By Aditya Ahluwalia May 1997 The year is 1347 BC. General Horemheb, a dictator, has sent thousands of troops from his newly revived capital of Thebes to destroy Amarna, a modern city founded by the beautiful queen of Egypt, Nefertiti, and her husband, Pharaoh Amenophis IV, now known as Akhnaton. Akhnaton is a daring reformist. He has opted for a monotheist cult and worships only LIGHT, pure and free. This new city of Amarna is situated midway between Memphis (Cairo) and Thebes (Luxor), on the eastern bank of the Nile. At the center of the city, Akhnaton and Nefertiti have built a temple to the Light. Inside, there is no picture of any god, nor any image of traditional worship. In this new city, everyone is equal: Egyptians and foreigners (many of whom are attached here), king and common people, men and women. Artists and craftsmen receive support and encouragement to express their skills fully. Money is not the sovereign ruler. For 22 years, amidst growing discontent of the traditional ruling classes, the army chiefs and the polytheist high priests, Amarna has managed to grow and prosper. The dark clouds of dust from Horemheb’s troops can be seen in the distance, which has been given a single order to execute: ‘total obliteration of Amarna’. A stiff resistance is put up by the citizens of Amarna but they are greatly outnumbered and are no match for the ruthlessness of Horemheb’s army. The city is soon razed to the ground. Not satisfied with that, a layer of cement is spread over the ruins, as if to make sure that this city of LIGHT be submerged in darkness forever. Even its walls cannot be seen which bore the story of its foundation: Here is the place which belongs to no prince, to no god.No one owns it.Here is the place for all of us…The earth will find joy in it.Here the heart will be happy.Will Amarna ever rise from the darkness again? It is February 4, 1997, and I am once again in Auroville. It is my third visit in as many years. What am I doing here again? Certainly not on a vacation. I know of more beautiful places with better amenities and comforts (and fewer mosquitoes). So what is it that draws me back here again and again since my first visit, purely by chance, three years ago? Is it the atmosphere? The need to know more, maybe the need to be a part of this community, for however short a period it might be? Despite my having informed an Aurovilian friend, Aster, a couple of weeks back of my arrival, there is no accommodation available in Auroville, and I am forced to stay in a second rate hotel in Pondicherry, about 10 kilometers south of Auroville. This is the tourist season, and Auroville is bursting at the seams. What is Auroville? For an answer, we’d have to return to the beginning of the Auroville story. Does Auroville have its genesis in the Irumbai legend? On the banks of the river Nile? Or in the birth of consciousness itself? In the physical sense, it all began on February 28, 1968, during the inauguration ceremony when a crowd of about 5,000, including young people representing 121 countries and 23 Indian states, gathered at the amphitheater near the center of Auroville and listened to the Auroville Charter being read out on All India Radio by the Mother: 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. Auroville’s context, purpose and work is difficult to envisage. Try to imagine a community of 1,200-odd people (300 of them children) spread over 20 square kilometers of land over which they have no ownership rights. Yet this community provides itself housing, public services including post office, bank telephone, water, electricity, roads and transportation, medical facilities including a health center and an assortment of alternative healing systems, crèches, schools up to the final grade, playgrounds and a food distribution system. Auroville has its own architecture and town planning bureau preparing itself for an eventual city of 50,000. It has archival facilities, an auditorium, greenwork resource center, and scientific research, educational and cultural research institutions. Further, imagine 40-odd industries, three restaurants, 35 guesthouses, farms and nurseries within this community. It has artists who hold concerts, exhibitions and theatrical performances, and photographers, poets and writers. It has a monthly newsletter (Auroville Today), a quarterly newsletter in French (Regards sur Auroville). And a weekly paper (AV News). Imagine such a place with administration, financial visitors and newcomer services to ensure a smooth functioning of the community. Imagine a high density of computers (you will even find one in a keet hut), its own internal e-mail network (auronet) and an Internet web site (http://www.auroville.org/ ). Imagine such a place being run without a hierarchical order, by an assembly comprising every adult resident. Imagine this motley assembly of 900-odd members from over 30 different nationalities, languages and cultures, who sometimes do not even understand one another. If you have managed to imagine all that, you have a description of Auroville—a physical description. And this is just the aperitif; words still fail to describe the community’s internal struggles, its spiritual quest, its raison d’ etre. After all this, one stubborn question remains: Why have Auroville? For me, the reason came from the Mother herself: Imagine such a place being run without a hierarchical order, by an assembly comprising every adult resident. Imagine this motley assembly of 900-odd members from over 30 different nationalities, languages and cultures, who sometimes do not even understand one another. If you have managed to imagine all that, you have a description of Auroville—a physical description. And this is just the aperitif; words still fail to describe the community’s internal struggles, its spiritual quest, its raison d’ etre. After all this, one stubborn question remains: Why have Auroville? For me, the reason came from the Mother herself: At last a place where one will be able to think only of progressing and transcending oneself. At last a place where one will be able to live in peace without conflicts and without rivalries of nations, religions and ambitions. At last a place where nothing will have the right to impose itself as the exclusive truth. The philosophy of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and consequently the birth of Auroville, is based on the belief that Humanity is not the last rung of the terrestrial creation. Evolution continues and man will be surpassed. It is for each individual to know whether he wants to participate in the advent of the new species. For those who are satisfied with the world as it is, Auroville obviously has no reason to exist. A revolutionary, even radical, philosophy. But then Sri Aurobindo was always a revolutionary. It is almost impossible to prove that man stopped evolving when man became man 50,000 years ago, but enough scientific and spiritual proof exists to the contrary. So his philosophy makes sense. But is Auroville at present anywhere close to the ideal portrayed by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo? Aurovilians themselves have varied viewpoints. Ironically, most of them were eager to know my views, because I was an outsider and therefore, at least in theory, objective and with a clearer perspective. What I did feel was a certain restlessness among Aurovilians, perhaps engendered by the Government of India’s recent refusal to extend the visas of many Aurovilians, some of who have been staying here for as long as 25 years; or because having spent many years in this sadhna (to evolve into a new species), they may have realized that its culmination is not in sight and they may not be able to achieve it in their lifetime. This reminds me of the Puranic story I had read as a child of the search for the nectar of immortality by the devas, or gods and asuras, demons (our psychic and the vital parts), both churning the consciousness (symbolized by the ocean) with the help of divine consciousness (symbolized by the Kurma or the Turtle Avatar) and our bodies (the Mandara mountain) and our spiritual quest (the Vasuki snake). Lord Vishnu warns the devas that during the churning process many temptations—like that of wealth—will emerge from the ocean, but that they must not partake of any of them. The reward of the nectar of immortality is assured to them if they remain steadfast in refusing to succumb to the asuric way. Many negative energies are released during the first phase of the churning process when both devas and asuras cry out to the gods for help. It is difficult not to see this bit of mythology as analogous to the initial struggle by Aurovilians to green the wasteland they had inherited, their fight against the outside control of Auroville, and their eventual success in retaining autonomy and control over its own affairs. The continuing struggle extends to not only Aurovilians over the future of Auroville but also to the supremacy between different nationalities and cultures. For me, all this ferment seems to be the first hiccup in the churning process towards a collective realization of the immortal Being. In the second part of the process in the myth, uncounted wealth was ejected from the ocean and was immediately appropriated by the asuras. Remembe
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