Nearly three years after my last travel outside of Sri Lanka, I considered traveling again. However, unlike previous times, when I would consider places I had wanted to always visit and choose one from the list, this time, I wanted to choose differently. I wanted to go to a place that I felt perhaps might give me a sense of peace and perhaps an interest to stay longer in subsequent visits. In the last few months, I had been looking at places which might be ideal for meditation or simply a retreat. I came across Auroville during one of my web searches. The concept of Auroville attracted me.
“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth.”
Who wouldn’t be interested in learning more about this lofty vision created by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in the 60s?
I initially thought of staying within Auroville to experience what the place was like. However, given that it is a long drawn-out process to apply for and be allowed to stay within Auroville and the fact that I couldn’t stay for long away from home at this point in time, I decided to stay in Puducherry and visit Auroville to get an initial glimpse and feel for the place.
Hiring a three-wheeler, I visited Auroville with a couple of friends and learnt a little more about the place at the visitor centre.
The city was planned to have a 5Km diameter with a population of 50,000. In 1968, 5000 people from 124 countries participated in the inaugural ceremony.
From the visitor centre, we were allowed to walk up to the visitor viewing point of Matrimandir, considered the soul of the city and a point for silent reflection. The city was designed as four sections: industrial (north), cultural (north east), residential (south, southwest) and international (west).
Given that visitors are not allowed beyond the viewing point of Matrimandir, without prior approval, I did not have the opportunity to see any of these areas of the planned city. Nor did I gain an understanding of what the city dwellers considered the ‘supreme truth’ as we never met any of the residents. However, I did see some of the products manufactured by the industrial section of Auroville at the shops at the visitor centre as well at the craft bazaar at Puducherry.
The one km walk from the visitor centre to the viewing point was a lovely walk through the woods along a pathway, that had benches placed thoughtfully along the way for those who might want to rest a little.
At the end of the pathway, one came to the viewing point of Matrimandir. It was a golden orb in the distance, which did not evoke anything in me. After some time gazing on the orb, we decided to return to the visitor centre.
I guess I am glad that I choose to do this mini trip to first see if Auroville would be a place that I would be interested in staying for a longer period. My first glimpse of the place gave me the sense that the city had been envisioned in the idealistic 60s cultural context – that of a commune living, which was closed off to the outsider. To what extent the original vision was still being upheld, I have no idea but the current residents are very particular about the place being closed off to visitors. I instinctively felt that this place was not a place that I would want to live in, even though its principles of equality and humanity appealed to me.
Back at the visitor centre, I revisited the wall with the quote that I deeply resonated with ever since I came across it in a translation of Bhagavad Gita, as I was recovering from my road traffic accident back in 2005.