When I decided that I would like to travel to India en route to Europe lots of ideas about journeying to the continent of cows to find some sort of spiritual homecoming came up for me. There were a few things that were going to be obvious inclusions in my Indian itinerary. Like yoga and meditation for instance, and maybe a stay at an Ashram. Then, like many unique, interesting and offbeat travel finds I stumbled upon a community called Auroville while doing some research online.
Auroville is an experimental international community. It was founded in the 60’s on idealistic principles based in environmentally friendly practices and freedom from possessions. The ideal of human unity and the belief that all people can live in happiness and harmony regardless of the country or origin, language, gender, religion or creed form some of the core beliefs that the community of Auroville is grounded in. It was the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and his partner The Mother, both widely read and respected that formed the basis on which Auroville was born and remains to this day a functioning operational community. Auroville has its own schools, transport system, an association for tourism providers, arts and cultural center, many commercial interests like cafes and boutiques, a cashless payment system, a community kitchen and shop, and visitor center.
The focal point of the community is Matrimandir. A giant, futuristic, gold, spherical temple which as far as I could gather, has the sole purpose as a place of meditation, silent concentration and reflection. Impressive in its scale and complimented by the intricately designed and delicately cared for gardens surrounding the giant golden dome visitors to Matrimandir can choose to observe the structure from one of the viewing points at a distance of about 200 meters or register to join a group and enter Matrimandir and the inner chamber.
Well worth doing to see this wonderful edifice up close and be guided through the inner workings. The large golden sphere is reflective as a result of the entire surface of the 30-meter high dome being covered by discs about a metre in diameter that are individually covered by small tiny gold tiles in a mosaic technique. The inner chamber has twelve sides, groups enter through one of these and circumnavigate the cool sweeping marble staircase leading onto plush white carpet which draw the eye to the largest optically-perfect glass globe in the world. Before entering a guide instructs the participant on what to expect and most importantly what is expected of them. The white carpets and cool marble are protected from dirty dusty feet with large white socks everyone is required to wear. After suiting up in the socks the participants are then led single file into the inner chamber in silence. With slow and gentle gestures towards rows of cushions along the perimeter, the guides indicate where to sit, cross-legged for those able and through more gestures suggest that you commence your silent concentration.
A little bit kooky and possible weird for anyone who does not have experience with meditation, the silent concentration to me felt forced and staged and I was far too preoccupied with everyone else in the chamber and the amazing design and beautiful materials that went into Matrimandir. The twenty minutes didn’t quieten my mind a great deal, but by being on a guided group it did mean that I was then able to return to Matrimandir and access one of the twelve petals for individual silent concentration on another day during my stay. The twelve petals are twelve small chambers for individuals to use and spend time in concentration, again in complete silence and as the inner chamber a cool respite from the intense South India heat.
Visitor Centre, getting around, accommodation and things to do
The visitor center is the hub of Auroville for those coming to stay for a few nights or just a day trip and Matrimandir can be reached from here via a shaded path and an easy twenty-minute stroll, there are also shuttles that are available to take visitors to and from Matrimandir. To explore more of Auroville on foot is a stretch, there are bikes that can be hired and this is a great way to get around as the entire community is on flat land and spread out over twenty square kilometers. There are about 2000 people living in Auroville, about half Indian and the other half from other nations and they all proudly call themselves Aurovillians.
The once barren waste land is now occupied by sustainable farming plots and over 90 settlements of different numbers, scale and size each with their own identity and charachter. It is important to know that the boundaries for Auroville do not appear to be finite, out side the visitor centre and the small clusters of population are non Aurovillian businesses and residences.
If you are planning on staying in Auroville, for the full Auroville experience be sure the provider is a registered Auroville Guest House or Home Stay. Being a guest in an Auroville property will give you access to all of the Auroville facilities, services and activities, The arts center has a full and rich program, there is sunset meditation at Matrimindar, farm workshops, healing therapies, performances, and exhibitions. It is a little like a spiritual theme park or holiday camp. At a registered Guest House or Home Stay you can also be set up with an Aurocard, the Auroville cashless card which makes paying for some of these classes and experiences easy and without it not possible to pay or participate.
The Charter of Auroville
Aurovillians are guided by the Charter of Auroville as laid out by The Mother before her death of which “All is collective property” and “nobody owns Auroville” are some of the key sentiments. Admirably Utoptian but fraught with complexities the Aurovillians are proud and contribute to the collective welfare of the Auroville community. Whether it be through work, in kind, and/or money everyone is expected to contribute. No one has ownership rights over property, and there are programs of study for all to develop knowledge and skills.
Getting to Auroville and checking in
At only 150 kilometers South of Chennai getting to Auroville is easy and well worth a visit to experience and understand this inspiring community and the admirable principles on which it has been founded and has operated under for over 50 years. A place of serenity, peace, and love with more than a sprinkling of a 60’s hippy hangover this is a safe and truly unique stop unlike anywhere else and hard to imagine without experiencing it first hand.
Getting to Auroville is easy. After landing at Chennai airport a taxi can take you to the public bus station where you need to catch a bus to Pondicherry, they leave frequently throughout the day. The taxi fare will be about 500 rupees and the bus a futher 80 rupees. When you pay for your bus ticket let the conductor know you would like to get off at Auroville Junction (this is about 8 kilometers before Pondicherry) and from here a tuk tuk will take you up to the visitor center where the staff can discuss with you what your accomodation options are, check to see what is available, book you in and guide you on how to get there.
Check out the gallery of all of my favorite images from Auroville
Check out the video of my favorite memories from my time in Auroville