Before dawn on 28th February, over 4,000 people thronging the amphitheatre gazed at the traditional bonfire and listened to a recording of Mother reading the Charter during the inauguration of Auroville, forty years ago.
As dawn broke, young and older Aurovilians dressed in white processed past the urn and then deposited sand from all over the world in a dish, recalling the mixing of the nations' soils in the urn on February 28th, 1968.
The 2008 birthday was given over to a symposium on the theme of Auroville and the ideal of human unity. Dr. Karan Singh was unable to attend, but Mr. M'Bow, former Director-General of UNESCO, International Advisory Council members, representatives of Auroville International as well as Aurovilians gave their interpretations of human unity and how far they felt Auroville had progressed along the way. In the evening there was a dance performance in the beautifully renovated Sri Aurobindo Auditorium of Savitri, Flame of the Future, by the renowned dancer and Governing Board member, Mallika Sarabhai, and her troupe. The day ended with an all-Auroville dinner at the Solar Kitchen.
The 28th programme was the centrepiece of events which stretched over two weeks in late February and early March. They included a three-day exploration entitled “The New Dynamism of the material and the spiritual; an all-Auroville sports day featuring the very first Auroville marathon; numerous exhibitions, including one on the theme of The Mother and Auroville; music and dance events; and a concluding seminar in the India International Centre in Delhi where the speakers were Dr. Karan Singh, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, Kireet Joshi and Michael Murphy. One of India 's national newspapers even brought out a four page supplement on Auroville, including special messages of congratulation from the President and Prime Minister. And, in the midst of all this, a striking statue of Sri Aurobindo was erected in front of Savitri Bhavan.
Exhausting? Yes. Inspiring? At times, yes. Totally appropriate? This is less clear. For while the early morning bonfire worked its magic and Mallika's interpretation of the Savitri legend proved a fitting finale to the birthday, some felt that dedicating the entire day to talks on human unity somehow missed the point.
For human unity cannot be grasped by the mind. It's a moving target, a work in progress where illuminations can spontaneously happen but where the smallest advance often needs to be wrested from the sweat, tears, insecurities and forgetfulness of our daily lives. Let us hope that by our 50th birthday human unity will be so obviously manifest in Auroville that we'll no longer need to talk about it….