And Auroville is a great Adventure.The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) 1
While the idea of Auroville in the 60s quickly drew worldwide interest, attempting to form a global association supporting the township has been far from simple. This past year has hosted not one – but two meetings of Auroville International (AVI) representatives in Auroville. We spoke with Vani who represents AVI in Auroville, to get an idea of the organization’s story and role.
The idea of Auroville International is not new – and yet before the current network was formed, no fewer than two attempts fell through. Even before Auroville’s inauguration, The Mother, Mirra Alfassa expressed the idea that foreign support for such a township would not simply be a means to its rapid construction, but serve the participating countries themselves:
All this is simply to tell you that if nations collaborate in the work of Auroville, even to a very modest extent, it will do them good… It’s not when Auroville has been completed: it’s the nations’ collaboration in creating something… 2The Mother, September 21, 1966
Auroville International is represented in Auroville itself by Vani, a native of France who at age 18 travelled overland to India and decided to stay in Pondicherry, and later Auroville: “AVI was created in order to create a kind of link with the outside, so that Auroville doesn’t just stay in a small bubble in India. I never believed in a cocoon Auroville.”
The French association of Auroville supporters is as old as the township itself, founded in 1968 by architect Roger Anger. Similar-minded associations formed in the following years in Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and Sweden, and the 80’s saw permanent centres established in the UK, Germany and Spain.
The first official society named Auroville International was founded in 1969 with its head office in New York by Persian diplomat and inventor Jean (Jahan) M. Ahy. On this development, the Mother comments in her Agenda: “As for me, I watch and have great fun!” 3. She gave her blessings to Ahy’s goals and methods, but the idea and the detailed plans soon came to naught due to a change of legislation regarding foundations in the USA, as well as a financial downturn in Ahy’s life.
A second initiative was made in 1972, when friends of Auroville from across Europe met in Paris and agreed to create a society based in Switzerland. It is unclear why this attempt too failed.
…the necessity became apparent for a legal international body giving form to the already existing body of people around the world, for which the name of Auroville is a hope.
…we want Auroville International to be created, to develop, and to work towards its aims.August 12, 1983 letter from the Auroville Cooperative (representing Auroville residents) to groups of Auroville supporters worldwide on the occasion of the registration of Auroville International (AVI) in The Hague, Netherlands.
The effort which finally bore fruit emerged from a fact-finding trip through Europe by three early Aurovilians in November 1981. The tour culminated in a conference of Auroville friends in southern France, which also received letters of support from allies in the USA and Italy. Auroville enthusiasts from many European countries told of their struggles in setting up organisations, and it became clear that much misinformation about Auroville had been spread internationally, and would need to be dispelled through the work of new institutions. It was then agreed to hold a yearly Auroville International meeting in a different country every time.
Newly formed good contacts with UNESCO, and the work of Dr. Kireet Joshi, then-Special Secretary at the Indian Ministry of Education and Educational Advisor to the Government of India, were instrumental to the decision to legally register AVI in the Netherlands on August 15th, 1983 – India’s 36th anniversary of independence.
Among Auroville International’s regular activities are:
- Providing information on Auroville to those who want to visit, organizing talks and exhibitions by Auroville researchers and artists
- Translating books and materials about the township
- Creating study groups on Savitri and Integral Yoga
- Supporting student exchange and volunteer stays in Auroville
- Facilitating connections in each country between those who have already been to Auroville
- Assisting the development of Auroville’s International Zone
- Supporting a range of Auroville projects in sustainable development, education, healthcare, environmental restoration, mobility and other areas. Additionally, AVI raises funds for Auroville lands via the Acres for Auroville (A4A) campaign, a collaboration between the AVI worldwide centers and Auroville’s Lands for Auroville Unified (LFAU). This initiative has funded the majority of land acquisitions within the past nine years, designed to consolidate Auroville’s still missing land.
The Case of Russia
During communist times, access to information about Auroville in eastern Europe was very limited. State censors had banned the writings of Sri Aurobindo, along with those of all other mystics not conforming to Communism’s atheist creed.
Nevertheless, works by foreign writers including Sri Aurobindo were kept at Russia’s state libraries, where a lucky few had access, and could secretly copy and translate them, circulating the writings in the country’s literary underground.
One of the first books on Asian philosophy to be widely printed in the Soviet Union was Satprem’s “The Adventure of Consciousness” – smuggled in, translated and sold in 400,000 copies in the 80’s, as censorship became less severe. Other books would follow.
While no Auroville International Centre as such has been founded in Russia, the point of contact for Auroville since 1992 has largely been Aditi publishing house in St. Petersburg, founded by Michael Bonke. While the centre’s focus is on translating Integral Yoga texts into Russian, Aditi’s journal contains one article about Auroville in every issue.
The 2001 AVI meeting, a large and unforgettable event, was organized in St. Petersburg, drawing an unprecedented attendance from many parts of Russia, as well as from neighbouring Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. There were also many attendees from countries around the world, from Auroville and from the Pondicherry Ashram. “It was a great event in our lives”, says Alexey Klementyev, AVI liaison for Russia, who has been visiting Auroville almost every year since 1998.
This was also the occasion for the inauguration in Moscow of master woodworker George Nakashima’s Peace Table for Europe – a consecration ceremony attended by 150 people, including the US and Indian ambassadors, Aurovilians and worldwide friends of Auroville, Russian artists and intellectuals and the representatives of four different religious traditions. The Peace Table represents the aspiration for harmony in Europe, and is part of a series of altars conceived by the artist for every continent – its counterparts placed in Auroville for Asia, New York for the Americas, and Cape Town for Africa.
Centres and Liaisons
The stories of Auroville’s Worldwide connections are as diverse as the visitors to Auroville, and have been compiled in the book Auroville International, available from the Auroville Online Store.
Where an AVI centre exists, it is a legal structure declared as an association in that country, offering memberships. Where there is no centre, a liaison can be one to three persons of good will, who have spent time in Auroville and volunteered to be contact people in that country for anyone with questions.
Different centres have different activities. For example, due to the unique setup in Germany which has a civil service program for youth – Weltwärts – AVI Germany has played a large part in bringing young volunteers to Auroville.
Interest in the township has stimulated the growth of AVI centres and liaisons from Mexico to Italy to Ethiopia, Turkey, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. Yearly meetings have been held in many countries such as Brazil, Canada, France and South Africa up until 2018, when the focus switched to meetings in Auroville itself, as international representatives decided to be more present in the township to show their support.
On August 15th, 2022, about 30 AVI representatives, some of whom have lived in Auroville in the 70s and 80s, were happy to meet in Auroville’s Savitri Bhavan after not seeing each other for a long time. Those unable to attend in person tuned in via Zoom, and shared their work back home.
Another meeting was arranged at the nearby Unity Pavilion on February 22nd 2023, during the Auroville anniversary week. Representatives spoke about their work and activity, and were available to answer questions from Aurovilians and guests.
Vani concludes: “Mother wanted an Auroville which is open internationally – it has always been very clear that Auroville should have this meaning and potential. It is supposed to represent another possibility for the world, with human unity as one of its main ideals.”
Auroville makes sense only as far as everyone and every country builds Auroville within oneself.
Above all, no preconceived ideas or set outline: it is a new species to be built, not a small church with comfortable and convenient ideas.Satprem’s letter to the Canadian Association, 7/11/1978
- 15-11-1969 in Satprem. (Published 1992). The Mother’s Agenda
- 21-09-1966 in Satprem. (Published 1992). The Mother’s Agenda
- 15-11-1969 in Satprem. (Published 1992). The Mother’s Agenda