The greed of consumerism and materialism is over, even if many persist in "polishing the brass while the Titanic sinks." It is time to create the new world formed by the new man, the sine qua non condition for making the transition.
There are those among us who think that this can only happen through the political instrument and those who, like me, like to think that any effort in this sense would be useless, while the solution would lie in imagining a society parallel to the current one, as I have already written many times.
There are already realities oriented in this direction, communities that do not align with the common sense of what life is or how it should be lived.
In this writing, I will talk about one of them without judging it; I wouldn't be able to, and it's not even my intention to do so. What I would like to highlight is the sacred right of each of us to think about life according to our own conscience, and I claim this right in favour of those who do not want to align themselves with a single thought.
As the philosopher Roberto Mancini says, true ignorance is not having found new ways of living. So, it is fundamental when one comes across the reality that they have found a new way of life and have been applying it for decades to defend their rights and their autonomy.
In this sense, the lesson of Auroville could be very useful to all of us because, at this precise moment, we are playing on both tables, the political one and the secular-spiritual one, and the outcome is not obvious. My intent is to make you perceive what is happening in that beautiful reality and what happens when politics interferes in an area that is not its responsibility. Especially if it is the policy of an extremist party like the one currently in power in India.
Auroville is in Tamil Nadu, a state in southwestern India. Its urban planning project, wanted by the mother—born Mirra Alfassa, French of Turkish parents—and designed by the French architect Roger Anger, envisages a galaxy-shaped city plan that can accommodate up to 50,000 inhabitants, surrounded by a belt of green. Now there are more than 3,000 citizens present in Auroville. The Matrimandir was erected in the centre of the city as a spherical structure, a place of meditation, and the heart of the city. Outside the Matrimandir area, the main regions should be placed like four petals: the residential area, the cultural one, the international one, and the industrial one. The Crown, a concentric service area that would connect the four areas, has been planned within these areas.
The project was approved by the Indian government many years ago. This is the urban planning project, but Auroville is much more; it is an experiment that consists in giving birth to a new type of man and, therefore, of society, starting with people of good will coming from absolutely heterogeneous countries, beliefs, cultures, and experiences who have chosen to follow the principles of Integral Yoga announced by Sri Aurobindo, an Indian personality who escapes conventional simplistic classifications. I therefore avoid identifying it better and leave the burden of discovery to you.
Auroville was officially born on February 28, 1968, with a ceremony during which some young people placed the land of 124 nations and 23 Indian states in a marble urn to symbolize the internationality of the project. To seal this principle, the UNESCO General Assembly unanimously approved resolutions of support for Auroville in 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1983, declaring: "Member states and international non-governmental organizations participate in the development of Auroville as an international cultural town designed to bring together the values of different cultures and civilizations in a harmonious environment with integrated living standards that correspond to the physical and spiritual needs of man."
A further resolution of this international body was passed in favour of Auroville in 2017.
The late Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, described Auroville as:
“An exciting project to achieve harmony between different cultures and to understand the environmental needs of man's spiritual growth.”
One of the key elements that inspires Auroville is its "Charter" written by the Mother, the points of which are the following:
- Auroville does not belong to anyone in particular. Auroville belongs to all of humanity. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servant of divine consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of endless education, constant progress, and youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Leveraging all discoveries from without and within, Auroville will boldly develop towards future realizations.
- Auroville will be a place of material and spiritual searches for the living embodiment of real human unity.
Much has been done from '68 to today: in this community there are libraries, schools of different levels and classes, cinemas, exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, international pavilions, gyms, swimming pools, health dispensaries, canteens and restaurants, a reception for tourists, centres for young people, roads have been built, thousands of trees have been planted, there is a bus service to move within the city or to reach nearby Pondicherry, and they have equipped themselves with wind turbines, which not only provide the electricity needed for the city but also create a surplus which is sold to the Indian state. There are farms that grow some of the vegetables that the community needs, as well as dairies and related shops that sell various internal products, among the most famous of which are incense and perfumes. Courses are held that help develop one's personal evolution, such as meditation, yoga of all kinds and types, tai chi, shiatsu or ayurvedic massages, reflexology, aura reading, chromotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy, permaculture, sound baths, music therapy, and gemmotherapy, which are accompanied by more traditional courses such as ceramics, various dances, painting, and many others.
Perhaps much more could have been done in these fifty-five years, but a lot has been done.
Probably, as long as the government led by the Congress party was in office, no one put pressure on the Aurovillians to carry out the project more quickly. In this way, some of the Aurovillians relaxed and did not complete the project conceived by the Mother, even if, as far as I know, there was no expiration date. Since the BJP has been in government, things have changed: Modi went to Auroville in 2014, and in 2021, he appointed the new Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Dr. Jayanti Ravi, who has the task of completing the original project.
From that moment, in this beautiful and long-lived reality, "extreme environmentalists" coexist: those who are against following the project when it comes into conflict with the natural environment and who are unwilling to see Auroville as a new urban reality; people closest to the mother's original idea, which was to experiment with a new way of life where the artificial work of man harmonized with the rest of nature; others who have fully embraced the advent of the new secretary as if it were the arrival of the messiah.
At this point, the community is experiencing a sort of internal split, at least from an emotional point of view, which however could bring new vitality both for the development of Auroville, envisaged by the Mother and expected by many international supporters of Auroville, and for the way of being together with its inhabitants, who could take inspiration from this story to go beyond what divides them, reconcile and remember who they are, and what are the objectives that their town has set itself since its inception.
I recently lived in Auroville for two months, for two fundamental reasons: the first to learn more about this reality and understand what is happening there, and the second to finish writing my new book.
What I have learned in recent weeks, and what I have been able to see with my own eyes, is that the BJP, the current ruling party in India, through the new Secretary of the Foundation, is taking advantage of the time that the Chennai Court is taking to review and make a decision on a lawsuit brought by Aurovillians against the Secretary herself for, essentially, an abuse of power, in that she took decisions without consulting the collegial bodies of the community. In this period of time, the Secretary is having all the trees cut down in those areas that the initial project envisaged as buildable, but there is always the possibility that the Chennai court will declare this felling order illegal. But in the meantime, the trees are cut down to the dismay of the most environmentally friendly Aurovillians.
I have spoken in other articles about what the BJP is and its current figurehead, Narendra Modi, but it is never a waste of time to reiterate it.
The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is an avowedly right-wing party, and its policies have historically reflected a traditional Hindu nationalist ideology. It has close ideological and organizational ties with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which in turn is a right-wing, paramilitary, and Hindu nationalist Indian organisation, founded on September 27, 1925, taking inspiration from Mussolini's fascist party. Our good examples are always followed by the rest of the world! The RSS was banned first during British rule and then three more times by the post-independence Indian government. The first was in 1948, when Nathuram Godse, a member of the RSS, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi; then during the famous Emergency period (1975–1977); and for the third time after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.
If none of you remember or have never heard of the Babri Mosque, know that in Hindu tradition, the city of Ayodhya is the birthplace of Rama. In the 16th century, a Mughal general, Mir Baqi, built a mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, on a site identified by some Hindus as Ram Janmabhoomi, or the birthplace of Rama. In the 1980s, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) began a campaign for the construction of a temple dedicated to Rama at the same site, with the BJP as its political voice.
On December 6, 1992, the VHP and the BJP organized a demonstration at the site involving 150,000 people. The demonstration had a violent epilogue, and the crowd overpowered the security forces and demolished the mosque with hammers and stick blows. A subsequent investigation into the incident found 68 people responsible, including several BJP and VHP leaders. The demolition sparked several months of communal riots among India's Hindu and Muslim communities, resulting in the deaths of at least 2,000 people. Retaliatory violence against Hindus also occurred in Pakistan and Bangladesh. A dear friend of mine, a Professor of History and former leader of the Indian Student Movement in the 1970s, declared in an interview that it was an irresponsible act on the part of the BJP to have stirred up the crowd. Since then, he has lived under guard, constantly threatened with death.
Just a few days ago, Modi inaugurated the new Rama temple, built on the ashes of the mosque.
But this was not the only recent criminal act in which the BJP was involved. On February 27, 2002, 59 people, mainly women and children, died in a train fire in Godhra, in the state of Gujarat. The Sabarmati Express was carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from the holy site of the ancient Babri Mosque to Ayodhya—that's right, the same as the previous incident. In the first days after the train fire, several people were accused of being responsible for both the fire and the subsequent riots, and the police believed that they were all Muslims. But a forensic report reported that the fire did not break out outside but inside the affected carriage. In the days and weeks that followed, between 800 and 2,000 people were killed in Gujarat, in some of India's worst communal violence since its independence.
The government, the administration, and the state police were accused of not having taken sufficient measures to protect civilians and even of having actively participated in the violence. Following the massacres, 140,000 to 200,000 people were said to have been forced from their homes.
After the violence, the police, accused of links with the rioters, were suspected of having prevented the correct carrying out of the investigation. The responsibility of the central government of the State of Gujarat has been directly questioned by the International Human Rights Commission. And who ruled Gujarat at that time? Narendra Modi.
Incidentally, Modi, as a boy, played in the RSS. So, as I wrote in the article, those who govern India today are the same ones who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi and who caused the deaths of thousands of civilians, but above all, they undermined a feeling of belonging to the Indian community, which was an established fact until a few years ago, both by Hindus and Muslims, as well as by Sikhs and all other religious minorities.
The BJP is a far-right, ultra-nationalist, pro-Hindu party, and Modi, since he has been in government, has been accused of manipulating the Indian media. He has been criticized for his despotic positions and his nationalist and extremist ideas, as well as for having caused the GDP calculation method to be changed, allowing growth data to be artificially inflated.
There would still be much to write about the atrocities carried out by Modi, such as the destruction of the historic part of Varanasi, the holy city par excellence, with the consequent loss of countless temples and the disintegration of an entire population. But the article does not want to focus only on these aspects. However, I wanted to talk about it because, in my opinion, a serious analysis of what is happening in Auroville is not possible without considering who the actors in the field are.
These are the kinds of people who took advantage of the “foot stuck” in the experiment. And, believe me, they are not doing it for altruistic purposes, to make Aurovillians do the same. If you understand who Modi is and what the BJP stands for, you cannot think that they do something for free. They have their own interests.
And what are they in the case of Auroville?
From my point of view and judging what happened in Ayodhya and Varanasi, Modi wants Auroville as a flagship, an example that demonstrates India's "benevolence", but above all his own, towards those who want to invest in Indian spirituality and not only in that. Because, after the binge of Westernism, the time has come, according to him, to impose India as an example to follow. Example of both economic growth (rigged) and worldview. For this he needs to get hold of the image of Sri Aurobindo. I am convinced that, if he could, he would erase the figure of the Mother from the face of the earth, as she was not Indian. On the other hand, Secretary Ravi herself let slip the unfortunate accusation of "spiritual colonialism" aimed at Aurovillians.
Read how, in his 2018 speech, Modi cites Auroville as an example for the whole world to follow. The first sentence of his speech reads: "Sri Aurobindo's vision of India's spiritual leadership continues to inspire us today." But the vision must work; it must be brought to fruition. No one would want to show off a flower missing some petals in their buttonhole. So, let's start with the crackdowns, even if they include bulldozers and the felling of trees planted with so much effort in a practically desert territory; go with the usual ignoble ballets of the “yes men”; go with taking advantage of an uncompleted transition to slip into the cracks of the human being, in this case Aurovillians, to divide and conquer.
Auroville is a beacon for those who, like me, support the possibility of coexistence between this world and a different world. But we see how the still weak man easily gives in to the temptations of power, in this case embodied by politics.
I sincerely hope that Aurovillians manage to keep the bar straight and that they remember who they are and how and why all this began. I hope they know how to mediate and reach a state of balance between them to continue their peaceful coexistence. I hope they are able to find within each of them the strength and pride of being Aurovillians. And, above all, I hope that they will still be able to find allies who will help them regain exclusive ownership of the experiment and that politics will remain on the sidelines as mere spectators of an unstoppable process.
A different world is possible.