The drift of the late Utopia

Andrea Kunkl – 2014


These last years of economic crisis resulting in the loss of many artificial values which, since World War II, had kept society together, have greatly affected individuals. The social structure on which citizens’ pacification was grounded: work, salary, pension, housing, paid vacation time, health and welfare at large, is quickly falling away.

The western model is no longer able to produce social warmth. The modern individual often feels completely alone and abandoned in the midst of tumultuos events.

Consequently, the number of people in search of an alternative social welfare state is rising. Not only freaks, hippies, travellers and modern walkers, but also people from the middle and upper class run in search of self-protecting communities, hoping for a better life and for those now unreachable goals in a western metropolis.

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At the present moment we see a growing number of utopian housing systems and of people who desire them. This rise is proportional to the fall of the western system. The only thing that seems to be left to many citizens of the western model is the ephemeral, virtual self-representation before a self-represented virtual audience of equals. These utopian systems are unclassifiable and indefinable. It would be possible to create a number of indicators in order to help a categorization, but the borders between these experiences remain ineffable. Many don’t last long, but there are some long lasting ones, despite the complexities and the darker side of individuals. Among these Arcosanti, Marinaleda and Auroville are outstanding examples. Auroville, founded in 1967, is now living a particular season: the drift of the late utopia.

Auroville is an experimental city who’s inhabitants are supposedly entirely devoted to the search of the superconcious. Connecting to the Divine, the most splendid side of our soul, lazily lying hidden by Ego, could lead humanity to Evolution. The quest of God, not an outside God and not an abstract entity, but an essential component of each living creature, the one that enables us to acts and deeds that rise above the mediocrity by which we are obsessively seduced as if we were its slaves. Timeless youth that emerges from lifelong learning and from adjustnig to a visible life of simplicity; meditation, the practice of Yoga, as a personal practice with a shared goal. With daily practice, mental silence could lead to a state of being which could enable women and men to effectively evolve into a higher level, away from the materialistic cage.


The town of Auroville emerges from a unique and fascinating idea: the synergy between liberty and spirituality. It is a collective attempt to go through the physical level to plunge into the transcendental, like a wedge into modernity. Its balance can be expressed only by the reappropriation of the everyday life. A permacolture frame, displayed freedom, solar energy, self-production and sharing of the feasible. A galaxy in the middle of a mild forest, with at its center a golden temple, the Matrimandir, symbol of the sun, of the pristine energy. This represents the source of life from which irregularly communities and frams with evocative names branch off: Fertile, Discipline, Solitude.

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The city of Auroville was conceptualized by Sri Aurobindo, the Plato of the Nineteenth Century, as described by Aldous Huxley. He wanted to build a place where humanity could give birth to the new humanity. It was founded in February 1967 by Mer, or Mother, a cultured traveler of the early Twentieth century with nomadic roots. She inherited and conitnued Sri Aurobindo’s work when he totally retired from the world in search of the Divine hidden in his soul.

Auroville is in the state of Tamil Nadu, one of the most underdeveloped and tough areas of south India, near Pondicherry, a former French colony with a Mediterranean taste. The Sri Aurobindo’s ashram (the house of the master) is located here. The city has no borders and it includes more than 100 communities. But there are also villages and informal Tamil settlements, a hut, a farmer that sells gas despite the fact that gas is forbidden.

At the moment there are 50.000 Tamil in the area, 12.000 of which are employed (servants, guardians, etc), and 2.000 registerd Aurovillians. In high season and including those not registered and the tourists, the inhabitants of Auroville reaches 17.000. The ‘developer’s’ ambition is to create a city for 50.000 inhabitants.

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The decisional center is a legal entity separated from the city: the Auroville Foundation. There are three authorities in the Foundation. The Governing Board, which has decisional powers over the city’s development: its members are mostly Indian nationals and eminent individuals of the local political elite. Then there is the International Advisory Counsil: it is composed of five ‘outstanding’ individuals. Its function is to review and advise the Govening Board on matters relating to management and development of the township. The third decisional group is a Resident’s Assembly which comprises all residents of Auroville over the age of 18. In fact, this Assembly is rarely attended due to internal feuds and distrust in the authority and its progressive centralization.


There has been approximately a ten years battle over the legal definition of Auroville. In Lorenzo’s words: “We were all terrorists before,” meaning that the Government of India didn’t have any form of controll over Aurovillians. For a long, time Auroville had been a free and liberated place were individuals could disappear from the system and dedicate their time to something more meaningful and real. But the only warranty that Auroville could continue to develop and expand, was the acceptance of a legal status, even though a special legal status. At the same time, Auroville ceased to receive economic contribuitions from private rich people, coming to depend entirely, as it does now, on the wealthy Foundation. Then came the requirements to register along with the first abuses of the inhabitants who had immediately aligned themselves to the new regulatory system against those who had known nothing but freedom. This is how Auroville drastically changed during the Eighties.

Despite this, many Aurovillians keep on living as the pioneers did. They refuse the centralization and categorization of authority. They refuse comforts, looking hostilely towards the construction of the new apartaments with satellite dishes and air conditioning.

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The settelment, Fertile, is completly surrounded by banyan trees and paths that cut through high grass. People live in bamboo huts and supper is eaten together in front of the fire. When the full moon rises Johnny, the eternal child who has overcome time, disappears into the jungle not to re-emerge until the next morning. Grace, recoverd from cancer after following a vegan diet, now dances and laughs looking like a child.

John the French, destroys the trails that lead to his commune in the forest which he shares with his wife and three huge dogs and a small silent pony. He received from Mother the task of regrowing the forest in the desert. With a compulsive dedication he planted millions of trees, and takes care of them: it is hard to explain the love he receives from these trees. John has been able to show the world how a single man can change the world’s destiny. But his story is nothing more than an echo that emerges like a thin veil from the jungle’s mist. His goal is to reach the Kerala region in order to restore the equilibrium of the forest destroyed by the English and the French for the building of warships. Lorenzo is a welder who studied immunology and specialized in alergies. He lives in a castle, it looks like Count Dracula’s castle, bats included. Lorenzo doesn’t age, neither does Uriel, another Frenchman, who fights Ego trying to free himself from the judgment and expectations of others. There are the young dreamers that want to change the world, with a deep understanding that the true revolution only starts from within. On the other hand, there are men in their forties running away from the western crisis, looking for a better world for themselves and for their families: they seem to take rather than to give. Among these, Jil is outstanding: he came from Marseilles hoping to find a better world, instead he remaind chained to his rage, abandoned by his wife and later by his children once they were grown. He has been put aside by the community that he is unable to forgive. Jil lives alone and talks to the few that don’t know anything about him, turning away from the world. “The Solar System is the origin of the Universe’s problems, and all the problems of the Solar System inevitabily come from Planet Earth. The matrix of these problems is in India, precisely in south India, around Tamil Nadu.” This is how Mother used to answer, according to John, to those who would ask her why she chose such an inhospitable place for the foundation of Auroville in 1967. A giant desert without even the shade of a tree, inhabitated only by fearce Tamil, cobras and scorpions big as lobsters. “If a solution existed, it could be found only at the center of the problem.” And this is why Auroville was founded, to provide a home to the humanity that should be born after humanity; to flood with good the womb of evil.

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But today Auroville looks like a broken dream. The fear of many citizens of losing privileges and a few benefits brought a libertarian utopia with a deep and pure spiritual attitude towards the acceptance of regulation. It is typical of human nature to be unable to grasp overwhelming freedom: we fear it as a perfect storm and we lose it. Then we sigh with relief, like when we meet an old boaring girlfriend. Without internal discipline freedom results in self-destruction. In the drift of the late utopia people are forced to live with taboos and masks even more significant than the ones left behind under the western standard in order not to display any cracks.

It is John the French’s opinion, that Auroville is becoming a pensioners’ factory. And even though the Auroville Charter indelibly states that “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole” some start to build walls, abstracts at first, then real. Mother strongly wanted the Aurovillians to build the Matrimandir, in spite of her duobts regarding the personal ambitions of the architect Mr. Anger. Mother knew that the difficulties of this tremendous task, would unite the Aurovillians despite their diverse attitudinal directions. When in 2009 the work was done, the energy that guarded the Aurovillians’ hearts suddently disappeard crumbling in all directions. International restaurants and air conditioned lofts are not unusual in Auroville today, while the developers try to build roads that lead to the inaccessible sanctuaries of the forest planters.

Nowadays the newcomers that undergo the official program to become Aurovillians, must voluntarily work for three years without having access to the same benefits of the citizens. Often victims of big and small basenesses, they are not allowed to react. Additionally, there has not been any integration with the Tamils who live in the sorrounding area. There is no more space for penniless dreamers, in Auroville everything has its cost and goodwill is not enough. It seem that a master pupeteer pulls the strings of everybody’s existence, but the truth is that the community, after 60 years of existence, needs change. Fear and insecurity block change.

It is hard to explain what happend. How did a communitarian attempt with such high aspiration and desire for justness inexorably turn into a gate community? We are likely unable to transform our inner selves and we are afraid of facing the inevitable. Only a few heros, which seem to have disappeared, have been able to take charge of Auroville and tried to make it just and right, unlike the reality we know and stupidly identify as the best today.

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Nonetheless, in this moment of unprecedented moral crises, the experiment of Auroville remains a guiding light and a lifeline for Western society. This is an important point. Utopia has let reality in and the conservatives are salting the earth around the libertarians. The weak, men and women, are crushed and become the paradox in respect of the will of the founders, feeding the drift. Their Ego explodes and they become lifelong slaves of the crushing mask they had tatooed on themselves. For those who can let the outside, big or small, abusive attempts roll off their back, there still is plenty of freedom. Many years may still pass before humanity will raise from current humaity. The seed of revolution has been planted in the jungle of Tamil Nadu. It may sprout thousands of kilometrs away from there, if it ever sprouts, it will be thanks to the outstanding pioneers who have defy time. There will not be a place in the memories of the person who has this story in his heart for those who ate the fruit without tasting it, but were instead intoxicated by it and made of this reality something rough like an addiction.

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