhone and the light.

“Is it waterproof?” Yeah, that’s really important at this moment.

“No it is not.”

“Is it waterproof?”

“No, it is not! Good night.”

The lightning still flashes. Thunder crinkles the night, and I wade to my room, exhilarated.

Auroville. No place like it.


Additional photos below
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7th September 2019

Auroville looks like an amazing experience!
7th September 2019

Amazing
Yeah, you can make it really amazing if you want it!
7th September 2019

So long ago!
1974! You were a sojourner even back then. We met probably in 1979 and I enjoyed our early friendship. Thank you for sharing your story here.
7th September 2019

Young sojourner
I was young and bright-eyed and naive way back then—and I’ve carried a lot of that enthusiasm forward in my travels. Thanks for the comment Alan!
7th September 2019

Contrasts
Wow...from the peace of the golden dome to the scary fury of the storm. Some of these photos looks very Meow-Wolf-like. Fascinating. Hope your phone did survive.
9th September 2019

Auroville Contrasts
Hi Vicki, thanks for the comment. Yeah you never know when you’ll find a car stuck into the earth or a huge rock with a big hole carved out of it, perfect for framing portraits of people. Art is everywhere, and it’s not conventional at all. I think my phone survived, just a few slow functions now. Or maybe it’s just me. I think I’ll go for another sound bath this week, but this time I’ll bring my bicycle light! thanks for traveling with me, and your comment! T
8th September 2019

Auroville
We visited Auroville but unfortunately most of it was closed for a holiday or occasion, and the impression I left with wasn't hugely positive. I couldn't quite get my head around the Matrimandir - I just couldn't get the imagery of a huge gold golf ball out of my head :) I would have loved to experience the inside though... 'until someone belches, or sneezes, or farts' Hahaha :D
9th September 2019

Getting to Know Auroville
I know what you mean about impressions of Auroville. It’s not really meant to be a tourist destination, and it’s difficult to get to know the place with less than a two weeks’ visit. Last January I spent most of my time getting lost on the roads and retracing my path and trying to find the cafes hidden among the trees. This time I know more about the roads so I can find places more easily. And the golf ball is rather strange. Aurovillians are free to visit in the afternoon for hours a time, but visitors can only stay for about 20 minutes initially. But well worth the extra time and effort to get inside. Hope you have time to linger next visit and get more of a positive feel for the place!
10th September 2019

Auroville residents
I had been really looking forward to chatting to some residents - there had been a suggestion of this, but for reasons no one could explain, that didn't eventuate. I was, and still am, quite curious amount communities such as this. If we return to that part of the world I hope we can explore and get a better understanding of it :)

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