Auroville, a young city lying around 10 kilometres from the former French colony of Puducherry (Pondicherry), now an Indian union territory, is an important hub of Hindu spirituality, which draws in thousands of people from all over the world. Set deep in the forests straddling the border of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, Auroville’s buildings are laid out in a unique formation reminiscent of the stars of a galaxy. Designed by architect Roger Anger, Auroville takes its name from Sri Aurobindo, a great philosopher and was established in 1968 by The Mother, also known by her birth name Mirra Alfassa, who was a close disciple of Sri Aurobindo and who hailed from France. Auroville came about as a haven from the religious and political strife of the time, and its whole mentality is geared towards serving God and realising the inner self.
One of the main ideas that governs the city is the improvement of personal relations among people, at a time when there was much strife and rivalry, and nowadays it encourages the perfection of people collaborating together as one humanity, and the devotees of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo courageously work together to improve relations between different groups of humanity. Auroville even received recognition in this dynamism from once Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who spoke of the commune’s work in promoting harmony between different cultures and furthering understanding of how coexistence among human beings can help promote spiritual growth.
According to the Census of India 2014, only around 2,300 people live in Auroville, tiny by Indian standards. Around two-thirds originate from India, France and Germany. They are all governed by the civic cardinal rule, unique to Auroville, which states that no political, religious or spiritual organisation should use Auroville as a platform to proselytise for their faith or recruit followers. As a result, there are no political parties or political operations in Auroville, and there is also no concept of private property or money, with the land and homes held under a communal basis, via the auspices of the Auroville Foundation. Auroville also engages with intra-community activities with neighbouring villages and social outreach work.
Unlike the mayor’s office and local councils found in mainstream cities around the world, Auroville is administered by a committee elected by the locals, and residents can support or veto any measures put forward by the committee without having to deal with council red tape. In return, residents are expected to engage in daily programmes of work, for at least five hours a day, seven days a week, either on their own or collectively. When not working, many of Auroville’s inhabitants like to congregate at the Matrimandir to meditate and pray to and honour God, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother of Pondicherry.