Auroville – A Spiritual Quest

By Tara Jamali

“Give yourself entirely to the Divine and you will see the end of all your troubles” – The Mother


Signs containing quotes by the Mother are a ubiquitous sight in Auroville. One finds them at the entrance of stores, at the town hall, in restaurants, and in hostel lobbies. The Mother’s image is equally ubiquitous in this township of less than 3000 residents. Her penetrating yet peaceful gaze, once beheld, tends to be etched into one’s memory.

The Mother founded Auroville as an international township dedicated to realization of the ideal of human unity in diversity. A site of spiritual and material research, Auroville accepts all kinds of foreigners on its soil as long as they come to serve in some way. But the major field of work in Auroville is one’s self – one cannot remain here without engaging in self work and emerging as a changed person by the end of one’s stay. A precondition to surviving here is open-mindedness – the firmly held belief is that holding firm beliefs about everything makes for a closed mind.

It was serendipitous to realize that I shared certain characteristics with the Mother. Both of us are of Middle Eastern origin. Both of us were studying in France before ending up in this part of India, but unlike the Mother, I was not necessarily led here by a series of visions of one she came to know as Krishna. I like to believe, however, that I have come here for a purpose, one that will not end with the completion of an internship at a local NGO, as outlined by my academic program. Because almost every Aurovilian I encounter seems to have felt led here for reasons defying mainstream logic and culture. Why else would a CEO choose to leave behind a successful corporate life in Europe or South America to found a school for underprivileged Tamil children, or head a center dedicated to empowering and educating rural women in a highly patriarchal society, if not for a higher purpose or calling?

It was such a calling that led the Mother to sacrifice a promising future as an artist in Paris to found a city in rural India, never looking back. For the Mother, one dream defined by personal ambition was replaced by another in line with a vision concerning humanity’s evolution and the ideal of human unity. For her, it was about creating a place where individuals of all nationalities could feel a sense of belonging. When Aurovilians are asked why they chose to stay here, a common answer is that they felt at home, or in the words of Dr. Jacques, a French dental surgeon who settled down in Auroville shortly after receiving his medical license in 1981, “It is the spirit of Auroville that has kept me here all these years.”

As a Global Communications major, the spirit of Auroville as a hub for uniting individuals of all nationalities defines what I pursue academically and personally. I have always taken pride in my multiculturalism, and before coming here, believed myself to be pretty experienced in terms of seeing and understanding the world – I grew up in California, lived in Iran for a number of years, stayed in Europe regularly, and majored in Communication and Italian at the University at Buffalo. But Auroville is opening my eyes to a whole new dimension in multicultural consciousness and what it means to belong to a place undefined by political, cultural, or religious boundaries. I am certain that my time here will have engendered a heightened sense of empathy guiding my interactions with people, regardless of their nationality or political or religious persuasion. Here, I feel accepted just the way I am, with my age, life accomplishments, academic standing, or which parts of the world I was in before coming here almost irrelevant. What matters is a willingness to be open to the spirit of Auroville and all that it offers, knowing that wherever I end up in the course of life, I will always take a little of Auroville with me, acting as its ambassador to a certain degree.
I see it as a spiritual quest in line with a Mother’s wish for a peaceful way of living, and thank her for calling me here. At a time where sexism, racism, and xenophobia still abound even in nations considered democratic, the realization of her dream is more relevant than ever, but possibly simpler than we may think. For Auroville remains simple in all its complexity – a place for those wanting to know liberation from extremes.