Saturday, April 7, 2007

The ideas and methods developed in Auroville are impacting people around India and the world

Auroville 2007-04-06 Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee
Auroville is a truly unique place, unlike anywhere else I've ever been. It is both bizarre and wonderful, and filled with some real characters. Auroville is an international township with a core population of 2,000 people (it grows to 6,000 in the warmer months) from more than forty countries (a third are Indian) located just north of Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. Founded in 1968 by followers of Sri Aurobindo and "The Mother," Auroville and its core community are committed to creating a new city based on the principles of human unity and oneness. The goal is to build an infrastructure so that the community can grow to support up to 50,000 people, a number large enough to force people to take note of what Auroville is doing and perhaps imitate its model. From its founding Auroville has been viewed by both outsiders and its own community as an experiment, a laboratory where all sorts of things are being tried and tested, from alternative energy and economic models to communication and education. It certainly felt like a large living laboratory, with ideas having the time, space, and support to flourish and fail alike.
When the first small group moved to Auroville in 1968 it was a large barren wasteland, the victim of deforestation and erosion. The surrounding villagers were poverty stricken, suffering from malnutrition and diseases with very little access to water. Faced with these very real physical challenges Aurovillians devoted much of the first few years to reforestation and erosion control. They developed windmill-powered wells to bring water to the parched soil and thirsty community. Seeing pictures of Auroville in the late 60’s and early 70’s, it seems hard to believe it is the same place. Lush tropical plants and trees now cover the ground, creating a micro-climate bringing the temperature down 4-5 degrees from Pondicherry which lies just a few kilometers to the south. The community here has planted more than a million trees here in the last 40 years, and as a result has become a leading figure in reforestation techniques that have caught on around India. Although water is still an issue and will continue to be one as the population increases, they have built enough wells to support the community and surrounding villagers for the time being. Auroville was also an early pioneer in solar energy use, and much of the electricity used here is generated by the solar panels that cover the rooftops and grounds throughout the community. Many homes are completely off the grid, generating enough energy to meet their own needs.
We met with many different members of the community, from schoolteachers and businessmen to gardeners and mothers, each offering their own experience as Aurovillians. They spoke of both the benefits of living in this unique community as well as the challenges it presents. All the people we spoke with had experienced many communication difficulties over the years with the 40+ nationalities in the community, but agreed that that these problems forced them to become more understanding, respectful and patient with their fellow community members. They said that these challenges are ongoing, but as long as they kept focused on the larger goal of the community they could make it through these problems.
The ideals and values of Auroville have attracted many people committed to developing practical solutions to problems in the world today. One person we met, a French man named Stephan, started a seed bank, collecting seeds of unmodified varieties of fruits and vegetables from around the world that he then distributes to farmers at no cost so that these unmodified varieties will not be lost to the now common genetically modified versions that agribusinesses have developed. Another man named Ramu, a native of the area working at the Auroville Center for Scientific Research, developed low cost toilets and water treatment units that are built in the community and are shipped and used around India helping with the sanitation problems. All the people we met said that the work they did all was grounded in the intention to serve humanity as a whole, and it was that intention that drives their creativity and innovations.
Although the ideas and methods developed in Auroville are impacting people around India and the world, it still felt as though Auroville is living in its own reality, quite separate from the world outside its borders. I do believe that this is not the intention of the community but a result of the intense focus on developing a new city and society that differs so much from the rest of India and the world. You can expect to see a short film about our time in Auroville in the coming months. Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee Home : Oneness Resources : About Us : Contact Info

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