Is Utopia Possible? Auroville: City without Money, Politics, or Religion

Collective Meditation on Auroville's Birthday Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Those who believe humans are too flawed and selfish to achieve Utopia should go to Auroville, a city without money, politics, or religion. At a time when Western individualism and predatory capitalism had already reduced human beings to mere numbers and plagued societies with dangerous level of income and wealth inequality, unemployment, crushing poverty, and false democracy, Auroville stood as the last refuge for those who aspired to preserve and nurture their inner self.

Auroville is located in South India, 150 kilometers from Chennai in Madras. This Utopian city without money was founded in 1968 and recognized as an international city by UNESCO, as people from over 50 nationalities and different cultures reside here. The peaceful coexistence of the residents with no religion, political party, or currency allure curious people to visit this extraordinary place. Although corrupt bureaucrats or political leaders from outside who administer the finances of the city often embezzle money from the township fund, inhabitants never show any interest in monetary affairs and they prefer the system of exchanges that was originally designed.

Auroville, also known as “the City of Dawn,” was established by Mirra Alfassa, a French woman known locally as “the Mother”. Mira was inspired by her yoga guru Sri Aurobindo who, after being imprisoned by the British in 1908, sought political asylum in the French colony of Pondicherry. Aurobindo was born in Kolkata in 1872 and educated at Cambridge, and he was arrested for the campaign that he initiated against the British colonial rule in India. However, his asylum in Pondicherry changed him from a political leader to an enlightening spiritual guru. Aurobindo understood the true nature of European colonialism and claimed “The nineteenth century in India was imitative, self-forgetful, artificial. It aimed at a successful reproduction of Europe in India”. He was aware that Europeanization of the Indian people was inevitable, and that the spiritual capacity of the Indians was about to vanish. Mirra Alfassa, being a spiritual person herself, understood the necessity of having a place where people would be able to live their life free of any political, religious, or financial force.

The Mother turned Aurobindo’s ideas, as Maddy Crowell states, into an international project to “realize human unity and establish an ideal society.” On Feb. 28, 1968, more than 5,000 people from 124 countries flocked to what, at the time, was a desolate red desert and a dream. They carried flags and soil from their home countries. The Mother declared Auroville, as a city without money, religion, or politics, would create “a new consciousness.” She decided who could join by looking them in the eye; many recount meeting her as being a surreal and deeply spiritual experience. If she approved—often in the form of a single rose or nod of the head—the newly ordained Aurovilian was instructed to “go plant a tree.” In a few years, the forest formed. The idea behind designing such a place, in Alfassa’s words:

“There should be a place on Earth that no nation could claim as their own; where all human beings of good will who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme truth. A place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instinct in man were used exclusively to overcome the cause of their sufferings and miseries, to overcome their weaknesses and ignorance, and to triumph over their limitations and disabilities. A place where the needs of the spirit and interest of progress precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions or the pursuit of pleasure and material enjoyment.”

Auroville is a model of sustainable eco-city consisting of 15 farms with an area of 160 hectares. People in this city without money live primarily on organic food homegrown in Auroville: freshly baked bread, eggs, milk, vegetables, and fruit in the backyard. Residents here recycle and reuse everything.

As a city without money, Auroville is a utopia, a “psychological revolution,” as W.M. Sullivan states in The Dawning of Auroville. With no money, no government, no religion, Auroville appears to be exactly what Thomas More aspires in Utopia. Although the city was designed for 50,000 people, Auroville today has more than 10,000 permanent residents and roughly 5,000 visitors—self-selected exiles from more than 100 countries. As a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court in 1982 affirms, Auroville is in “conformity with India’s highest ideals and aspirations.” The Indian government donates more than $200,000 to Auroville every year, and UNESCO has protected the township since its birth in 1968.

Becoming an Aurovilian requires an applicant to go through a two-year process. During this time an applicant is not allowed to leave Auroville and s/he must work for free as a contribution to the township. To apply one has to prove that s/he is self-sustainable and dedicated to the cause.. After two years, the applicant face the Entry Services, a small group that reviews applications and ultimately decides who can become an Aurovilian. The waiting list to become an Aurovilian is becoming longer because of a housing shortage.

People are allured by the dream to become Aurovilian, the dream that is chartered and Inscribed on a lotus urn next to the Matrimandir. The charter states:

Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.

Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.

Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.

Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.



About the author

Sayeed Noman

Sayeed Noman is a Fulbright scholar and an adjunct professor at Temple University. His PhD dissertation focuses on Afrocentricity, postcolonialism, and postmodernism. His interest ranges from political to economic and cultural issues.


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