The most New Age place anywhere in India must surely be Auroville, the planned “City of Dawn”, 10km north of Pudicherry, straddling the border of the Union Territory and Tamil Nadu. Founded in 1968, Auroville was inspired by “The Mother”, the spiritual successor of Sri Aurobindo. Around 1700 people live in communes (two thirds of them non-Indians), with such names as Fertile, Certitude, Sincerity, Revelation and Transformation, in what it is hoped will eventually be an ideal city for a population of fifty thousand. Architecturally experimental buildings, combining modern Western and traditional Indian elements, are set in a rural landscape of narrow lanes, deep red earth and lush greenery. Income is derived from agriculture, handicrafts, alternative technology, educational and development projects and Aurolec, a computer software company.
Considering how little there is to see here, Auroville attracts a disproportionately large number of day-trippers – much to the chagrin of its inhabitants, who rightly point out that you can only get a sense of what the settlement is all about if you stay a while. Interested visitors are welcomed as paying guests in most of the communes, where you can work alongside permanent residents.
Auroville lies 15km north of Puducherry, off the main Chennai road; you can also get here via the coastal highway, turning off at the village of Chinna Mudaliarchavadi.
Buses from Puducherry run every 20–30min but as Auroville is spread over some fifty square kilometres it’s best to come with your own transport.
From Puducherry to Auroville costs around ₹300 for the 30min journey in an auto- rickshaw or around ₹400 in a taxi.
Alternatively, there’s the PTDC half-day tour from Puducherry.
The information desk at the Visitor Centre is a good place to enquire about accommodation or you can contact the Auroville guest accommodation service. This should be done months ahead for the peak winter months. Officially there’s no lower limit on the time you have to stay, but visitors are encouraged to stick around for at least a week and to help out on communal projects. There are many excellent privately-run restaurants dotted around the ashram and a café at the Visitor Centre.
The Visitor Centre is the focal point of any tourist visit to Auroville. You need to get tickets here for an exterior viewing of Matri Mandir, but before they are issued, you’re shown a short video presentation about the village. The adjacent bookshop has plenty of literature on Auroville and it’s worth checking the notice board, which has details of activities in which visitors may participate (including yoga, reiki and Vipassana meditation, costing around ₹200/session). The nearby Bharat Niwas houses a permanent exhibition on the history and philosophy of the settlement. There are also three quality handicraft outlets and several pleasant vegetarian cafés serving snacks, meals and cold drinks.
Begun in 1970, the space-age Matri Mandir – a gigantic, almost spherical high-tech meditation centre at the heart of the site – was conceived as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s inspiration for perfection”. Earth from 124 countries was symbolically placed in an urn, and is kept in a concrete cone in the amphitheatre adjacent to Matri Mandir, from where a speaker can address an audience of three thousand without amplification. The focal point of the interior of the Matri Mandir is a 70cm crystal ball symbolizing the neutral but divine qualities of light and space.
Top image: Auroville meditation hall © Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock