What would you do if you could leave all of your problems in the past and run towards the promise of a better tomorrow? Would you take it?
Diana Knester took me to a point in her life where she was lost; she faced heartbreak after heartbreak until deciding that she wasn’t prioritizing her life the way she wanted. Diana thought she was living a pre-paved life where you go to school, get a job, have a family, and then die. Fed up and disinterested in what everyday American society had to offer, Diana did some research and discovered Auroville.
The flower-power generation of the 1960s innovated Auroville. Author and researcher of Auroville, W.M. Sullivan, described the town as a “psychological revolution” in which anarchy, socialism, and Marxist beliefs collided. There isn’t any money in Auroville, no government, no religion, no expressways or skyscrapers, and no newspapers with headlines about genocide, conflict, or poverty. But what makes Auroville stand apart from other ‘utopian’ societies is that Auroville was intended to serve as a symbol of India.
Diana decided to plan her visit on a whim, one month in advance. She made arrangements using a website called Aurohost.com, where she connected with the family that agreed to host her for the duration of her stay in the alleged Utopia of a village.
As she entered Auroville, Diana was exhausted. She arrived at the final part of her journey to Auroville after a three-hour flight from Delhi to Chennai and a “three-hour” bus travel from Chennai to Pondicherry that took more than five hours. It was time to take a taxi.
The taxi continued driving down a crowded highway filled with motorcyclists. Diana recalled seeing beautifully vibrant colored tea and samosa vendors right before the cab abruptly turned 90 degrees, veering off the road onto an unmarked dirt lane, where a wall of green trees suddenly stopped the craziness from the highway and ended the vibrant colors. Only to see art sculptures randomly scattered as they drove closer to the green belt of Auroville.
As the taxi pulled into Auroville, the cab driver warned Diana that the town follows strict rules, insisting that she hide a bottle of wine before discouragingly telling her that nobody followed the laws in the village. Getting closer to the heart of Auroville, The Matrimandir, Diana mentioned how the signs seemed to modernize the deeper she went into the village, “The roadways were a maze of intricate, unmarked, dead-ends, and convoluted routes. Then, like Buckminster Fuller, a huge golden dome sprang out of the earth. The longer we traveled, the more signs and roads seemed to modernize.”
As she contacted her host and entered their home, Diana described the home as modest and was sure to specify that it was said to power nearly half of the house. The home had two small bedrooms and one bathroom. The second floor had a terrace that showed the family seemed to renovate for visitors.
During our discussion, Diana mentioned how she and her host had yet to agree on how much she would pay to stay in the family’s house per night. Diana said that the family didn’t have a fixed rate–that the village receives 150 rupees ($2.50) a night as a guest and that she could pay them whatever contribution she felt was appropriate.
Auroville was created primarily to worship “divine awareness,” but it is also a place for a unique and devoted breed of introspection. It is described as a place people go to “to find one’s consciousness.” As Diana entered the Matrimandir for the first time, she said she immediately felt cleansed. There is nothing but silence, spirituality, and meditation inside the heart of the village.
Diana said it was more than just the meditation that made her want to stay–it was the people too. She noted that many people visiting or living in Auroville chose to live there because they felt stifled by life in one way or another. Tearing up, she added, “The majority of people I encountered were really kind, outgoing, and lost—lonely in the specific sense of someone looking for a place to belong.”
Feeling a sense of home, unity, and understanding, Diana asked about and looked into how to become a citizen of the tranquil village of Auroville to learn moving there might be more complicated than she thought. Applicants get asked to demonstrate their commitment to the cause and self-sufficiency for two years. They are also required to work for free during those two years to support the municipality and are not permitted to leave Auroville for that duration; the final hoop to jump through is The Entry Services team. They are a small team that evaluates applications and finally chooses who can become an Aurovilian, which gets involved after the two-year process.
As she looked deeper and deeper into Auroville, Diana seemed more disturbed by people’s comments than her research did. Auroville has a laundry list of issues; robbery and sexual assault are at the top of the list in the ungated village, which has 32 entrances and no fences. Alongside the problems prefaced above lies additional instances involving severe instances of rape, suicide, and even murder.
After concluding that she just needed to breathe life back into herself, channeling her inner spirituality and exploring the world, Diana decided Auroville was not the proper place for her, “Auroville is far less attractive on the inside than it is on the outside. Auroville’s people remain prideful and aspire to better the community. The issues are all beginning to become clear, and they are complex. The reality is much different once you think of becoming a part of it.”
Auroville is a place some people need to get lost inside of to find themselves again. Through its tranquility, the village continues to aspire to become something better than it already is. It seems as though a complete utopia is near impossible, but a step towards one is still a step forward. Diana continues to apply what she learned from Auroville by putting her meditations before everyday stressors and said she’s “never felt lighter.”