If body-oriented activities are an indicator of a healthy society, then Auroville is positively glowing
Physical activities are nothing new to Auroville. In the early days it was primarily the environment that required intense bodily effort. The activities – forestation, building capsules, or bending steel at the Matrimandir – required strength, litheness, agility and, most definitely, hours of physical labour. Turning sinewy and nut brown under the blazing sun was part of the package. Recalls Frederick , “Life was extremely pioneering, exposed, and physical. At that time, there were no motor bikes and we either cycled or walked. Visits to Pondicherry were day-trips, cycling down in the morning and back at night.” It was a lifestyle that did not seem to require any extra physical activity in the name of organized sports or games. However, as young people wanted to ‘do things together' and the older ones also wanted some fun, people began to play. “These games filled a need for social interaction and for a sense of community,” says Fred. “Many interpersonal problems were solved at sports. They fought in the morning and played in the afternoon, and it all balanced out.”
But it was the presence of children that in 1972, sparked off organized sports. “Like everything else in Auroville, sports developed out of necessities and needs. A letter was written to The Mother asking if Auroville could have some of the Ashram's sports teachers or have the children participate in the Ashram programmes in Pondicherry . But Mother said 'no'. She wanted Auroville to develop its own facilities.” With a few adult volunteers, a novice sports programme was started in the Aspiration area for the ' Last School ' children. The sports programme was, of course, designed along the lines of the Ashram. Frederick points to a photograph from those times, “Look! This could have come straight from the Ashram Bulletin. The kids in their uniforms and us, the so-called teachers all lined up just like in the Ashram playground.” He narrates how Shrudderlal, a teacher from the Ashram who came to Auroville, divided the Auroville children of Last School into three groups – those with no lice, those with only eggs or nits, and those with adult lice.
Hari, one of the ex-students of Last School from that period, recollects the original Aspiration sports ground with nostalgia. “It was the first sports arena in Auroville. At that time it was huge; with a sprawling football field, basketball and volleyball courts, two running tracks, a long jump and high jump pit, and a shot-put area. But the situation changed during the conflict between the Sri Aurobindo Society and Auroville. Many of our teachers moved out and the school shut down and with it, the sports programme. In those years, with youngsters having little to do except 'hang out' at the beach, work at Matrimandir, or doggedly look 'for anyone to teach us anything,' it was sports that kept us together. It became the one activity that helped us stick though that trying time and it showed me the unifying power of sports. I realized that it gave us the strength to deal with any problem by putting up a united front, and to organize and successfully carry out any task.”
With Auroville's growth, the sports activities gradually shifted to the Certitude community. Tennis courts were built and other games began to be played – table-tennis, badminton, volleyball and basketball. A small gym for body-building activities also got established. “It all developed quite fast, and Certitude soon became the official sports ground,” recalls Fredrerick. “The children would arrive at 4 pm and sports would start. The entire programme was initially administered by Aurovilians with no formal training in physical education.”
It was largely due to the help of the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER) that was set-up in 1986 that sports was able to further develop. “Sports received due recognition,” says Frederick who was appointed Director of Sports. “Besides the organized activities with their four categories of athletics, gymnastics, games and aquatics, other projects developed such as cycle tours, summer camps, and trekking, done during the holidays.” Kerala, Point Calimere, Nilgiris, and even the Himalayas became popular destinations. Athletics and games further developed after tennis coach Yves arrived from Canada in the early nineties, and he became the driving force behind the Dehashakti Sports Grounds near Dana in the Cultural Zone. Meanwhile, André had created a sports ground in New Creation, originally envisaged for the children of New Creation school, but later used by anyone interested. The gymnasium built by Savitri expanded the New Creation facilities with body-building equipment and a hall for dance and martial arts, and its swimming pool awaits funds for completion. Other Aurovilians also created dedicated spaces such as the hatha yoga hall in Pitanga, the Tai Chi hall in Sharnga, the open-air kung-fu theatre in Vikas, the climbing wall in La Ferme, the riding schools in Kottakarai and Brihaspati and a host of courts all over the community. A skating rink and skate-board park are coming up in Dana.
Today there is a wide range of body-related activities happening in many corners of the community. Aurovilians have a choice of many activities – body awareness; hatha yoga in its many derivatives; Pilates; Tai Chi; Qi Gong; dance in its many forms such as Western ballet, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, jazz Alvin Ailey style, free form dance with the five elements and salsa; martial arts like Aikido, Kung fu, and Kalaripayattu; pony and horse riding; aerobics; cycling; roller-blading; gyro riding; skate-boarding; wall-climbing; jogging; trekking; water sports (including swimming classes for babies); surf-boarding; and wind-surfing. There are no excuses for any Aurovilian to not be on the sportive trail of body consciousness.