How important is society and conforming to its norms? Can there exist a community based on different values and goals? Alternative communes give you something to think about
Masterpiece: The Temples of Humankind at Damanhur Right from Biblical times, and even before that, the concept of paradise has intrigued our minds. Utopia, Shangri-La and paradise have engaged scholars, explorers, theologians and literary figures alike. Utopia, coined by Thomas Moore in the 16th century, signifies a perfect society living in complete harmony with itself and its surroundings. Ironically, the word means having no known location, an impossible ideal that can only be dreamt of.
Disillusioned by the shallowness of their everyday lives, or in search for the deeper truths, many have attempted to form communes, which break away from conventional life, and allow an individual to live on their own terms. These communes, also called intentional communities, consist of people living together sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, work and income. A world away from the free love, aimless and haphazard hippie communities that we might associate with the term, these communes are well planned, peaceful and with a strong sense of purpose.
Different communes align themselves in different directions. Some are religious communes, such as monasteries, or ashrams, some are spiritual communes, some are ecological communes or ecovillages, while some are just a breakaway from the fast-paced lifestyle. The members are united by shared ecological, social-economic, and cultural-spiritual values.
Ecovillages are intentional communities, with the goal of becoming more sustainable, socially, economically, and ecologically. Generally, of a small size of up to a hundred members, larger communities may exist as networks of smaller ones. An ecovillage is often composed of people who have chosen an alternative to centralised electrical, water, and sewage systems. Many see the breakdown of traditional forms of community, wasteful lifestyles, destruction of natural habitat, large scale farming, and over-reliance on fossil fuels, as trends that must be changed to avert ecological disaster. They see small-scale communities with minimal ecological impact as an alternative.
Located just outside Pondicherry, a quiet little town on the south-western coast, Auroville upholds the spiritual tenets of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The Mother conceived Auroville, the ‘city of dawn’, in 1968 as a place of research into the ideal of human unity. The idea is to build a futuristic city where people with goodwill can live together in peace and progressive harmony, rising above all creeds, politics and nationalities. It is endorsed by UNESCO and supported by the Government of India.
Gathering at the Matrimandir Today, the Auorvillans number over 2,100 from over 40 countries, and reside in more than a hundred settlements, spread over 20 square kilometres. The plan for the township is based on a spiral galaxy shape and incorporates four radial sectors – international, cultural, industrial and residential, and a surrounding green belt.
The four zones have as their focus, a huge 29-metre high and 36-metre diameter globe-shaped structure at the centre of the township called the Matrimandir. It is regarded as the soul of the city, is a place for silent concentration, surrounded by an expanse of beautiful gardens. During the inauguration ceremony of Auroville, soil from 124 countries was placed in a lotus-shaped urn and mixed to symbolise universal oneness. This urn sits today at the centre of an amphitheatre in the Matrimandir gardens.
Damanhur is an eco-society based on ethical and spiritual values, recognised by an agency of the United Nations, as a model for a sustainable future. Founded in 1975, it has about 1,000 citizens and extends over 500 hectares of territory at the foothills of the Piedmont Alps in Italy.
Damanhur offers courses and events all year round. It is possible to visit for short periods, as well as longer periods, for study, vacation or regeneration. Damanhur promotes a culture of peace and equitable development through solidarity, volunteerism, respect for the environment, art, and social and political engagements.
It has a constitution, a complementary currency system, a daily newspaper, a magazine, art studios, a centre for research and practice of medicine and science, an open university, and schools for children through middle school. Musical session at Black Bear Ranch The Federation of Damanhur is also known throughout the world because its citizens have created the Temples of Humankind, an extraordinary underground work of art dedicated to the reawakening of the divine essence in every human being.
Damanhurian medicine is preventive and synergetic as it makes use of numerous techniques suited to the person and the pathology, which are inseparably linked to the model of life practised. From home births to organic foods to pranatherapy to ‘Selfica’ to hypnosis to art in all its forms as therapy, to research into the divine essence within oneself, Damanhurians embrace a holistic model of health.
The citizens who chose the community formula live in large houses where nucleo-families are formed of around 20 people. In the same house, there are couples, couples with children, single people, young and old people living in the communities. This permits an exchange of experiences among all the different age groups.