There I was staring at ‘the soul of the city’ a giant golden sphere called Matrimandir wondering, is this Utopia? If a utopian society is a community with near-perfect qualities for its citizens, then isn’t that what Mirra Alfassa aka ‘Mother’ of Auroville created in 1968 when she founded Auroville. I mean, if a woman can take eight square miles of barren land outside Pondicherry, make it into a budding oasis of green with a golden globe emerging from the earth… one does have to wonder what she’s capable of now don’t we?
Is Auroville Utopia?
“Auroville wants 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.”— Mirra Alfassa, Sri Aurobindo Ashram
What is Auroville?
Auroville as originally conceived was an experiment. A universal township where men and women from all over the world could come and live in peace and progressive harmony. All religions, political affiliations, and nationalities were to be welcome, so long as peace and harmony were prioritized.
The dream Mother had was of a place no nation could claim. A place where children could be children. Where education focused on enriching strengths not testing weaknesses. Where the instinct to fight was redirected inward as a catalyst to explore limitations and ignorance that cause personal suffering and miseries. Sounds… pretty utopian right, but wait there’s more.
Can you imagine a world where our relations to other people, no matter how different they are from us are based on collaboration and a mutual desire to become the best versions of ourselves? Surely that’s Utopia.
In Auroville, Art is a priority. Painting, music, literature all are fostered and valued as a form of self-expression by freeing citizens from financial burden. Imagine that world. One created to enable the exploration of artistic endeavors, without being a slave to the almighty master, money. Definitely Utopia.
The original idea was for Auroville to become home to 50,000 people from all over the world practicing different religions. February 28, 1968 during the Auroville inauguration 124 nations and 23 Indian states sent youth with soil from their land to be blended together in an urn kept at the Amphitheater.
Today, the Auroville Charter was handwritten in French by Mirra Alfassa herself still sits aside this urn.
- 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.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
- 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 toward future realizations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual research for a living embodiment of actual human unity.
In reality, we were told around 2,000 people from 50 different countries live in Auroville. While many are from nearby Tamil Nadu, India the Aurovilian community also includes French, Germans, and Italians.
Without knowing anything about Mother’s vision, visitors still get a sense from Matrimandir and the surrounding gardens that Auroville values serenity to aid contemplation.
Matrimandir is a giant golden sphere of awesomeness perched on a large area of grass named appropriately named ‘peace’ in the center of Auroville. The name ‘Matrimandir’ literally means ‘Temple of the Mother’. Said to be the ‘soul of the city’ and a symbol of the birth of new consciousness, peaceful energy radiates out from Matrimandir.
“A place…for trying to find one’s consciousness. It is like the Force, the central Force of Auroville, the cohesive Force of Auroville.“— The Mother
While watching an orientation video at the welcome center the inside of Matrimandir struck me, perhaps not unintentionally, like a womb. Matrimandir’s purpose is to promote silence to focus consciousness. Consequently inside there are no distractions. Matrimandir is white, white, and more white. Imagine being inside a white marble with plush white carpeting to sit on.
While I had a bit of a chuckle about a white womb, putting judgment aside, I could easily imagine the lack of religious paintings, bibles, crosses, flowers, or incense as calming and equally inviting to all.
“The failure of religions is… because they were divided. They wanted people to be religious to the exclusion of other religions, and every branch of knowledge has been a failure because it has been exclusive. What the new consciousness wants (it is on this that it insists) is: no more divisions.
To be able to understand the spiritual extreme, the material extreme, and to find the meeting point, the point where that becomes a real force.“— Mirra Alfassa, Sri Aurobindo Ashram
While you might see Aurovilians walking near Matrimander, that’s as close as tourists get. To keep Auroville peaceful for Aurovilians tourists are not allowed to see living quarters or go inside Matrimander. For that prior arrangements including council approval that can take years and repeated applications to gain must be granted.
One feature tourists are allowed to freely enjoy in Auroville is the Matrimandir viewing point and gardens. A walk through Matrimandir Gardens reveals more of Auroville than just flowers and shrubs.
There are 12 sections to the park, each named after one of the 12 powers necessary for the complete manifestation of one’s consciousness. Existence. Consciousness. Bliss. Light. Life. Power. Wealth. Utility. Progress. Youth. Harmony and of course Perfection.
The Banyan Tree
In the middle Auroville’s cultivated perfection stands a wild beauty known as the Banyan Tree. A member of the ficus family, The Banyan Tree predates Auroville and is thought to be over a hundred years old.
Roots take flight from branches, grow down, and form new trunks. In and of itself The Banyan Tree is a thing of beauty. Intended or not, for me it was a reminder of the outside world. How when everything feels upside down we need is a place of solace where religion, politics, anger, and judgment get checked at the door.
Does Utopia exist in Auroville? Sadly, I think not. Humans by our very nature are subjective creatures and Utopia assumes near-perfect qualities for its citizens. Ultimately, who’s to say what perfection is?
I don’t believe, nor did Mirra Alfassa herself believe that our limitations as human beings should stop us from moving towards a more harmonious society.
“The earth is certainly not ready to realize such an ideal, for mankind does not yet possess the necessary knowledge to understand and accept it nor the indispensable conscious force to execute it. That is why I call it a dream. Yet, this dream is on the way of becoming a reality. That is exactly what we are doing on a small scale, in proportion to our modest means. The achievement is indeed far from being perfect, it is progressive; little by little we advance towards our goal, which, we hope, one day we shall be able to hold before the world as a practical and effective means of coming out of the present chaos in order to be born into a more true, more harmonious new life.”— Mirra Alfassa, Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Even if Mirra Alfassa didn’t create Utopia, she still gets a lot of credit in my book for creating a lasting legacy of hope and belief in progress. In our ability to create a better place for all mankind. The desire to lead humanity beyond present limitations onto the next evolutionary adventure is consciousness worth striving for.
Auroville was the most memorable part of our stops in and around Puducherry. It doesn’t need saying, but with 57 temples, Puducherry is rich with other tourist destinations to explore. A former French colony, the architecture, and cleanliness of Puducherry’s French Quarter make for an enjoyable stroll.
The Mahatma Gandhi Statue (Father of the Nation) is the perfect destination to end the day in Puducherry before following the evening ocean breeze along the Puducherry Promenade and Puducherry Beach. Both are a highlight of our final day in Puducherry. Passing all the brightly colored Sarees during our walk inspired Paolo’s Photography and this slideshow!