Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.
Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.
Land of Forests
India was a land of forests. Forests where heroes and bandits hid and lived in exile, forests that they journeyed through perilously, forests where sages lived and gathered their disciples around them. Today these forests, once the wealth of a mighty land, are all but gone. From the foothills of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin less than 11% of India's land mass bears any form of tree cover. And despite a growing awareness of an ecological catastrophe in the making (20% of India's forest cover has disappeared since 1960), the destruction continues.
History of the Area
Around two hundred years ago, also the Auroville plateau and its surrounding area was covered in forest. A stone was discovered in Kilianur dating from 1750 that described the local king hunting for elephants and tigers in the nearby forest. In 1825, trees were felled in the Jipmer area between Auroville and Pondy, to drive away the tigers.
Slowly the forests were cut down to build cities like Pondicherry and towns like Kalapet. Timber was used for export, and the British accelerated the process by allocating plots of land to anyone who would clear it and cultivate it for a year. Much of it was then left fallow and under the violent onslaught of the monsoon, erosion inevitably began.
The last remaining plots of forest in the Auroville area - 2,000 mature neem trees - were cut down in the mid-fifties for timber to make boats. In less than 200 years, what once had been forest had turned into an expanse of baked red earth scarred with gullies and ravines which had been carved out by the monsoon floods. Each year tons of the remaining topsoil were swept into the nearby Bay of Bengal.
Auroville's Early Trials and Errors
The first needs that confronted Auroville's earliest settlers were for shade and water. However, it soon became clear that if the young seedlings were to survive, other measures had to be taken. They needed to be protected, for example, against marauding goats and cows, and some way had to be found to catch and control the monsoon rains so that they would not sweep away precious topsoil but would percolate into the water table. So 'bunds' (raised earth-banks to stop water flowing off the land)were born. In these early years it was a process of trial and error, and many mistakes were made. For example, a massive dam erected near Forecomers broke in a heavy rain, because the water flow into the canyon was not controlled. Ten years later, in 1978, a freak rain of 30cms in 12 hours broke bunds and washed away numerous young trees. The lesson learned that time was that bunding had to be systematic and comprehensive, beginning on the top of the watershed and following the topography of the land. A large scale bunding system was eventually implemented starting from the tops of the watersheds and including not only Auroville owned plots but privately owned plots as well. This meant working alongside and with our neighboring land owners, and many strong relationships were formed thanks to this organized effort.
The First Trees Are Planted
The first Aurovilians started planting trees as soon as they settled on the land, in the early 1970's. The first tree nurseries were started in Success and Kottakarai, and with the help of grants from the Point Foundation, the Tamil Fund and friends abroad, large-scale tree planting began. In the next ten years, as part of a massive soil and water conservation programme, over a million trees - timbers, ornamentals, fencing, fruit and fodder trees, nut trees etc.- were planted here. Some were exotic, like for instance the Australian 'Work Tree' (Mother's name for Acacia auriculiformis) which improved the quality of the soil, and provided the perfect pioneer canopy under which more advanced forest species could thrive. As the trees grew, and micro-climates formed, many species of bird-life and animals returned, further accelerating the dissemination of seeds and enriching the environment.
The Pieces of the Puzzle Come Together
In the 1990's, teams of foresters and botanists surveyed the entire region around Auroville which receives similar rainfall patterns. They brought back seeds from Sacred Temple groves, where some of the last old growth trees of the original forests managed to survive. Auroville's nurseries began growing hundreds of different native species. Now the time was right to introduce these species underneath the pioneer canopy which had been established over the first 20 years. Today, we are still engaged in finding and reintroducing evergreen species- the climax stage of the succession of the vegetation in the forest- from the surrounding hillocks of Tamil Nadu. One such species is Drypetes porteri, which has exceptionally been researched and classified by the IUCN. It is endangered. There is an enormous amount of research that needs to be undertaken concerning the species which make up our forests. For example, researching and classifying the vulnerability of our species with the IUCN.
Engaging in Projects Throughout India
Aurovilian greenworkers have been increasingly going out into India to share their experience and help initiate new afforestation schemes. These have included projects with Tibetan refugees in Karnataka; with Ramco Cements restoring old cement quarries; with Chennai City restoring and creating the Adyar Poonga restoration park; with Irula tribesmen near Chinglepet in Tamil Nadu; and with the National Wastelands Commission in the Palani Hills to reafforest large areas near Dindigul and Kodaikanal.
The Future of Aurovilles Forests
Aurovilles physical land planning is based on the Galaxy model made by architect Roger Anger and approved by Mirra Alfassa (the Mother), founder of Auroville. The galaxy model needs to be dynamic and flexible so that Auroville can adapt and mitigate the threats of climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, pollution, waste, etc. The Forest Group is dedicated to preserving and enhancing all the existing forests of Auroville. A major part of Aurovilles afforested area is situated in a theoretical green belt around the future city area. (We only own around 30 percent of the land in the greenbelt and there are expanding villages, land speculation, and important roads all within the greenbelt). The original idea was to form a buffer zone to protect Auroville from intrusion by the rapidly expanding suburbs of Pondicherry. Realistically, we will not be able to purchase and reforest much more land in the 'green belt', so one option we could explore is to begin looking beyond the limitations we have set for ourselves, and begin purchasing land outside of the 'greenbelt'. For this we need a shift in our governance approach, and we need to continue with our fundraising campaigns.