In Pondicherry many of the major apartment buildings are painted a uniform shade of grey. This signifies that they are owned by the famed Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry. It also signifies that this is an Ashram of unbelievable wealth. You might remember that as you read on………
Auroville. The very name sounds like a bad TV Show centered around a group of spaced out hippies with a homespun philosophy living in a commune somewhere in Oregon.
But as we all know truth is stranger than fiction. Auroville is not a TV Show, it is a reality. And it is not in Oregon, it is, unbelievably, just outside Pondicherry
It takes half an hour to get there in a car, but it is a lifestyle away. A long time ago (over 50 years) in a galaxy far far away, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram flush with its success and with coffers overflowing from its wealthy members, had visions of expanding its empire. They approached the state of Pondicherry with an idea. They wanted to build, and here I quote, “a universal town where men and women of all countries will be able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville will be to realise human unity”
Pondicherry, despite not understanding a word of that, decided that not only did they support the concept but that they would donate, and here I ask you to take a deep breath, approximately 20 square kilometres of land for this experimental township. Now to be fair to the Ashram, the donated land was described as barren wasteland and over the years it has been transformed into an area that is anything but.
It is now like something out of Star Wars:
This enormous Golden Globe, known as the Matrimandir, is at the centre of it all. It took 37 years to build and no one will tell you how much money. It is covered in golden discs designed to reflect the sunlight, give it its characteristic radiance, and empty the wallets of the followers. Inside, this enormous globe is totally empty save for a spiral ramp
The ramp leads up to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble referred to as “a place to find one’s consciousness”. The inside walls shimmer white but there is no decoration or art other than a glass sphere, which just happens to be the largest optically-perfect glass globe in the world. (Dear followers, send more money)
And the name? Auroville is of French derivation. It is also known by the English name: “The City Of Dawn”
And if all of that doesn’t conjour up images of Star Wars, just wait, there is more. Auroville exists because of the vision of just one person – Mirra Alfassa, one of the the founding members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. But once Auroville came into being, Mirra no longer went by her name. She was known as The Mother. Note that is not just “mother” which would suggest a kindly loving figure there to envelop you with love. It was THE MOTHER which suggests someone much more powerful and less benevolent. The Mother would be a perfect name for the evil ruler of an Empire in Star Wars
The Mother’s plan was to have 50,000 inhabitants from across the world living in Auroville. The plan is not going so well. At present there are just 2,460 inhabitants. The other 47,540 were no doubt put off by the fact that you have to pay 2,500,000 Rupees to live there, and it is non refundable. Then there is the donation that is expected. No amount is stipulated but it can be summed up as “all you have”.
And if that isn’t clear enough, printed in large letters as you enter the compound is the statement
“All assets, all profits belong to Auroville”
The Mother died in 1973, but her work is carried on by the the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. And no one can accuse The Mother, or the Ashram of subtlety. They don’t beat around the bush. They make it quite clear that what they want is your money, ALL of your money. And what does the Ashram do with that money?
I told you, dear reader, not to forget all those impressive apartment buildings painted grey
We are not able to go inside the Matrimandir, or enter the surrounding Peace Zone, but everyone is free to tour the grounds, the township and visit the beautifully presented gift shops. My photo is taken from as close to the Matrimandir as you are allowed.
Although I have taken great care to only state the facts as I know them, those of you with more spiritual inclinations than I, may think I have shown a lack of understanding of the true value of Auroville. And you may well be right. I will certainly say that as we drive the lanes of this community we see many people, mainly of a certain age, (retirement age), who appear to be perfectly happy, despite the fact that they are wearing flowing robes with flip flops, riding bicycles or scooters, haven’t seen a hair salon in years, and have nothing in their bank account or in the small woven bags that hang from their shoulders!
It is a fascinating if rather disturbing day, but as so often happens in life something occurs to renew your spirit.
In this case it comes in the unlikely form of a bus load of school children. I have no idea what they are doing here, and nor do they. They just want to have fun.
They spot a grey haired old man who seems willing to laugh with them and in no time they surround him, playfully threaten him to a boxing match and generally brighten his day.
So I am glad to report that all is still well with this world, even if the Galaxy far far away is a little worrying