Well I just got back last night from a couple of days excursion to Pondicherry and Auroville. Pondicherry is about a 3.5hr bus ride east to the coast and is an ex-french colonial town famous as the home of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Sri Aurobindo was a contempory with Sri Ramana Maharishi and died in the same year of 1950. Aurobindo was an early key leader in the Indian Independence movement but later withdrew from politics to focus his energy on his spiritual work.
His main point seems to be that enlightenment doesn't stop with the individual becoming transcendentally liberated from suffering. For him he felt that what was needed was to bring the light of enlightenment into this world and transform it into an enlightened world.
I'm not all that familiar with the specifics but the basic idea seems pretty good. His spiritual partner, a french mystic known as the Mother, lived on until 1973 and in the late 60's she spawned the bold experiment that was to become known as Auroville.
Auroville is an experiment in community living which aims to integrate all the aspects of life into one holistic package covering the spiritual to the material and everything in between. It is a non-sectarian project with the backing of the Govt. of India and UNESCO covering quite a large area of land anout 12km north of Pondicherry.
Eventually it is envisaged to be a fully functioning city for up to 50,000 people however at the moment it seems to be more of a loose-knit and spread out collection of around 80 small communities with 1500-2000 people from all over the world. Each of the small communities has it's own particular focus such as organic farming, renewable energy technology, education, creative arts, healing etc, etc.
At the centre of the place, both physically and spiritually, is the Matrimandir, which is a huge spherical meditation chamber. I didn't actually get to go inside this time as they make you jump through quite a few hoops which I suppose protects it from being treated like a tourist attraction and helps to maintain the purity of the energy. I was able to go to the visitor centre and to view the structure from a distance. It's very impressive and big and puts one in mind of a huge golden golf ball from outer space that has landed in the middle of a horse racing track.
I hear it is good energy in there so I may or may not make it back for a repeat visit. Afterall it is all within oneself and I'm already living in one of the worlds great power spots of Consciousness. All in all, Auroville is quite an impressive place although, by their own aspirations, is still only in its infancy. They are doing some very innovative stuff and, while not being unique in their aspiration to combine spirituality and sustainable eco-community creative living, certainly seem to be one of the worlds largest and longest running modern day experiments along such lines.
They are not really set up for casual drop in visitors and so inorder to get a greater feel for it all one would probably have to live and participate in community life for at least some weeks. I'm not sure whether I want to do that at the moment or whether my little taste is enough for now.
Pondicherry itself is quite nice, at least the eastern coastal french part of town, with wide fairly clean and fairly peaceful streets. On the cycle back from Auroville I also stopped off at the beach and had a bit of a swim in the Indian Ocean which was very warm but still refreshing after riding in the hot sun all day.
The bus ride back was fun. After waiting at the bus station for an hour I just managed to get on the right bus before it left. Already it was over full but the driver let me sit up beside him on the box above the engine. It wasn't that comfortable but better than standing like a couped up chicken for 3hrs like many of the rest of them.
Another interesting Indian transport example I saw was a whole family of mum, dad, three small kids and a baby all on one standard Indian bicycle! I would have taken a photo only I was myself cycling and trying to avoid being squished by the many huge trucks and buses passing by, each trying to out do the other in the loudness and duration of their horn blasting.
Have a nice day :)