As someone who has always had a quasi-nomadic lifestyle, I’ve developed a restless, on-going quest to find places that feel right to me. Auroville, an experimental township located in south-east India, presents itself as a self-sustaining, utopian paradise without money, religion, and politics. It seemed like a place I needed to experience.
The township was founded in 1968 by the late Mirra Alfassa (aka “The Mother”). In the words of The Mother:
“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”
This selection of images shows some of my experiences and encounters in Auroville. I was interested in the Aurovillians’ experimental playfulness and creativity. Their efforts in environmental regeneration, organic farming and renewable energy are admirable and their work in eco-friendly building technology, handicrafts and various small-scale industries is impressive.
I wanted to see what The Mother’s idea of human unity looked like in practice. It looks like a picturesque, bucolic location inhabited by people with similar preoccupations to the inhabitants of any other town. Auroville draws idealists, visionaries, dreamers and lost souls. Although there are Aurovillians who feel they are living the utopian dream, there is a definite hierarchy and there are cliques and national divides. Second and third generation Aurovillians are predominantly happy to live in the township, but many feel trapped by a lack of opportunities, by their fragile financial situation and by the fact that a long-term departure would mean they may not be allowed to return. There are numerous residents who become disillusioned when the reality of life in Auroville doesn’t match up to the ideals. Some residents are now too old to leave and some become trapped by poverty after their independent, outside finances run out. Some individuals have suffered bullying and ostracism and others have given up completely and chosen to live as near recluses.
In 2018, Auroville will celebrate its 50th birthday. It is an amazing achievement especially given that the force of human nature has been consistently chipping away at the dream.
October and November 2016
the Matrimandir, a space for meditation - The name 'Matrimandir' means 'Temple of the Mother'.
Ganga Latchmi (originally from Paris) in front of a portrait of The Mother. Ganga Latchmi came to Auroville in 1981. She says she speaks to The Mother in her dreams.
Jocelyn Janaka, an Aurovillian pioneer, stands in the beautiful house she lives in. Aurovillians pay substantial "donations" for a home but they cannot own property. Joss tries to sell her paintings and a self-published book to make ends meet.
Goupi came from France in the early days. He spends his days writing in note books in various languages, including Sanskrit. He says he is a massage therapist but he doesn't really work anymore.
Celestine immitates the Godess Kali in her bathroom mirror. Celestine is a Tamil who fled Sri Lanka during the civil war. She likes to make sculptures and installations.
a dog rests near the accomodation of the International Village
Half sisters Chandana and Kavitha with Russian-born Ivan - The girls' mother was the first female born in Auroville. The Mother gave her the name "Aurora".
a young Aurovillian with a pony
a seed from a tree that was planted more than forty years ago
a painting in the tropical, dry evergreen forest
Renu, a second generation Aurovilian, in the garden that she planted with her partner Wazo. Her two children have left to go to university.
Colline, an American who arrived with the pioneers in the sixties, in the forest that she planted with her husband.
French-born Jean sits in the forest that he planted with his American wife. They are part of the group of pioneers who arrived in the sixties.
Balu has become a specialist in making homes and furniture out of bamboo. Balu came from a local village and it took him many years to become Aurovillian.
a mirror on the outside of an experimental bamboo building
Norwegian students visit Solitude Farm, an organic farm in Auroville
Merry, who lives alone with her six cats, spends much of her day hand writing commentary in newspapers.
David Nagel, originally from the Bronx, with a young volunteer. He became a forester and has planted thousands of trees in Auroville, on what was dry and seemingly barren land.
Krishna McKenzie, from Wiltshire in the UK, passionately talks about his organic farming ideas and methods to some students. He came to Auroville 23 years ago.
a visitor to Solitude Farm, an organic farm
Achilles, who looks after a pony club, with one of his dogs
in the house where Jocelyn Janaka, an Aurovillian pioneer, lives.
a lightbulb in a tree planted almost 50 years ago by the pioneers of Auroville
one of Auroville's most elderly residents
a portrait of The Mother hangs in the bedroom of Francis, an American who arrived in 1968. He says he was kicked out of Auroville at one stage, but he managed to return.
a German resident with one of the many dogs that roam freely around Auroville
alcohol isn't allowed in Auroville but few follow this rule
Elaine, a Canadian, arrives at her house on her motorbike. Residents get around on two wheels because the use of cars is discouraged. Elaine started a women's saftey task force after a number of attacks against women in Auroville.
a young Aurovillian grooms a pony
Luigi, who works in town planning, at work
looking down from a tree house that is being built with the help of some volunteers