One of the ritual highlights of Auroville's rather sparse cultural fare in the eighties was the annual showing of a film, usually Kurosawa's The Seventh Samurai at Bharat Nivas, and, if we were very lucky, the performance of a Marguerite Duras play as well. There was also a small café that lasted about a year. It opened on video nights upstairs at the Bharat Nivas auditorium. Already tuned into the pulse and mood of the community, the second issue of AVToday [December 1988] featured a roundtable discussion entitled: Is Auroville a cultural desert?
Fast forward to the Kosmos Festival held at the SAWCHU building during the first three weeks of March and culminating on Earth Day 2004. The well-attended Festival featured daily showings of a variety of outstanding contemporary films and documentaries from different countries and cultures, all concerned with the theme and issues of human unity and the expression of cultural diversity. There was a documentary on Noam Chomsky, as well as a documentary presented by its director on 9/11 and fifty years of American foreign policy. Films from Iran , New Zealand , Japan , Brazil , and the Inuit North, were combined with discussions on themes such as globalization and sustainability. There was a well-received poetry and prose reading by Aurovilians of the Beat writers with live musical accompaniment, as well as an evening dedicated to the poetry of Rumi. All this in a friendly, relaxed, and, come evening, candle-lit atmosphere. Compared to the Spartan fare of yore, the Kosmos Festival was, for the Aurovilians who attended it, the cultural equivalent of a ten course Roman banquet.
Starting with an event hosted on Earth Day three years ago, several one day Kosmos Festival events at the Visitors Centre have been organized by Wim over the last two years. Films shown have included Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi and Genghis Blues, a fascinating documentary on the visit to the town of Tuva in Mongolia of a blind American bluesman of Mongolian ancestry who is a master in the art of throat singing.
Auroville Today spoke to Wim, the organizer of the festival, about the need in the community that he has been seeking to fill over the last three years.
“Kosmos is a Greek term, first introduced by the Pythagorean philosophers, whose meaning was clearly defined as encompassing not only the physical universe (cosmos) but the living universe – the biosphere – and the noosphere that is the universe of the mind and anything else above. It comes the closest to a definition of the different planes of existence. I really liked that term and wanted to use it in order to imply that we are talking about the manifestation of existence not only on the physical level but on other levels of being as well. My idea was that the festival be an exploration of unity in diversity in a place where we can find a connection with each other on these different levels and which resonates with the aspect of unity, but where there is also a space for diversity. How are we today, living in a so-called global culture, able to find a common ground and how to find within that common ground a diversity of expression?
“I chose films coming from different cultures and countries – Europe , Brazil , Iran , that shared a theme that involves a journey of transformation precipitated by either a traumatic experience or an overt experience of rejection, or of not belonging, and then a resolution culminating in a transformation of consciousness that leads to an understanding of one's identity in life. For instance in the New Zealand film The Whale Rider, a generation of elders amongst the Maori people is seeking a new leader to carry on their traditions. They come into confrontation with a girl who knows from the beginning that she is meant to be the new leader but is not able to do that within the tribe's traditional framework. Her acceptance represents in a sense the force of evolution pushing against the force of tradition that represses or disempowers people.
“The debates and discussions on such topics as the effects of globalization on Auroville at the conversation café were less well attended at first than the films – many Aurovilians are busy between 5-7p.m. – but I liked it when people would arrive before the evening program and discuss what they had seen the previous day. Aurovilians are starved for cultural interaction and I feel people are happy to have a place where they can come and have a conversation that has some meaning in it. People can become isolated in so many ways here, and that's where the emphasis on the café lies, the food being offered is not only physical, but mental and spiritual as well. It's a very different experience watching a movie at home on your computer and watching it together with other people in a common collective space.
“Also we need to cultivate a space where people can meet and discuss topics other than those on the agendas of our meetings. I feel discussions in Auroville tend to the dogmatic and would like to contribute to an environment where free-thinking is encouraged. When we de-contextualize an idea or statement and then deify it, that's dogmatism. And that's quite common here. How can we keep the free flow of ideas alive in resonance with the inspirational ideas of Sri Aurobindo? For instance, the theme of one of the conversation cafés in the afternoon attended by some thirty Aurovilians and guests concerned the relationship of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teachings to other experiences, teachings and traditions in the world, as well as the alue of the material programmed at the festival in terms of the integral yoga. Do they reflect and reinforce each other? One of the core intentions of the Festival was screening material that obliges people to rethink and reevaluate their own paths. One Giant Leap, a film which was shown on the final weekend of the festival, is a beautiful example of how one can be inspired by what is going on in the world in the realm of ideas and music and which is in resonance with what we are attempting here. It is becoming a more and more universal theme in the artistic and intellectual avant-garde of global culture. What I am showing is an example of what Sri Aurobindo predicted would occur.”
The Kosmos Festival closed with an afternoon of live music and open-mike poetry performances on Earth Day March 21st, followed by the film Winged Migrations, a breathtaking documentary of bird migrations through forty countries. It invited the viewer to open his/her eyes to the wonders of the world and the miracle of existence. Because, for Wim, the ultimate aspiration for organizing the Kosmos Festival is to offer a context for Aurovilians and guests to celebrate the beauty, mystery and miracle of the world. Feedback to the festival has been overwhelmingly positive and many would like it to become a permanent feature with its own space. The challenge is, where and how? Wim feels that we would need a population of four thousand for it to be sustainable on a permanent basis, but hopes to continue hosting such events three to four times a year.