Yesterday was one of the most disgusting experiences I’ve had in the three weeks we’ve been in India and I’ve had to take a dump in public toilets here more than once (the ones in bars and restaurants are actually pretty nice!). This wasn’t a bad experience because it was unclean or crowded, or noisy. It was horrible because it was the highest density of the most deluded, self-righteous people you’ll ever meet in the one location. We went to Auroville. Their vision?
“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 realise human unity.”
Sound good in theory? Well, so does communism, but that never seems to pan out particularly well.
There are several reasons why Anna and Dr. Jap wanted to go to Auroville:
- There’s a shop near our place that sells Auroville handicrafts; soap, chocolate, linen, etc. and they’re quite nice.
- The images of the Mother and Father, above, are everywhere here. These guys are to the people of Pondicherry what Jesus and Mary are to Roman Catholics.
- There are ties to the Aravind Eye Hospital, so they thought they’d check it out while they were here.
So, what is this ‘Auroville’ place? Let’s get our information from that bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia:
Auroville (City of Dawn) is an experimental township in Viluppuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, near Puducherry in South India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (also known as “The Mother”) and designed by architect Roger Anger. Auroville was founded as a project of the Sri Aurobindo Society on Wednesday 28 February 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, “The Mother”. She was spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, who believed that “man is a transitional being”. Mother expected that this experimental “universal township” would contribute significantly in the “progress of humanity towards its splendid future by bringing together people of goodwill and aspiration for a better world.” Mother also believed that such a universal township will contribute decisively to the Indian renaissance (Ref. Mother’s Agenda, Vol. 9, dt.3.02.68). The Government of India endorsed the township, and in 1966, UNESCO also endorsed it inviting the member-states to participate in the development of Auroville. UNESCO re-endorsed Auroville four times more in the course of the last 40 years. In the inauguration ceremony attended by delegates of 124 nations on 28 February 1968, Mother gave Auroville its 4-point Charter setting forth her vision of Integral living: 1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness. 2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages. 3. 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 towards future realisations. 4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
Besides having a man with the surname ‘Anger’ design a spiritual township, we know that the original intentions for starting the place were beyond well-meaning. Let’s go check it out! So we got up at 7:30am ON A SUNDAY to get a taxi to be out there for the 8:30am tour. I’m not sure how they do the tour numbers, but there were a lot of people and a lot of time wasted. After standing in line for about 30 minutes to have our cameras (I googled all of the pictures, except my own, for this post) and water confiscated we were herded into the back of several unroadworthy trucks, the way foreign workers are in Singapore (I couldn’t fit, so they put me in the cabin) and taken to a conservatory to watch a video about Auroville. I’m not too sure about the contents, because I fell asleep almost immediately. After the video, we were all moved to another area, this time outdoors, for a verbal presentation. This talk about Auroville took about 10-15 minutes to commence , because they have a totalitarian approach to comfort and will not begin anything unless everybody is seated. I’m fine standing, but I was forced to go sit up the back where I couldn’t hear the tiny lady speaking, so I’m not sure what her talk was about, either. We had now been here for over an hour and nobody had really seen anything. I did start to notice, however, that none of the people with the good jobs there were Indian. The Indians were doing all of the hard labour, gardening, etc., but it was the foreign idealists from rich families, or backpackers who stay there under the guise of equality and “giving back to the land” that conduct all of the tours and do the guided meditation. Bear in mind that Almost 57% of the population of Auroville is non-Indian. I’m not sure this is what The Mother had in mind. The talk concluded and it was on to the most ridiculous part of the tour.
We were then taken to the Matrimandir and forced to wait around outside while another tour group finished. The Matrimandir is the physical and spiritual centre of Auroville. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but it’s an impressive building, so why not have a look? We were forced to put on communal white socks to protect the white carpet and walls before we entered the enormous golden orb. We walked up a seemingly unending spiral staircase until we reached a room where we all sat around a massive crystal ball, held up by several Stars of David, while a solitary beam of light shone down. Both the exterior and interior resembled what I’d expect the Deathstar to look like if it had been designed by Sting. After our 20+ minutes of enforced meditation lead by people dressed like the citizens of the Neutral Planet in Futurama, where even coughing was prohibited, we went down the staircase again, handed over our socks, donned our own footwear and were guided outside by some smiling, be-dreadlocked hippies to a fountain for waterfront meditation and a speech.
Now, last time I checked, India was quite poor and, technically, a third world country. More than 290,000,000 people in India live on less than US$1 per day, but what was the first thought of the comfortably-housed, well-fed and clothed, mostly caucasian community at Auroville? “Let’s make a Meditation Shed out of 56kgs of gold with a 70cm crystal ball inside! That’ll be awesome!” In fact, the residents seem extremely proud of this fact and, after taking the required time to make sure everyone is seated, will proceed to tell you.
If these people were truly the great people that they happily tell you they are, I think they might’ve taken the money required to buy all of that gold and helped some of the many starving and homeless in the area. They probably wouldn’t need that government assistance, then, either. The Matrimandir is a structure you could justify in a particularly rich country, but there is just no way to explain what it is doing in India.
Also, let’s not let this go unmentioned:
In May 2008, the BBC produced a 10-minute Newsnight film about Auroville, which was aired on TV. A short version was aired on Radio 4’s “From Our Own Correspondent”. It also appeared on BBC On-line. The reports contrasted the idealism of its founders with allegations by some people that the community tolerates pedophiles, especially in a school that Auroville has established for local village children. Auroville filed an official complaint to the BBC that the report was biased, untrue and contravened BBC editorial ethical guidelines – after investigations, although a few inaccuracies were identified, Ofcom did not uphold the complaint. In order to protect children in the Auroville area from child abuse, the city instituted an Auroville Child Protection Service which is in action ever since. At the time the BBC report somewhat damaged Auroville’s reputation.
Remember, OJ Simpson was found innocent, too. But enough negativity…
My mustache is coming along nicely