When East Meets West: Healing Gaia’s Wounds in Auroville, India.
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio (University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez)
Auroville is an international township and an intentional community situated in South East India. It was inspired by the teachings of two early-twentieth century spiritual leaders, Sri Aurobindo, an upper caste Bengal Hindu educated in England, and Mira Alfassa, a middle-class Parisian woman whose non-religious parents had moved to France from Egypt and Turkey (Satprem 1976, 9-24). They established their joint spiritual base in the Tamil region, and more specifically in the French colonial district of Pondicherry (Joshi 1989,1-4). Their transcultural backgrounds are reflected in their integral approach to yoga, with its emphasis on transforming the world rather than withdrawing from it, and their integration of yoga itself with Western psychological and educational beliefs. Their vision for Auroville was that of creating a city where people from all nationalities would live in peace, and where land ownership would be shared and communal. The strong presence of Alfassa, better known as “The Mother,” next to Aurobindo, makes the spiritual leadership for Auroville both gendered and dual, with a special emphasis on the female aspect of the sacred symbolized by the Matrimandir, or “temple of the mother,” Auroville’s spiritual center. This spectacular womb-shaped building was designed as a space of peace and meditation focused on the idea of mother earth. It embodies Alfassa’s anticipation of Gaian awareness in her concern with re-evaluating feminine principles in the context of human unity.Due to the contrast between the local population and the Western Aurovilians; to the eclectic inspiration of Auroville’s two spiritual leaders; to the environmental challenges inherent with the region; and to the overall intent of the spiritual community, today’s Auroville is a complex, vibrant, and extremely interesting site of transculturation where knowledge is exchanged between participants in a number of cultural groups whose diversities are multiple and unique.As the community, its resident members, indigenous participants, and guests face together the challenges of sharing a living environment with one another, the exchange of cultural tropes from one group to the next is so intense and charged with meaning that one can imagine Auroville as the transcultural space where the modalities for a sustainable future of human unity are now being forged, with all the roughness, enthusiasm, humour, and difficulties that entails.