Travelling to a utopia: Auroville, India

Do you believe that a society can exist with perfect human unity? Well, I’ve just returned from a community founded on this intention. My month in India was one of the most challenging of my life and one of the most transformative.

Auroville was founded in 1968 by the Mother (inspired by Sri Aurobindo) as a global experiment in creating human unity. From my experience living there, the place is filled with visionary peacemakers and teachers, eccentric environmentalists and restaurateurs, bright and bubbly children, and boundary pushers of all ethnicities – wound together with a rich sense of community.

I journeyed to Auroville as part of my second degree – the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. By experiencing this alternative way of living, the University hopes to expand our worldview, explore ideas on the peripheries and enhance our ability to problem-solve in a complex future.

My talented friend, Rishi Le Hunt, created this video, and I feel it captures the rich aesthetic experience of being in India.

The Matrimandir (translated as Mother Temple) is the golden temple in the heart of the community, which I admired several times a day while cycling through town. In the heart of the dark dome is a meditation room with a silence so profound I could hear my pulse and feel my thoughts! It isn’t very often in the western world that we find a space that can facilitate that kind of experience.

But the greenery surrounding the Matrimandir was even more profound than being within the globe itself – or so I found. Our lecturer, Bem Le Hunt, led us on a walking meditation through gardens with names such as wealth, life and birth. I remember climbing the tree house in the garden of youthfulness, wondering how the arrangement of plants could inspire such deep feelings of lightness and playfulness within me.

The local harvest festival, Pongal, fortuitously happened while we were in town. We rode into the nearest village 5kms out of Auroville, called Kuyillapallyam, where we found cows decorated with balloons, bananas and paint. My friends were enchanted by the air, thick with colours and music. But I must admit I was overwhelmed by the hot, sweaty rush of a crowded space. The firecrackers were loud and close. I noticed the cows reeling and bucking in pain, overwhelmed by the sounds and people. It was certainly a moment I found myself reflecting on the power and place of culture.

One of my favourite memories was visiting the vegan community living in Sadhana Forest – an offshoot of Auroville. I joined them at 5 am for stretches and their morning “hug circle”, before cleaning cow pens for two hours, followed by breakfast. They’re well known for some of their more eccentric practices, like living in huts, opting only for composting toilets (aka drop toilets), using human manure – not cow manure, showering under buckets and cooking without much oil or salt. “Character building” is the phrase that comes to mind. As an environmentalist, I was inspired by their water persevering techniques, including the three bucket dish wash system and the thin stream hand wash. I honestly see myself incorporating some of these design elements into my future home.

The community at Sadhana Forest were far from the only eccentrics in Auroville. I met B (who used to be Bill, but took the “ill” out of his name), living in his “trash mahal“. There was also Jonny, an Aussie ex-pat living on the land and hosting a famous Sunday potluck for community members. And we became eccentrics ourselves.

My peers and I participated in a Council of All Beings, where we were encouraged to take on the persona of an animal, plant or organism and then consider the world from their perspective. The experience was complete with costumes and speaking in the first person as the “being”. Here are some of the insights of dirt, ducks, whales and the sun:

If anything were to rival the unusualness of that experience, it would be being a part of a human womb circle in a divine feminine healing group. I won’t give too much away, but that experience could be the closest I’ve felt to perfect human unity and peace.

The intellectual nourishment was plenty, but on top of that, the food in Auroville was the stuff of vegan dreams! It’s wonderful being a vegan in Sydney, Australia, but Auroville cafes give even Bondi a run for its money. Food was often produced on farms within the community, seasonally grown and made with love. It was amazing to eat off banana leaves and trying paper dosa.

I must admit, however, after many meals, I came down with some kind of stomach bug and spent most of the trip handling waves of nausea. That was alongside cold showers, firm beds, intermitted reception, handwashing clothes, knee scrapes, bruises and “eve-teasing” (a term for the harassment faced by women in India). My comfort zone was feeling very stretched and limber. My friends were even more adventurous than me, riding motorbikes, climbing buildings, swimming deeper, and exploring further. I feel inspired by them and grateful to have shaken the dust off the well-worn routines in my life. Upon my return, my optimism, perseverance and appreciation for life in Australia have never been stronger.

During my time in Auroville, there were moments of lull, particularly between activities or when the connection dropped out. I remember how stagnating and painful the feeling of unproductiveness was. But then I started to notice the spacious cushion of boredom become more comfortable. I rested my head on the fact such sensations aren’t ones I have or will often get to experience, and they come with their own creative benefits and insights.

One of my favourite insights was about the value of intentions over goals. For example, a goal might be
   “I want to come first in this subject at university,”
whereas an intention might be
   “I want to make the most of this subject and apply the knowledge to the best of my ability.”

I’ve been shifting my goals towards intentions because I feel they are purer and allow me to be kinder to myself.

As a journalist and creator, I loved growing my understanding of utopian thinking and resilience building in complex systems so that I can tell stories that create harmony, not division, in a time of global challenge. This experience has allowed me to challenge ingrained western assumptions making me question how I view work, collaboration and success. I know this experience will add richness to how I capture stories, removing some Eurocentrism and allowing me to be a more thoughtful and empathic storyteller for the rest of my career and life.


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