Pondicherry and Auroville
After the convergence, we decided to head south to Tamil Nadu, where I was eager to visit the French colonial town of Pondicherry and the experimental community of Auroville that I had heard so much about. We took a night train from Hyderabad together with a few other people from the convergence and arrived the next morning in Chennai. I booked a hotel on Serenity Beach: a quiet, simple and relaxing beach facing the Bay of Bengal just twenty minutes north of town. It was the perfect way to unwind after an uneasy train ride and to plan where we would stay next.
Pondy is such a beautiful, charming and unique place that I didn’t expect to ever find in India. I had read about it as a colonial settlement where people still spoke French and with a colonial atmosphere unlike anywhere else. Its French legacy is preserved in its French Quarter, with wide tree-lined streets, colonial villas, and chic cafés and boutiques. You can even find Rues and Boulevards with the same street signs one would find in France.
What makes Pondy stand out even more is its spiritual culture. We chose to stay here for a few days before heading to Auroville because of the history and background of both places. Auroville was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (aka “the Mother”) as a place where diverse people from all over the world could live in peace and harmony. It is in fact named after Sri Aurobindo, who was a political turned spiritual leader (among other things) who settled in Pondy in 1910. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram grew out of a community of his disciples and was later taken over by his spiritual partner, the Mother.
I wanted to visit the ashram to learn more about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and to pay my respects before visiting the larger project that resulted from their vision. We stayed at the Park Guesthouse, a guesthouse run by the ashram right by the sea. It was absolutely perfect. There was a large garden courtyard in the middle, the rooms were simple, there was a curfew, and the guesthouse grounds were full of inspiring and uplifting words and quotes of positivity. We stayed here for a few days before heading to Auroville.
During our stay in Pondy we went to the ashram for a few of the collective meditations and to the Samadhi. We also went to the ashram dining room for dinner one night, where they prepare food for Ashramites and their guests. It was a simple yet delicious meal where people are prohibited from speaking while eating. I loved it. I think it brings more attention and mindfulness to the act and I think it’s a beautiful practice to have, at least every once in a while. ;)
Auroville was founded in 1968 by the Mother as an experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness. There’s so much to say about it, yet there’s still so much I don’t know. The soul of the city lies in the Matrimandir: an impressive, futuristic, spherical meditation temple covered in gold discs, from where the city radiates outwards in all directions. It looks like a spaceship emerging from the earth and about to take off into the heavens.
We stayed at Vérité Guesthouse, on the western part of town, for about ten days. They are a multi-faceted project with a focus on ecological concerns as well as health and wellness. They have a small farm, they run on solar energy, and they host a variety of classes, workshops, and therapies. We had all of our meals included with the price of our room: all organic, vegetarian meals prepared with so much care and love, we cherished each and every meal completely. We even took a three-day intensive on Pranayama with a wonderful teacher, Ananda. We rented mountain bikes and had so much fun riding around town, riding on dirt trails and getting lost. I LOVE riding bicycles!! I think it’s the best way to get around, move your body, and explore a place all at the same time.
Auroville has so much to offer the world in terms of practical research into ecological projects and building sustainable, loving communities. It's the first "ecovillage" (more of an ecocity) I visit and I would highly recommend visiting it to anyone interested in alternative lifestyles and changing the status quo.
Some of the projects we visited during our stay included:
- Sadhana Forest - a reforestation project creating social and environmental change
- Solitude Farm - organic, permaculture, and natural farming
- Buddha Garden - community farm
- EcoFemme - eco-friendly cloth pads
- Bamboo Centre - research, development, and education on all the uses of bamboo
- Upasana - organic, "socially responsible design"
- Windarra Farm / TerraSoul - learning community and farm
- Aurospirul - spirulina farm
- Auroville Earth Institute - natural building educational non-profit
- SVARAM Sound Garden - musical instruments, sound healing, and sound garden
These are only a few of the projects in Auroville. No matter what your interests are, you will find something for you in Auroville. I would highly recommend anyone to visit "the City of Dawn" to change your perspective and see the possibilities of living in a different way.
With love & light,