Inaugurated in 1968, the city of Auroville began with the goal to promote future unity and understanding among people of all backgrounds. At the time of its development, architecturally speaking, the city was modern and innovative. The founder, Mirra Alfassa, – better known as the Mother – had a vision for the basic concept of the city and chose architect Roger Anger to make this vision come true. This resulted in the “galaxy concept,” named for its appearance of having everything fanning out from the city center. At the center of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a ball shaped structure “representing the soul of the city” (Kundoo 51), as well as some surrounding gardens and waters. From there spirals the four zones: cultural, industrial, international, and residential. Each of these represent aspects of life the Mother deemed important to creating a universal city and are connected through a circular road called the Crown, which cuts through all the sections while housing the important buildings for each zone (Kundoo 51). Branching off of the Crown are twelve roads which provide accessibility for all residents to the city center. Finally, surrounding the city is an area of green space called the Green Belt, which holds the necessary settlements and land space for activities involving green work.
One of the most important structural components of Auroville is also one of the smallest. In 1968, young people representing 124 countries placed a handful of their native soil in an urn shaped like a lotus bud to represent the establishment of the city (Kapoor 633). Also placed inside the urn was the Auroville charter as prescribed by the Mother, which set out the four main goals for which the city will strive to achieve. [See Shinn 241 or Kapoor 633 for an English-translated version of the charter]. This urn remains in the center of the city, near the location of the Matrimandir, as a reminder of the message and objectives laid out for the citizens of this unique city.
While the Mother was the person who implemented Auroville and made it a reality, the following philosophies for which the concept was built upon came from the revolutionary Sri Aurobindo. His core contributions to the foundations of Auroville can be attributed to four insights, which relate and connect to one another. First, Aurobindo claimed the existence of a divine feminine energy at the core of reality to which he called a Shakti or The Mother. When Aurobindo met Mirra, he sensed that she was the incarnation of the Divine Mother which contributed to her title as “The Mother,” given to her when she developed Aurobindo’s ideas into a city. Second, Aurobindo believed that all beings were involved in a process leading them towards a transformed consciousness that will reflect their Shakti. His third insight was that for the evolution of humankind, there must be a joining of the physical and conscious worlds such that a transformation of both body and mind can occur together. As his fourth insight, Aurobindo proposed integral yoga as a way of quickening the evolution of humankind into its final and inevitable end of human transformation (Shinn 239-240).
From Aurobindo’s insights, it was up to the Mother to apply these to the planning and building of a community. In one of her writings from 1954, she described a dream she had of a utopia that is believed to have led to the creation of Auroville. [For a description of her dream, see Shinn 240]. She envisioned a place where money would be obsolete as citizens’ work would be considered a form of integral yoga, one of the insights Aurobindo believed would hasten the evolution of humans. Education would be voluntary for children in order to allow for individual growth. Social titles and positions would be based on the respect of others and the service of Shakti. Ultimately, every aspect about this dream city emphasized the goal of unity and transformation of humankind.
In 1966, the Sri Aurobindo Society was granted support from the United Nations to begin building the utopian society imagined by the Mother. A spot was chosen near Pondicherry in southern India and on February 28th, 1968, Auroville was established. The Mother constructed the Auroville Charter, which as previously mentioned, resides in the urn which holds handfuls of soil from multiple nations. While the ideal human transformation set out by Sri Aurobindo is the ultimate goal, the city was designed as a sort of experiment in developing a society that could eventually attain the goals set out by the Mother in the Charter. It was not expected that the city will immediately achieve perfect unity among peoples and nature, but that it would shape a process by which the individual and the collective can obtain perfection (Shinn 241).
Almost 50 years after its creation, Auroville is still thriving and progressing towards an enlightened future. As Sri Aurobindo claimed, the path to transformation involves both the physical and the conscious worlds, so the city has spent a lot of time focusing on improving the environment around them. Before the city was implemented, the land in that area was barren and covered in red laterite soil but has since been regenerated and stabilized. Over two million trees have been planted in the area and thanks to similar green works projects, the Green Belt is actually green and full of life. Preservation of the environment is very important to Aurovilians so constant progress is being made with water and soil conservation. A couple of Auroville centers that are involved with environmental work have been recognized as Medicinal Plant Conservation Parks and maintain botanical parks and plant gardens within the area (Kapoor 635). There has also been effort put into reestablishing the original ecosystem of the area by conserving natural species of vegetation and propagating them.
Renewable energy is also a main focus in Auroville. The first source of renewable energy was windmills used for pumping water, which came into the possession of Aurovilians after the Government of India discarded them following a failed project. As of 2004 over 200 residences in Auroville were using solar energy to power their homes and heat their water. One of the most impressive renewable energy projects developed for Auroville was the Solar Bowl. This spherical solar concentrator was installed at Auroville’s collective kitchen, the Solar Kitchen, and could generate enough steam to cook about 1200 meals on a clear day, and was built with two diesel heaters for the cloudy days (van den Akker 27). A solar power plant was built at the city center, and at the time of its installation, this power plant was one of the first of its kind in India and continues to provide clean energy for the Matrimandir and surrounding gardens. Any research and knowledge developed in Auroville is made accessible to the outside world in accordance with maintaining the city’s goal of progressing towards a better future for all humans. Many of the buildings in Auroville were constructed using environmentally friendly building technologies such as compressed mud bricks, recycled materials, or other natural substances (Kapoor 635).
Although it is often referred to as a city, the population of this utopian society is less than 3000 citizens. This is nowhere close to the 50000 person goal but the slow population increase allows for the settlement and adaption of the city for each new resident it welcomes. Anyone may become a citizen of Auroville as long as they are willing to participate in reaching the final goal of human unity as set out in the Charter. However, an entry group that regulates the acceptance of new residents will determine the final admission status based on spiritual inclinations and legal requirements (Kapoor 635). Most people visit Auroville first and once they have made the decision to join the community, they must get legal papers to apply for an entry visa. For the first year of their duration, an individual works and participates in the community but is considered a newcomer until their full citizenship is established. Newcomers and Aurovilians both contribute a monetary amount towards the maintenance of Auroville roads, services, facilities, and existing infrastructures. Also, newcomers are expected to provide financially for themselves and their accompanying persons for at least the first year of their residence. It is estimated that the basic cost of living is around 6000 Indian Rupees per person per month. [For more information on living requirements, see auroville.org]. Once one has been granted the title of Aurovilian, it is very unlikely that this status will be withdrawn.
An Aurovilian may choose to work based on whatever they have an inclination for even if they do not have the formal training for the job. This socio-economic organization allows for individualism at the same time as considering the collective as a whole. It works towards balancing the work required for transforming oneself and reflecting one’s Shakti while providing for the needs of everyone in the community. Although never stated as such, the principles outlined by the Mother can be easily connected to communist ideals. The idea of abolishing money and private property as well as ensuring the fulfillment of every citizen’s needs falls in line with left-wing political systems. Auroville is supposed to be self-supporting but most of the production and commercial units responsible for providing funds do not produce enough profit. Instead, most funds for Auroville are provided through donations and grants received from people and organizations around the world.
As envisioned by the Mother, there is no compulsory schooling in Auroville. The Mother stated that “education would be given not for passing examinations or obtaining certificates and posts but to enrich existing faculties and bring forth new ones” (cited in Kapoor 637). This concept is difficult for a lot of new Aurovilians, as it differs so much from the mainstream school system evident in most of the world. There are still schools within the city but they are also open to children in the neighbouring villages. Most people living in these surrounding villages are Dalits and many are illiterate, and while the Auroville Village Action Group has worked towards providing programs for these people, it is difficult due to their socio-economic background (Kapoor 640).
For those wishing to visit Auroville, it is recommended to give oneself plenty of time to fully experience and participate in the lifestyle. There is no entrance fee to get into Auroville and to maintain the ideal of no money circulation, guests must purchase an Aurocard to which they can deposit money onto and later use in exchange for goods and services. Just like any other destination, it is recommended to book housing and transportation in advance. It is important that travelers abide by the cultural lifestyle present in Auroville, such as learning appropriate body language, dressing modestly, and behaving in a suitable manner. English is the most commonly spoken and written language in Auroville but many other languages may be spoken there as well so translation facilities exist if one requires assistance.
For a long time, the possibility of human unity was only a dream; however, through the leadership and foundations laid out by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa this dream is closer to becoming a reality. “The City of Dawn,” as Auroville has often been referred to as, still has a long way to go before achieving unity and understanding among people of all backgrounds but as it develops innovative systems and faces new challenges, it progresses that much closer to becoming to the utopian society imagined by the Mother. Citizens of Auroville continue to uphold the same ideals prescribed in the Auroville Charter and as the city receives more support and more residents, it will hopefully allow for the final transformation of humankind into the enlightened being described by Sri Aurobindo.
References and Further Recommended Reading
Kapoor, Rakesh (2007) “Auroville: A Spiritual-Social Experiment in Human Unity and Evolution.” Futures Vol. 39, May: 632-643.
Kundoo, Anupama (2007) “Auroville: An Architectural Laboratory.” Architecture Design Vol. 77, No. 6: 50-55.
Shinn, Larry D. (1984) “Auroville: Visionary Images and Social Consequences in a South Indian Utopian Community.” Religious Studies Vol. 20, No. 2: 239-253. Cambridge University Press.
van den Akker, Jos and Judith Lipp (2004) “The Power of Human Unity.” Refocus Vol. 5, No. 3: 26-29.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
Noteworthy Websites Related to Auroville
Article written by: Erin Hunter (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.