Auroville: An artist’s escape

| Last Updated: November 29, 2011 at 9:11 PM

Matrimandir, the nucleus of Auroville

Matrimandir, the nucleus of Auroville

If I had to describe Auroville in two words, I would say it replicates Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The book spoke about a secret township in mountains, unreachable and untraceable. Created by geniuses, scientists, business tycoons and greatest artists of the world; leaving the rest of the world to discuss their mysterious disappearances.

Auroville near Pondicherry may mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me it’s an artist’s paradise. A township born out of Aurobindo Ghosh and Mira Alfassa’s vision, and designed by architect Roger Anger, Auroville looked absolutely stunning from the aerial view snaps I saw before I visited. Auroville has been carefully designed around the Matrimandir, also called the golden globe. This meditation temple, I discovered, is the nucleus of Auroville.

What pulled me to Auroville is the number of artists that reside here and the internships that they offer to anyone who wishes to learn. But my trip went beyond that, taught me so much more.

Everyone at Auroville is an artist in their own way. I met painters, potters, dancers, architects, actors, doctors, spiritual healers, etc but it was when I visited a mechanic’s house, that I was really stunned.

He has created a mini funfair in his backyard with old automobile parts – complete with a merry-go-round made with old bikes, bungee jumping gear with a car seats and many little fair bits like a see-saw with bike seats etc that were ingenious and fun at the same time. And he had done all of this in his own house or “his dome” as he likes to call it.

The art didn’t stop there. I met others too, people who made essential oils, perfumed sticks, herbal soaps, jams, candles, pottery, footwear etc, all artists in their unique ways.

An entirely self-sufficient township, Auroville turned out to be exactly as Aurobindo Ghosh had visualised. People here grow their own crops, vegetables, prepare their own spices, oils, garments etc. The tourists, on the other hand, bring in the money to create the spiritual temple, Matrimandir and build the town further.

As a traveller, what amazed me was that I could live in Auroville with barely any money spent.  For Rs 200 a night, I stayed in a hotel for five days; though people interning with Auroville can stay for free. Every traveller here usually eats at the solar kitchen either free of cost or at a minimum cost of Rs 20-30.

A huge open buffet, the solar kitchen is a unique concept to make sure nobody goes hungry. This kitchen prepares lunch every day and provides foods to various schools and institutes in the area as well. Volunteers are welcome to help around and cook if they wish to. This was one of the best ways to meet other travellers for me.

The food at the solar kitchen cannot be pinned down to any one cuisine either. And the reason is pretty evident. Since people from so many cultural backgrounds reside here, the kitchen has developed a unique blend of its own. Beyond solar kitchen too, the township offers various options – classic wooden oven made pizzas, pastas, salads and local sea food. A special mention must be made of the croissants from the only bakery in Auroville: they are simply heavenly. There are also a few tea shops, serving up an interesting range in tea flavours that ranged from normal ginger-lemon to classic earl grey to my personal favorite, lavender and jasmine flavoured tea.

Auroville also is known for its experimental architecture. The township boasts of some interestingly designed buildings. The entire town has been shaped like a galaxy and most houses have arches, curves and domes as part of their facade. Quite naturally, all roads in Auroville lead to the Matrimandir. Finished after years of building it, it is considered as one of the most spiritually energized place.

It is said that Maria Alfassa or Mother, as she is known, had a vision of this temple of meditation and the dome has been built to match that vision. The temple symbolises humanity, celebrating it and not representing any other religion. From far, it looks like a huge ball of gold. On a closer look, I could see a grid of massive gold plates. The temple interiors turned out to be quite deceptive though. With such warm, bright exteriors, I wasn’t prepared for the pure white, cool and peaceful interiors. The centre point of the top most floor of the temple is the meditation room, with one crystal ball right in the centre, illuminated by the one ray of light from the roof. A perfect place for all those seeking a spiritual getaway, I found the place extremely calm and soothing.

After walking around Auroville for a whole day, I realised that hiring a two wheeler was my best option. With lot of options for two wheelers including cycles, I chose a bright blue moped and rode my way around.

I decided to make the most of my five days by learning pottery making. But there are other options too – dance, music, dramatics, painting, sketching, metal art, candle and essence making etc. People can write to Auroville through their website and ask to intern with the town itself. You can volunteer in running the township while you learn your art.

After a day out exploring and pottering around (pun intended!) I would usually end my day with a trip to the gorgeous beach and paint for a while. After a refreshing dip at sunset, I would head back to the bakery to pick up freshly-baked croissants and head back to the room.

An entire township created by one thought, and thousands of volunteers, Auroville is a wonder in its own way. It was everything I was looking for: a perfect escape.

How to get there:
After reaching Pondicherry one has to take a cab or hire a car to drop you to Auroville.

Best time to visit:
Usually very hot and humid and heavy rainfall during rains, Auroville is best visited in winters.

First Published: November 29, 2011 at 9:08 PM

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