“Greetings from Auroville to all people of good will. Are invited to Auroville all those who thirst for progress and aspire to a higher and truer life.” The Mother's invitation issued on February 28, 1968, was on the UNESCO invitation to celebrate Auroville's 40 years of collaboration with UNESCO.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan lighting the lamp as UNESCO's Director General
Koïchiro Matsuura looks on
Paris , October 10th. Conference Room I of UNESCO House on Rue Suffren was filled almost to its 1400 seat capacity. Ambassadors, permanent delegates and their staff, UNESCO staff, friends of Auroville, the international press, members of Auroville International and a handful of Aurovilians had answered the invitation to attend a Round Table on the theme of Auroville, An Emerging World: Its Future Horizons.
Round Table in progress. Speakers at the round table: (Clockwise from above left): Koïchiro Matsuura, Kapila Vatsyayan, H.E. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaï, Françoise Rivière, and Aurovilians Aster Patel, Hemant, Uma, and Jean-Yves
This was issued jointly by UNESCO's Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and Ms. Bhaswati Mukherjee, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of India to UNESCO. The top three officials of UNESCO attended the meeting, two of them spoke. A Round Table, chaired by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, India 's Representative to UNESCO's Executive Board, was followed by a cultural performance by Nadaka's group.
Working Committee member Carel presenting the Auroville plaque to Mr.Matsuura as Aster looks on
The Director-General gave the opening speech. “Over the last four decades, UNESCO has enjoyed a special relationship with this unique international township in South India .” He recalled that, since Auroville's foundation ceremony, UNESCO has regularly reiterated its support for Auroville, as it embodies many of the principles underlying UNESCO's worldwide action “to promote cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and lifelong learning as the basis for peaceful, sustainable societies.” Since then, he said, Auroville has come “to stand out as an unparalleled human experiment in transforming these ideals into reality.”
Mr Matsuura went on to state that “Auroville's ability to survive and evolve over four decades bears witness to the strength of the founding principles and the resolve and perseverance of its citizens. In today's globalized world fraught with regional conflicts and economic instability, it is especially reassuring to witness such enduring models of solidarity and humanism.” The Director-General concluded by expressing his hope that the lessons learned in Auroville will inspire similar experiments in sustainable living in other parts of the world. “I look forward to continued collaboration between UNESCO and Aurovilians. May the alliance continue to thrive for many decades to come.”
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan then read out a message from Dr. Karan Singh, the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation. Expressing his regrets that it was not possible for him to attend the celebration due to his obligatory attendance at the Vijaya Dashami festival on October 9th in Kashmir , he conveyed his gratitude to UNESCO for its continuing support to the concept of Auroville. “In a world still torn by violence and disharmony, Auroville seeks to present an alternative paradigm based upon a creative pluralism and a collective commitment to certain higher values,” wrote Dr. Karan Singh, and he expressed his confidence that Auroville would continue to flourish in the decades ahead.
The next speaker, H.E. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaï, Chairman of UNESCO's Executive Board, wished “to see more copies of Auroville across the world and see more people think and act like the people of Auroville,” and ensured the continuing support of UNESCO to Auroville.
The third speaker was Mrs. Françoise Rivière, the Additional-Director General for Culture of UNESCO. Mrs. Rivière described Auroville as “a utopia in action in the real world, but also as a venue for experiments.” She had visited Auroville 20 years ago, and gave an enthusiastic résumé of Auroville's achievements. “I remember being struck by the real humaneness of the people and this is something that I came into contact with once again when I started preparing this symposium.” Explaining why UNESCO and Auroville were related, she said “Auroville embodies the principles that UNESCO has tried to promote for decades.”
The next four speakers all came from Auroville.
Aster Patel spoke on the theme of the Round Table, “A new world is emerging and slowly begins to become visible, and old concepts such as money power, the notion of success, hierarchy, and education are beginning to be challenged. Also a new sense of spirituality is coming to the front which has its basis in matter and goes beyond religion.
“Auroville has generated a morphogenetic field of this form of experimentation, and UNESCO has lent it its powerful support.”
Uma from the Upasana Design studio and Hemant from AuroRe touched similar though more practical issues, namely how the research experiments of Auroville have benefited India.
Uma gave examples of Auroville's outreach schools in the surrounding villages, the work of Auroville in the tsunami-affected areas and the birth and spread of the little doll tsunamika and the subsequent development of the gift economy. She also recounted the work of Upasana for the weavers in Varanasi ; and Upasana's slow battle against plastic pollution through the Small Steps bag project.
“Auroville wants to be a role model for humanity. But for me the future is now. There is a lot happening which we can share with people. This is something which makes me proud to be Aurovilian,” concluded Uma.
Similarly Hemant described Auroville as a living laboratory. He highlighted how experiments tried and perfected in Auroville have resulted in outreach initiatives throughout India and abroad. “The experience of Auroville is now available for sharing to the world.” He mentioned in particular Auroville's environmental expertise, now used in projects such as the cleaning of the Adyar river in Chennai; the work on solar energy applied in pumping water in the state of Gujarat, and for solar lighting in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, where an elderly lady thanked the team with the memorable words “for you it is normal, but for us this is like giving light to the blind.” Thanking UNESCO for celebrating its collaboration with Auroville, he expressed the hope that in the years to come this collaboration will become stronger. “We would like to share with you what we have done. We would also like to learn from you what is being done elsewhere in the world, for you are the repository of the world's experience.”
Jean-Yves, addressed the topic of education in Auroville. He spoke about the concept of integral education – physical, vital, mental and spiritual education – and how to bring all these together under the control of “the sovereign entity” within the human being. “Our results are actually pretty good, when our children leave Auroville they fit into society. But we never pursue these experiments to the full, for we always have a tiny doubt about the teaching, organisation or whatever. Do we believe enough in our own dreams?” he wondered.
The presentations over, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan gave time for a lively question and answer session. The audience asked about Auroville's systems of education, organisation, method of decision making, financing, joining Auroville and whether one has to obey The Mother's ideals and teachings. The questions were answered by the Aurovilians, and also by Mrs. Rivière who joined in ‘as a true Aurovilian'.
After the Round Table, the multimedia presentation “Auroville and the Ideal of Human Unity” was shown in the auditorium. Then Ambassador Mukherjee introduced Nadaka's ensemble which gave a performance of contemporary Indian and World Music on the theme ‘A Sense of the Infinite', made possible in part by funding from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Like the Round Table, the performance was a resounding success and the musicians received a standing ovation.
UNESCO concert by Nadaka
All photos by Giorgio