Imagining a visit to Auroville in 2030

I had taken a day off from work and was driving down the Highway from Chennai to Auroville. I had been hearing about this place from friends for sometime and was curious to see what this Auroville was all about. It turned out to be just over a two hour drive from Chennai, I was surprised that Auroville was so close.  

Turning off the highway I followed a forested road to something called the Gateway. After about a kilometer I finally entered a large parking area. I parked my car, got out and began following the arrows through a leafy park  marked Auroville Gateway: City of Human Unity, and suddenly, I saw a tall, minimalist building, rising from the ground in the colours of the earth, gradually softening, growing lighter and more transparent as it reached towards the sky. I stood before it for several minutes, I had never seen anything like this, a building that seemed to carry such a quiet and powerful aspiration, perhaps a dream?  I shook myself and kept walking, even more curious now.

I moved through a beautiful landscaped garden towards the big red ramp which led up to a huge opening. Just as I entered the doorway I noticed a small white plaque which said: Greetings from Auroville, to all men of goodwill. Are invited all those who thirst for progress and aspire for a higher and truer life.

I took a deep breath and walked right in. It was a vast space, a plaza that seemed fully open inside and, at the top, it was open to the sky. There was a sound of water somewhere, but my attention went straight to the high white wall directly before me, embedded with the most astonishing four sentences – about a place for humanity as a whole, about consciousness, unending education, the future and human unity. This was the Charter of Auroville. 

As I read it again, slowly, I saw where the sound of water was coming from. A huge waterfall flowed down gently from above. There were gardens up there and long creepers flowing down. It was a real Vertical Garden, catching the light of the sky. The sound of water created a very special atmosphere, a quietness and a listening, despite that there were many other visitors. It was all so intriguing, I wanted to know more and I needed to sit down somewhere for a bit. 

That is when I notice two wings branching out of the Plaza area. One led to the Reception and a Welcome desk. There were restrooms further on and small cafés. As I walked up the Welcome desk, I saw large moving slides on a wall that offered quick information about the Gateway and images of the city of Auroville.

I picked up a few leaflets and a brochure from the Welcome desk and headed for a restroom stop. Now that was a refreshing surprise. Wonderfully clean, well looked after, it was set as though in an indoor garden.  From there I walked over to a smart but very charming coffee shop run by an Auroville company and ordered a croissant and an excellent coffee. Even the furniture catches your eye, simple but elegant, it can actually be ordered. I noted down the contact details. Looking out of the windows, all I see is trees on every side and small gardens. It is very restful here but I want to know more about Auroville, why people choose to live here and build this city and about Matrimandir of which I have heard so much for years. But before rushing to go in, a friend advised me yesterday, try to know Auroville first. 

I go back to the Information desk, and they point me to the main Auroville exhibition area on the other wing of the plaza from where one can also reach the Matrimandir Access desk.

The exhibition area was like entering a new universe. Two extraordinary spiritual beings, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had founded the city. Named after Sri Aurobindo, Auroville is meant to be a first realization of human unity based on his teachings where people of all countries will be at home. Such a place exists! As I go through the exhibition I am amazed by the daring, the joy and experimentation this project has implied, but also the challenges and the depths it has encountered with that unique inner drive that seems to touch all things here.  The city plan has four zones: Cultural, International, Residential and Industrial. One of its key spiraling features is achieved by curving lines that pass through green corridors and urban spaces. The Gateway is actually the far end of one such line, known as the Line of Goodwill. The exhibition has so much more: on organization, education, environment….I could stay here the whole day, there is so much history, so much real work, and so many funny anecdotes. As I leave the exhibition area my eye falls on a line: At last a place where one can think only of the future… And what an invitation that is, to explore new concepts, ideas and experiments that this place seems to asks from everyone, in all areas of life and work and play!  

I had only planned for a day visit, but I need more time and I don’t want to leave without experiencing something of the Matrimandir. The Matrimandir Access desk is a quiet zone of information. To go inside I will need to make a booking so. A line of images greet me as I walk down a beautiful corridor to the Booking Office. Matrimandir is also known as the soul of Auroville. It was built from scratch, on an absolutely barren land, now golden and complete, surrounded by very special gardens and a lake that is now in process of being completed. It is inspiring to see how far determined people can reach in a relatively short time span. Human beings are very strong when they can work together in unity for a common higher goal. 

It is past noon and I am lucky the Matrimandir Booking Office is open and I am even luckier when they say I can get a reservation to visit the Inner Chamber tomorrow at 9. Could I stay somewhere for the night?  I return to the Welcome desk where I am informed about overnight budget dorms for students and groups or the rooms that the Matrimandir allots to people who have already a made prior booking but want to arrive a day early. Then there are simple Japanese Style sleeping cubicles and rooms and other more comfortable options. I opt for a Zen room on the 13th floor cluster called Forest View. I take the lift up to my room and sit down for a moment of wonder and enjoy how lucky I have been. My hotel room is very elegant but also very simple and minimal. Everything is white and serene I feel very calm and quiet here. The window overlooks a forest but I also get a sense of the curving Line of Goodwill that leads to the centre of town through the trees and, of the International Zone that borders the building. The pamphlet in the room indicates that there is a Sunset meditation in the highest of the gardens open for resident guests. I don’t want to miss that, but now I have all day to explore.

How does such a city function, I wonder? How does it sustain itself, what does its Industrial zone offer? I head back to the plaza, to the wing that leads off to the ground level, to an area where all the Auroville production units are represented. I was looking forward to this. I had heard so much about this conscious retail centre. Even shopping mall people come here to see what Auroville calls a conscious consumer experience. And it is very different! It is a huge area in two floors with many small green spaces in a two-floor height with light coming down from the big plaza above – and not a single shop! It all seems to be woven seamlessly together with no visible borderline between different areas. A very elegant bookshop, more like a private library, is woven together with a French café, people can look at magazines and read books, surf on internet while having a coffee or juice. There are books on Auroville and by Aurovilians and the place seems very popular with young people. I know most of the Auroville products, but here they are presented together like in a very large home. The many life style interior products, design and style products are also socially and environmentally aware. There are furniture, lighting, art and craft and music products, but none of these are displayed as in a shop but as in living areas.  The area for all the Specialty Food products that Auroville makes is woven together with small cafés, and you can even taste some of these before buying. In a number of places you can see the chefs working behind glass walls, and follow the production process as in the bakery or, watch fascinating tofu recipes come to life with fresh organic salads and vegetables from Auroville farms or, get pizzas topped with your favourite Auroville cheese.  I choose to lunch in a quaint Korean restaurant which invites you to eat mindfully. Some of the people working here have lived in Auroville for decades or have grown up here. Some are volunteers making their experience by living and working here. 

All  this leads to the next two floors where it is all about the research and experiment that has led to all kinds of truly interesting sustainable innovations in solar energy, windmill technologies, bio-dynamized water, now recognized for its healing properties, waste management, plus waste water management, sustainable building practices, afforestation and soil regeneration, organic farming and much more. Solar panels that line the roof of the Line of Goodwill are produced in the Industrial zone and supply a good chunk of energy to the Gateway as well. All this knowledge, the practices and the products can be transferred to other places and institutions as it is already being done in different places in India and around the world.  My nephew needs to come here! But it doesn’t stop there. There are innovations in education and in organization seeking new, conscious models and there is art and music and literature in this city of Universal Culture. Some works of art are on par with Indian and international artists, yet unique.  Some of the art is inbuilt in spaces in the Gateway, in the Line of Goodwill and elsewhere in Auroville, bringing an inward magic, a higher frequency of beauty in dialogue with all the rest. A sizable earning from all the retail products, industrial products, services and innovations and research in design contribute to the running and growth of the city and its greenbelt.

Higher up the building has different types of hotel options and a number of offices, also a health zone with a gym, quiet zones to relax and rejuvenate, plus other services. But, before getting that far, there is a whole floor with conference rooms and auditoriums and open plazas with many events, workshops and talks and some cafeterias. Because I am staying overnight I could access some of the talks and events, but to participate in workshops I would need to register beforehand and stay longer. I attended a session on the possibilities of Unending Education and one on Garbology, and education module created to deal with the humungous garbage problem in India and elsewhere. I know now that I am coming back with my daughter during her holidays.

On the fifth floor I came across a running ticker listing all the programmes, talks and events in different parts of the building and also programmes and places where one can volunteer should one want to spend more time in Auroville. As a place of Karma Yoga, one is encouraged to join in activities and work in order to participate in some way, be it in a farm, or in a school, a building project, or a Tai Chi workshop and not just hang around if one plans to stay longer, for it is such a vast place of learning and experience. The brochure lists guest spaces in the Line of Goodwill and other parts of Auroville if one wants to stay longer. 

There is also the possibility of joining a guided tour of the International Zone, but I need time to absorb what I have already seen so far. It will have to wait for another day and I still have some shopping to do, for my family and friends, and for myself and a few books and brochures to pick up. An hour later, shopping done, I take the elevator up to my room, leave all the bags there and go to the 15th floor for the Sunset Meditation.  On the high terrace I join a dozen people watching the sun go down. As we sit in meditation the sun spreads like a sunset masterpiece through the clouds and such a vast silence embraces us.  

I return to my Zen room and order a light salad. All day I was in a sound space of so many languages, many Indian varieties plus Italian, French, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, African, Brazilian and so may English accents, all in harmony, together. I set the alarm clock and fall into a deep and peaceful sleep, the best sleep I have had for years. Tomorrow is a big day, and I must be ready for an encounter with the soul of this city…

At 7 am I get a delicious idli breakfast downstairs and exit the plaza from the back entrance. To reach the Matrimandir Access entrance one must walk through a forested green corridor that traverses a canyon. It is a short but amazing walk through the trees and permaculture gardens and the recycled waste water waterfall that services the gardens. The Matrimandir access group welcomes us, check our passes and directs us to a video room where one gets an introduction about what Matrimandir really is, not some golden temple or golf ball but place of concentration at the very centre of the city.  A place of silence to find one’s soul…We board a monorail along a flank of the Line of Goodwill that takes us gently through the landscape to our point of exit at the Crown. From here, for the time being we are carted in electric vehicles to the Matrimandir gate. A lake is being built and will be ready in a year. From there we walk through the gardens, past the legendary banyan tree and up inside that golden sphere, where suddenly, the world seems to change from inside. We move up a spiraling ramp to a silent white chamber where a single ray of sun falls on a crystal.  I can’t translate the experience in words yet, for it is at another frequency of silence. Suffice to say that it is something that will stay with me forever.

But it is time to get back home – family and work are waiting. I have only been away one day and one night, but it feels like much, much longer. I even don’t feel like the same person I was when I arrived. Life feels so much wider and richer. I have often felt a deep need for change in the way we live, but the daily routines do not leave much space. Now I feel I have been given tools and inputs to change. 


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