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Article The changing value of money

Auroville: A universal township, which encourages a cashless economy

Quaint, narrow roads, quiet, peaceful and a beautiful green city-in-the-making that looks more like a big town could be the first impression one gets of Auroville. Founded by The Mother, who was the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, a famous yogi and a poet, the foundation for Auroville was laid down on the 28th of Feb in 1968.

Mirra Alfassa, born in France, was named The Mother after she took over the charge of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The image of this universal city was an endeavoring towards the realization of human unity. As per the vision of its founders:

“Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.”

It is a place where universal brotherhood, unity and spirit of collaboration are encouraged. Here nature and the environment are respected. Alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged here. These are the Mother’s own words about her dream for Auroville and her words on herself.

The Panorama of Auroville

Lush tall trees, moss-green grass, very low pollution levels, red soil, dirt roads, Auroville units, small shops along roads, pathways leading into simple cottages and simple but elegant villas, houses, local temples, buildings, gardens, more than a hundred settlements and settlements named like the Certitude, Gratitude, Creativity, Grace and others. Locations and buildings like the Bharat Nivas, which is the Pavilion of India; the Pavilion for Tibetan Culture; the Visitor’s Centre and many beautiful guest houses and many other such places, make for a unique coming together of differences.

Reforestation has also taken place here on a large scale; what was once barren land is now an abundant belt of greenery and foliage everywhere your eyes go. Auroville Green Practices include work on the Sadhana Forest, and are worth discovering and volunteering for. The guiding light of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo in the lives of Aurovilians, is the crux of the city-to-be. Animals and birds abound aplenty and nature here is not tampered with. There are no malls here, no high-rise apartments, no sight of McDonalds or Pizza Hut. There are no large and colourful cinema theatres or clubs, either.

Aurovilians

Aurovilians are about 2300+ in number and are from almost about 50 nationalities. Indians, French, Germans, Italians, U.S. Americans, Russians, Dutch and individuals from other nationalities live as a collective community here. Look at the results on Auroville Population for close to the exact figures. Although this township was originally meant for 50,000 residents, there still is a shortage of residences in Auroville. It is envisaged that in the next thirty years, Aurovilians would complete the 50,000 mark; however, at present the idea is not to gain numbers, but to further the vision of The Mother.

History of Auroville

Sri Aurobindo was a famous yogi and a revolutionary seer under whose guidance The Mother also grew as a spiritual powerhouse. Born to an Egyptian mother and a Turkish father, since childhood, she had considered herself a citizen of the world. She wrote the charter for Auroville. The construction of the Matrimandir, a place for concentration, like a mother temple, considered to be the soul of Auroville, started in 1974.

The development of Auroville has taken place over the years since 1968. A few initial arrangements gave rise to more settlements as time passed. Inexpensive thatched huts gave way to row houses and to villa-style cottages and even apartments. Services and businesses developed, and Auroville authorities and Aurovilians tried to develop work, which would help the surrounding villages, too. The bioregion is also a part of this uniting.

Auroville is divided into zones: the Industrial zone consists of a variety of projects, the cultural zone that house pavilions of different nations, a residential zone and the International zone, which consists of current buildings and future development projects, and the Greenbelt, which is residence to those who are into farming, reforestation and are taking care of farm land—each with its specific purpose as per the Galaxy plan, which is the master plan, based upon which, the township has been developed.

Philosophy and Ideologies of Auroville

The charter of Auroville guides Auroville. The city-in-progress that lives now, tries to keep alive many of the teachings.

All is collective property here.

Land and Immovable property do not belong to anyone, but are the joint property of Auroville. Cars, bikes and other belongings are still counted as personal belongings.

There are a lot of meditation, language(s) and varied other classes held within Auroville premises. The relationship between Auroville and its neighbouring locations is interdependent. Auroville is a place where individuals from different nationalities live as one community, and aim at working towards serving the collective group they live in by providing means of livelihood to thousands of people from neighboring villages, including giving them free education and health services. Every Aurovilian must be engaged in any industrial unit, business or project to serve the community, as per guidelines. They must also give five hours of their daily time to the community.

The Process of becoming an Aurovilian

This new-form-of-city has newcomers, i.e., those wanting to settle down here, and those, who are old dwellers here. The process of becoming an Aurovilian is methodical. The Entry Service in Auroville has a significant role to perform for this. From the stage of being a guest, for a three month period, one moves into the newcomer stage for a period of a year or more, and then further upon approval from organizing bodies like the Residents Assembly, and recommendation from other Aurovilians, the person is accepted as an Aurovilian.

Newcomers must ideally have about US$50,000 on their own (for a couple), covering a period of three years, to sustain themselves in Auroville, and have to engage in some full-time activity to be called a resident. This amount will also be used to build themselves a place-to-stay in Auroville due to the shortage of residences. Recommended maximum cost according to the Housing Policy for a house in Auroville is Rs. 12 Lakhs, excluding furnishing, fittings and infrastructure. This amount will also be used for purchasing a two-wheeler, for basic necessities and for any community expenses. Applications from dedicated people with smaller financial resources are also considered.

Individual Aurovilians and Newcomers have to pay approximately $48-$50 per month as a monthly contribution to the Auroville fund. Even visitors to Auroville are asked to contribute a small amount to the fund per day, during their stay. This is included as part of the guest accommodation payment if it is a registered guest house. Some people stay in Auroville for months or for 2-3 years and leave. Some, never leave. Any Aurovilian whose name is removed from the Master List is considered to have left Auroville permanently.

Housing in Auroville

Constructions in Auroville like buildings, houses and apartments, whether being used as homes, or otherwise, belong to the foundation and not to the individual(s) occupying them. They are only deemed caretakers or stewards of the units they live in. Housing projects continue to grow in Auroville to accommodate newcomers and increasing residents of the township. Building one’s own house is also possible in Auroville.

Non-Monetary Transactions

There are several parameters followed in this collaborative environment. As per the ideologies laid down by The Mother there has been a stress upon the non-regulation of money and encouragement of a cashless economy. The premise behind encouraging this cashless existence in Auroville is based upon The Mother’s teachings, according to which she had envisaged that within Auroville, money would not be used, and only when it came to interaction with the outside world, money would be used. However, this has not been achieved and money still circulates here. This attempt at avoiding the exchange of money has not really been that successful. Although there are some external banks here and regular ATMs here like those of Citibank, ICICI and SBI, they are not really part of the Aurovilian collective structure. Aurovilians can have accounts in such banks.

The Auroville Foundation

After the Mother passed away, there were conflicts between many Aurovilians and the Sri Aurobindo Society, so the Government of India had to intervene, and developed several legal associations. The legal government authorities in Auroville, consists of the following: The Governing Board, The International Advisory Council, Residents Assembly. Another legal body is the Funds and Assets Management Committee.

The internal structure consists of several of the following working groups: the Auroville Council, Auroville Village Action Group, The Budget Coordination Committee, L’Avenir d’ Auroville, the Housing Service, the Entry Service, the Green Group, The Forest and Farm groups, Auroville Village Action Trust, PT Purchasing Service, Pour Tous Distribution Centre, Connections, and Small Employees Welfare Associations.

Take a look at the Master plan for more details. Every organization has different functions to perform, some of which would include settling any conflicts that arise in the city. For example, any occupation-of-housing related conflicts are settled mainly by the Housing Service.

Central Fund and Contributions

Auroville has monetary needs that are fulfilled by a Central Fund. This central fund accepts contributions from those who can contribute, in pecuniary terms. They could be patrons or associations. Statements of support have come from various important organizations and personalities.

The Central Fund is also supported by accumulated interests from the Auroville Maintenance Fund or The Financial Service. Commercial unit contributions, Service Units and Guest House Contributions, Monthly Fee Contributions, Donations from other sources, all support the Central Fund. Even visitors to the community can contribute to the central fund or to Aurovilians carrying out developmental work, but it is not mandatory. Anyone can participate in the development of Auroville. The funds are used for the development and well-being of the inhabitants and for other activities essential to the system that the City of Dawn, Auroville, operates within.

System of Salary or Maintenance

There is the concept of support from the Central Fund, which is in the range of Rs 8,000 to Rs 15,000 that every Aurovilian gets every month (credited to their account with the Financial Service), provided they are working or have set up some commercial unit or service rendering business. However, it is not enough. As said one Aurovilian to me, “It is too small an amount to live our lives comfortably in, so we have to work within and from Auroville, to earn more.” The personal wealth of Aurovilians also varies due to where they originally come from, and the kind of projects they handle.

However, the maintenance Aurovilians receive is structured - like there is maintenance for Aurovilians who work in its commercial and self-supporting units, and those who are part of centrally supported services that are approved. Then there is payment of maintenance directly by the commercial and self-supporting units to people working within the units, without taking the help of the central fund. A closer look at these economy and maintenance groups in Auroville would shed more light on the inner workings within Auroville.

The Non-Cash Exchanges

Account system

Aligning themselves with the non-use of cash while carrying out necessary, daily transactions like those on food, clothing, other items of use and even services, a system of accounts is being supported by the Financial Service also known as the Auroville Maintenance Fund—this is only for Aurovilians. This organization acts as a bank for Aurovilians. Each account contains money against the names of the particular resident. Whenever they have to pay at specific restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and several other Auroville units, they mention their account number in a register, their name, the amount to be paid and put their signatures, too. At the end of each month, the dues are cleared by the Financial Service Centre.

Food and Clothes

One of the unique features of the town is the Solar Kitchen or the Soliare Cuisine Pour Tous, which is the Auroville community kitchen. The Mother encouraged all the food being made in one area and eating together as a group. The food from the Solar Kitchen serves about 400 lunches every day and remaining food also go to schools and other eateries. To eat here, use a guest card or an aurocard or buy meal coupons from the Guest Service. You also cannot pay in cash at La Terrace, Le Morgan, or the Pour Tous Snack Bar. A few communities like Vikas Verite, Aspiration, Creativity, also have their own community kitchens. You may not get any food in the guesthouses or lodgings, so be prepared to eat outside, like at the Italian Tanto Restaurant or the Frites Snacks Corner.

A lot of other items being produced in Auroville like organic food, natural products and other such Auroville produced items, are also available and sold at certain prices.

People buy clothes here either from Pondicherry nearby or from within the Visitors’ Centre, which has three boutiques—they take money and also account numbers. One can also check out Clothing available online. There is a Freestore, here, too. Nandini, a unit, also provides in this segment. You also cannot pay in cash at Pour Tous or the Auroville Library. The Pour Tous distribution Centre is an important feature of Auroville.

Aurocards

These Guest Cards are available by opening a Guest account with the Financial Services Center for those who are likely to remain in Auroville for a week and above. So, Aurocards can be used in outlets where cash is not accepted. You can top up these cards with cash at the Financial Service Centre.

Cash Transactions

For lodging, goods, purchasing other basic necessities, including transport to, from and within Auroville as well, visitors have to pay in cash. Most outlets in Auroville, like bookstores in the Visitor’s Centre, the Freeland bookstore, accept money, account numbers and Aurocards. Expenses here on many items are just as much as in other small and big cities of India. There are a lot of local shops here, too, which are not ‘Auroville units’ associated with the Auroville foundation. You can pay in cash at these outlets. For lodging, you can pay in cash at most guest houses.

If an Aurovilian was travelling out of Auroville, they would need handy cash. They ride bikes or scooters around town - to maintain all this, they need money. To purchase electrical items, air conditioners or coolers, refrigerators, and other necessities, which may not be available with the local manufacturers in Auroville, they need to purchase it from outside.

Have they been successful?

Their non-monetary beliefs do make things less money oriented, at least on the surface. Aurovilians have a simpler lifestyle compared to other cities of India. Nonetheless, as is the case with most cities, one does need money to survive here, even for the basic lifestyles they follow.

Instances of Aurovilians not worrying over money issues are also there. Some would even give you a guest room to stay in before they charge you for it or won’t ask you for your credit card to ensure you do not leave without paying them. They don’t even check your room as you go, to see if you broke anything during your stay. However, there are also cases, where some Aurovilians are bothered about money.

Education and health care, culture and sports activities are all free here. On the whole though, Auroville’s internal cash-resistant orientation does not really have a strong grip on its residents.

Thoughts from an Aurovilian on life in Auroville and the importance of money

“It is not what we are doing which should be important, but the way it is done. And the way it should be done, if possible, is only if there is a change of consciousness. This can come from an aspiration to achieve a higher force of knowledge, which is working to bring harmony into life. The ‘mental’ should be quiet if we want to receive any higher inspiration to produce changes.

What we have done in Auroville are many activities to open ways to our villages around Auroville to feel that Auroville is open for them too if they want it. For that, we have developed many activities, to bring people together or teach them handicraft to be developed in their communities itself; then we have schools, playgrounds, pre-creche and boarding for children in difficulties.

The ideal in dealing with money is that it is quite linked with the change of consciousness and the removing of our own ego. Right now what is implemented in Auroville, looks to be a covering of the importance of money, but in mind and in practice the importance of money is there. As money gradually became an important matter, loans, if needed, in Auroville are now difficult to apply to, with a lot of conditions. We should have the capacity to judge if the demand is for the ideal or for a different purpose.

Unless we are fully dedicated to the aim of Auroville and place emphasis on our inner development, money will get more importance. Nevertheless, if we have money, it should be dedicated to the Ideal, which is a collective life far from egoism.

The fundamental of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings is, “all life is Yoga”; spiritual development should be brought into life in order to change it into a beautiful reality of beauty, joy, real love and peace.”

Andre T., New Creation Auroville, Aurovilian since 1973 (Originally from South of France)

Thoughts of other Aurovilians and Visitors

I have stayed here all my life. I am French and I married an American. I have been to America and to France, but Auroville is my home. When I was in America, I missed this place more than anywhere else, and I knew I had to come back. “ —Aurovilian

I am originally from France and have lived here for seven years. The process of becoming an Aurovilian is a long one. If you build a house here as an Aurovilian, it is not yours, but you can live there and take care of it. If you leave before the newcomer period is over, you can get your cash for building the house back, not later. You are the steward of the house, and if you leave the house for a while, you can give the house to someone else to take care of.” —Aurovilian

I am from Germany and am working as a volunteer here. Auroville is a mixture of people from so many communities. Italians, Germans, French, people from so many other nations, people from Pondicherry, the Tamilians, the North Indians, visitors and villagers. It is fascinating to see so many different people, all in one place. ” —Volunteer

“An out of work Aurovilian will get their stipulated maintenance only for a period of three months, not beyond. They must earn their livelihood.” —Aurovilian

Auroville could improve upon

Exchange Matters

The power of money has percolated here, as well, and I feel it has been this way, for a long time now. The significance of money exists. The accounting system is just to avoid ‘cash’ from being right in one’s face, but money matters to Auroville - perhaps, the levels vary. However, no one can truly survive without cash. If Aurovilians truly want to pursue an internal and integral system of a cashless economy, then their rules of exchange will need to be more exacting.

Safety

Even though Auroville is such a different set-up, yet there are safety issues here, too. There is an Auroville Women’s Safety Task Force, because, like all cities of India, it is not safe for women to roam about here, after dark. Auroville is visited by people from neighbouring localities, other parts of India and from all over the world.

Differences

There is a slight evident disparity in wealth here. I did see some Aurovilians, originally from other nations, other than India, who have slightly better lifestyles than their Indian counterparts. Although the reverse may also be true. I have heard of occurrences of racism and prejudices within communities here, but to be honest, did not experience any for myself. A few stray cases could certainly be there since there are a large number of villagers and other locals who come and work here and do not have the kind of resources some Aurovilians may have. If such inequalities exist, they should be monitored and checked. There could also be conflicting opinions on stark disparity between the wealth of Aurovilians, but the exactness of the situation needs to be explored and understood from their point of view, too, to arrive at any personal conclusion.

Conclusion

Auroville is The Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s belief that consciousness works through the material in the world. The reasons for not supporting the internal exchange of cash within the township, was to make sure that Aurovilians concentrated on the yoga of work and on their inner development.

And saw money as a collective possession.

They have tried to do it, by keeping money out of some of their main internal systems. However, money is an importance they cannot avoid. Funds are still needed, to carry out distinct features laid down as guiding principles and establish structures within the Auroville project.

The lessons to learn from the collaborative and cash-resistant ideology of Auroville, in the present economic context of changing-forms-and-value-of-money, is that such a cashless model could work in other cities, with or without modern technological advancements in place, only if the related rules and regulations were stricter, and there was an uniformity within majority cities for such a system to work and natural belief for, and acceptance within people everywhere, of alternative currencies or systems of payments. It would not work, unless its reach was more widespread.

Author Website: www.trishabhattacharya.com

Picture Credit: Photo of Matrimandir in Auroville, by Trisha Bhattacharya

Further Reading and Reference

1. Economics for People and Earth, The Auroville Case (1968-2008), by Henk Thomas and Manuel Thomas. This book is important to know the details of the Auroville economic structure.

2. Footsteps through the Salad by Tim Frey, Wildlife profiles and natural phenomena of Auroville. This is an interesting book compiled in an easy to read manner.

3. Please go through their main website, before you head to Auroville.

4. If you wish to subscribe to Auroville Today, please contact them here. Also check out Auroville Radio.

5. More to read at: Auroville in a nutshell.

6. Alternative Energy Systems: Using Solar Energy.

7. Link for students, researchers and professional who wish to volunteer and experience Auroville.

8. Practicing architects in Auroville.

9. Unity Pavilion Newsletter.

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