Auroville, which means the 'City of Dawn', was founded by Sri Aurobindo's mother on February 28, 1968. The disciple and spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, she had built up the Ashram into a multi-faceted, spiritual community and had established the Sri Aurobindo International Center for Education earlier.
Auroville is meant 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," said the Mother in 1965. Three years later at the inauguration ceremony of Auroville on February 28, 1968 young boys and girls representing 121 nations and 23 Indian states placed a handful of earth from their part of the world in a lotus-shaped urn, symbolizing the creation of a city dedicated to peace, international understanding and a hopeful future for humanity. That was the beginning.
THE SOUL OF AUROVILLE
At the center of Auroville is the Matri Mandir described as 'the soul of Auroville'. The main building is a flattened sphere, 36 meters in diameter, within which is located the 'Inner Room' visualized by the Mother. It is a place "for concentration and � for trying to find one's consciousness." In the hall with the crystal globe-the largest single crystal in the world-everything is in white. There are no flowers, no incense and no music because the Mother did not wish it to be a typically religious place: "there must be absolutely no dogmas, nor rules, nor rituals". Here amidst total silence, people are free to sit anywhere for quiet meditation. It is open to visitors (who have to obtain a pass) between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day.
The Matri Mandir is surrounded by four zones: the cultural, international, industrial, and residential. The Cultural Zone has educational, cultural and sports activities as its focus. It consists of schools, a sports complex, and a youth center. A centralized structure (Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research), which is involved in research on new teaching methods while recognizing traditional educational levels, coordinates the whole system of education in Auroville. The sports complex provides facilities for tennis, football, handball, and riding. Cultural activities include drama, musical and dance programs. The International Zone in meant to be like an international campus, a place for events, and a meeting place for compatriots.
The Industrial Zone has money-generating units for Auroville, which aims to be a self-supporting city. It has several industries such as food processing units and concerns such as jam and pickle making, bakeries, manufacturing readymade garments, assembling electronic components, and so on. The Residential Zone includes structures, which range from huts to individual houses and apartments. However, the individuals do not own the houses. They belong to Auroville. A central community kitchen caters for all Aurovilians though there are some separate community kitchens as well. Auroville is now an expanding community of nearly 2,000 people from Indian and some 30 countries around the world. The Auroville residents have created a basic infrastructure of roads, water, electricity and telecommunications, including an electronic communication network.
The site of Auroville was once a backward and impoverished rural area, surrounded by 13 villages with a population of over 40,000 people. Bare and eroded, it was mainly wasteland. A number of Aurovilians took up the task of 'bringing this land back to life' with the help of these villagers. After twenty years of hard work, they have succeeded in regenerating the soil on a long-term basis through biological farming methods without using any artificial fertilizers or chemical products. The two million trees planted by them on 2,800 acres of once-arid land have successfully created a lush green belt, which is beautiful to behold.
ASHRAM AND AUROVILLE
Outsiders often wonder how the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville are related. While the Mother founded both on the ideals of Sri Aurobindo, the two are separate legal entities that have been evolving independently. Broadly speaking, while the Ashram focuses on the inner development and transformation of individuals, Auroville's focus is the creation of a new society and city, which is global and universal, belonging to humanity as a whole.
SRI AUROBINDO AND HIS PHILOSOPHY
Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta on August 15, 1872. He was sent to England for his education and graduated from King's College, Cambridge. He also qualified for the Indian Civil Service. Returning to India in 1893, he worked for the princely State of Baroda for the next 13 years. He was also a professor in Baroda College during the time. It is during this period that he got involved in the Freedom Movement. He returned to Calcutta in 1905 and soon became one of the leaders in the movement. He was the first to express openly the concept of total independence for the country in his journal Bande Mataram. He was prosecuted twice for sedition and once for conspiracy.
He had already started the practice of Yoga while in Baroda. In 1910, he withdrew from politics and went to Pondicherry in order to devote himself exclusively to his spiritual life and work. During the next 40 years he evolved a new method of spiritual practice (he called it Integral Yoga), which aims at a realization that not only liberates man's consciousness but with the possibility of acquiring a new consciousness, the truth consciousness, and capable of living a life perfectly harmonious, good and beautiful, happy and fully conscious. He gave all his time to establish in himself this consciousness, which he called 'supramental' and helped those around him to realize it. He founded Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926 with the help of the Mother, his disciple and spiritual collaborator. A prolific writer, Sri Aurobindo's work includes The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, and Savitri. He passed away on December 5, 1950.
The Ashram, which originally comprised a small group of two-dozen disciples, has now grown into a large community with over 1,200 members, around 400 students belonging to the Center of Education and hundreds of devotees who live nearby. Sri Aurobindo had said, "This Ashram has been created � not for the renunciation of the world but as a center and a field of practice for another kind and form of life which would, in the end, be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit". In keeping with his words, the Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat secluded from the world but a vibrant center of life in a busy, urban setting. Work here is essentially karma yoga-an offering to the Divine. There is no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations, or systematic instructions in yoga. Each devotee is free to determine the kind and pace of his/her sadhana and decide what work he or she wants to do.
DUTIES OF DEVOTEES
Everyone does some useful service everyday in the various departments as part of their sadhana (devotion). There are many fields to choose from. Those interested in teaching work at the International Center for Education. Other departments include the library, various art galleries, photo section, publication department, art houses, weaving department, travel agencies, furniture and leatherwork, agarbattis, Ayurvedic section, batik works, cottage industries, restaurants, perfumery, Hablik hand weaving, handmade paper factory, woodwork unit, marbling unit and the embroidery department, among others. However, the general principle is the same for all-it is work offered to the Divine; hence there should be a total surrender to God in whatever they choose to do.
MIRRA ALFASSA, THE MOTHER
Mirra Alfassa (later known as the Mother) was born in Paris on February 21, 1878. A pupil of the Academia Julian, she was a talented artist, pianist and writer. However, her primary interest was in spiritual life. She visited Pondicherry for the first time in 1914 to meet Sri Aurobindo, her spiritual mentor and guide, and returned finally in 1920. When the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded in 1926, Sri Aurobindo entrusted her with its entire responsibility. Under her guidance, covering a span of nearly five decades, the Ashram grew to be a large, multi-faceted spiritual community. She also established the Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education in 1952 and Auroville, an international township, in 1968. The Mother passed away on November 17, 1973.
Auroville is 160 km south of Chennai, and 10 kilometers from Pondicherry. There are buses plying regularly from Madras, Bangalore, Ooty, Madurai, Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram. The best way to get around is by bicycle, which can be hired in Pondicherry