Auroville was founded in 1968, just 12 kilometres north of Pondicherry. The word Auroville means City of Dawn and is an experimental township based on the vision of Mirra Alfassa aka The Mother. Auroville is like a world within the world where all major nationalities and ethnic groups find representation and live in an environment which celebrates and accepts their differences.
Auroville experiences extremely hot and humid summers and thus visitors tend to stay away from the April to June period. The summer is followed by heavy rains in the monsoon months. Winters are cool with occasional showers and the most popular time of the year for visitors.
The township includes a green belt which houses farms and forestries, a botanical garden, seed bank, medicinal and herbal plants and water catchment bunds. Also, artists from across the world come here and their individual perspectives on painting, craft, sculpture, architecture, music, etc. give Auroville a unique texture.
The Nerve Centre
Brick pillars, walls and arches peek out from amidst towering palms, flowering shrubs and other foliage. The collection of buildings may appear haphazardly placed at first glance but it is clear that the layout has been carefully planned to achieve bonhomie with the surroundings. The Auroville website encourages all visitors to start their visit here, at the Auroville Visitors and Reception Centre so that they may plan wisely and make the most of their stay in Auroville.
An information office, conference room, exhibition space, video room, restaurant, handicrafts shop and toilets have been accommodated within the structure. But the centre does much more than just provide information. It represents the spirit and beliefs that Auroville is based on.
Like the rest of the township, the Centre too prides itself in being an environment-friendly complex. At the building stage itself the use of cement, steel and wood was minimised. Instead, the focus was on using natural stone and locally available resources. The design also took into account the climate of the region so that natural ventilation and lighting could be maximised. Solar, wind and biomass energy, water management and recycling techniques have been integrated in the day-to-day functioning of the Centre.
Harmony is the core value that Auroville is based on and the architecture across the township embodies this by ensuring a peaceful conversation between the built and the natural environment. At the Visitor Centre this is achieved by open spaces, large windows and landscaping with indigenous plants. The resulting structure is a building whose minimalist and simple appearance is derived from a deliberate thought process.
Heart And Soul
A large orb glitters in the centre of Auroville, attracting the visitor towards it. A closer look reveals the huge gold plates that form the exterior of this geodesic dome. The Matrimandir is the heart of the city both geographically and spiritually. It is surrounded by an amphitheatre and expansive lawns. The 100 year-old banyan tree on one side adds to the ethereal vibe of this site. Twelve pathways radiate out of the sphere, like petals of a lotus, and represent the twelve virtues of the Mother.
A solar power plant and provision for rainwater harvesting on site and the use of recycled air to cool the interiors of the building exemplify the township’s commitment towards green living.
Make Food While The Sun Shines
The Solar Kitchen, Auroville’s most popular eatery, takes its name very seriously. A solar bowl, 15m in diameter, has been integrated into the roof of the building. The bowl tracks the sun as it moves across the sky and directs the heat it receives towards generating steam to cook the meals in the kitchen.
On a clear, sunny day the bowl can generate enough steam to cook two meals a day for 1000 people. The layout of the eating area has been designed to maximise the interaction with the outside. Large windows and open foyers flood the interiors with natural light through the day. Use of minimal wood and maximum natural stone emphasises the Solar Kitchen’s harmony with its surrounds.
Something In Store For Everyone
Auroville.com presents to the world an eclectic collection of products designed and created in Auroville by its citizens. Wooden and crocheted toys for children, jewellery fashioned out of ceramic, wood and stones, vibrant-hued earthen pottery, handmade paper products and other stationers, clothes made of natural fabrics, art prints…the list is exhaustive and the products distinctive.
Text By Himali Kothari