Continuing a series on Ecovillages I started last month, this article delves into some of the unique features and successes of the extraordinary Auroville ecovillage in India.
Auroville‘s main goal has always been “to realise human unity — in diversity”. It is also concerned with “sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.” It is involved in ongoing researching on these topics. Ideally, it’s intended that Auroville (City of Dawn) eventually consist of 50,000 people from India and around the world.
The idea for the ecovillage or township started to sprout in the mid-1960s by its main founder, Mirra Alfassa, “The Mother” (born in Paris by an Egyptian mother and Turkish father), and the project was founded in 1968.
In 1966, before it was founded, the project (located in southern India) had already received the backing of UNESCO, support which has continued in a variety of ways since then. “In 1966 UNESCO passed a unanimous resolution commending it as a project of importance to the future of humanity, thereby giving their full encouragement.”
On February 28th, 1968, 5,000 people, including representatives of 124 nations and all the States of India, assembled near the banyan tree that would later become the center of the city. In a symbolic gesture, the representatives “brought with them some soil from their homeland, to be mixed in a white marble-clad, lotus-shaped urn, sited at the focal point of the Amphitheatre. At the same time the Mother gave Auroville its 4-point Charter.”
Currently, approximately 2,160 people of 45 nationalities live in Auroville. People from all age groups, social classes, cultures and backgrounds live in the city-in-the-making.
Auroville is zoned, but not in completely normal ways. In addition to residential and industrial zones, it includes a peace area, a cultural zone, and an international zone.
The cultural zone is for “applied research in education and artistic expression” and for cultural, educational, art, and sports facilities.
A Greenbelt, “a zone for organic farms, dairies, orchards, forests, and wildlife areas”, surrounds the other areas. It is 1.25 kilometers wide, and is to “act as a barrier against urban encroachment, provide a variety of habitats for wildlife, and serve as a source for food, timber, medicines etc. and as a place for recreation.”
The Greenbelt, though still in creation, shows the “successful transformation of wasteland into a vibrant eco-system.”
Auroville’s “afforestation” success is one of its best know features. In a beautiful passage on its website, we can get a brief glimpse at the problem of deforestation in India:
India was a land of forests. Forests where heroes and bandits hid and lived in exile, forests that they journeyed through perilously, forests where sages lived and gathered their disciples around them.
Today these forests, once the wealth of a mighty land, are all but gone. From the foothills of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin less than 12% of India’s land mass bears any form of tree cover. And despite a growing awareness of an ecological catastrophe in the making (20% of India’s forest cover has disappeared since 1960), the destruction continues.
The area where Auroville is located was no exception. It was changed from forest to wasteland through hunting, urbanization, agriculture, and so on. The end result: “an expanse of baked red earth scarred with gullies and ravines which had been carved out by the monsoon floods. Each year tons of the remaining topsoil were swept into the nearby Bay of Bengal.”
Through trial and error with experimental approaches, they found a way to create a forest on that barren land (some before and after photos here). Scientific monitoring and outreach activities are helping to spread the lessons learned to more areas, people and communities in both India and abroad.
Other Environmental Efforts
Auroville also includes an integrated water management component (it includes a Public Service Unit with a non-profit motive, Auroville Water Harvest), Auroville Farm Group (which, among other things, coordinates the planning of 14 farms as well as the approximately 400 acres of farmland currently in cultivation, managed by 35 residents and employing 200 full-time workers), the Auroville Botanical Garden, extensive composting, renewable energy projects and research, canyon erosion control, many educational campaigns, and much more.
Auroville looks like a beautiful community and is near the top of my list of places I would like to see and experience first-hand.
For more information on Auroville, visit Auroville.org (tons of information on the aims, history and wide-ranging aspects of the community located here).
Image Credit 1: bbjee via flickr under a CC license
Image Credit 2: Pandiyan via flickr under a CC license
Image Credit 3: Auroville OutreachMedia via Auroville.org (special thanks to Vinodhini)
Image Credit 4: Auroville OutreachMedia via Auroville.org (special thanks to Vinodhini)
Image Credit 5: premasagar via flickr under a CC license
Image Credit 6: Pandiyan via flickr under a CC license