In Auroville, My Search for Spirituality Ended at a Forest Rave Party

Nihal Bambulkar
Following a rough patch, I went to Auroville to connect more closely with nature. Three days later, surrounded by raving firangs and vegan pizza, I realised this brand of spirituality was not for me.

On a late Friday evening, I found myself in a state of severe distress caused by a massive workload, a negative balance bank account, and an alarming number of empty coffee mugs on my desk. I had the sudden urge to call Hickey Arora, an old friend from college.

Hickey was one of the smartest people I knew – one of those guys who would party until 8 am, when everyone else had passed out with their mouths open, but still constantly get good grades. He was an all-rounder, and all of us assumed he’d grow up to be super successful. So it came as a surprise when Hickey told us one day that he’d give up everything and move to Auroville, a spiritual township 10 km from Pondicherry, because he wanted to connect with nature through meditation.

It took me almost a year, but on that Friday, I did sort of understand his sentiment. Connecting with nature through meditation did sound a hell of a lot better than sitting at a desk for 8 hours. Besides, I hadn’t heard from Hickey since he left the city. So I booked my tickets, flew down to Chennai, and took a cab to Auroville.

My guide through this “Eat, Pray, Love” trip, Hickey, met me at the airport. “If you want to have a proper spiritual experience,” he told us with the confidence of the Dalai Lama himself, “You must do exactly as I say.”

It turns out the first path to enlightenment involved meditating and chanting around Matri Mandir with a number of serious firangs, which I can honestly attest was one of the most boring experiences of my life. Seriously, I’d rather go back to school for ten years. The next step was looking on in awe at the locals attempt a self-sustainable lifestyle with a number of KFC executives standing in the shadows, waiting for the moment they can conquer all of Tamil Nadu. The third step involved spending an entire afternoon in a broken-down all-vegan café, where cheese is frowned upon but Hickey’s joints are welcome. I can confidently say I’d found no enlightenment thus far.

There were loosely two kinds of people in attendance – the first kind experienced said bursts of energy from an array of questionably colourful pills, and the second from mild foreplay with trees covered in glow paint.

At the café, we met Daniel, a stoner from Germany. None of us had ever eaten vegan food, let alone paid for it, so Daniel was helping us interpret the menu, despite having learnt English very recently. And so, over several coconut milk lattes (who even?), Daniel told us about a rave that he was heading down to later that night. “In forest, full power spiritual,” he told us. “Where,” we asked. “Follow the beats,” he replied. Cool then.

Over the previous couple of days or so, Hickey had taken us through a laundry list of introspective experiences. We’d lived in huts, made good friends with trees, and shat vegan food in compost pits. And yet, the trip overall was feeling like a big let-down and this fast-tracking to “finding” myself was just not working. So, after a prolonged discussion on who would carry the pepper spray, we agreed that we’d go to the rave.

A few hours later, I lay on a rock surrounded by barefooted, enlightened firangs dancing to a very loud piece of music coming from behind a tree. We knew the DJ was there because every five minutes or so, someone would yell “feel the music” from the corner and the dancing firangs would experience a sudden burst of energy that could only be caused by a number of third eyes opening.

There were loosely two kinds of people in attendance – the first kind experienced said bursts of energy from an array of questionably colourful pills, and the second from mild foreplay with trees covered in glow paint. A number of people had learnt only one line of English – “You crush… I roll.” At one point, I struck up a conversation with Daniel, Skylar, Zachariah, who despite their grand names, offered me no spiritual salvation. Instead they left our conversation mid-way because the DJ was playing a sick beat.

The Tree Huggers, meanwhile, didn’t speak much, or apparently have much idea of how science works. Their idea of spirituality involved forgetting they were humans and rolling around on the ground in an attempt to imbibe the sand, trees, the air, and everything else Mother Nature offered. They did this for hours, although to be fair, for them, “time is just a construct, dude”.  

A couple of hours into the night it seemed like I’d accidentally stumbled onto the human equivalent of a quote generator website. A blonde lady named Zee looked me dead in the eye and said, “Inside every person you know, there is a person you don’t know.” Well thanks for that information, Zee, I truly have no idea who you are.

In between this crowd of raging ascetics, a number of peddlers (you can tell by how their vests glow in the dark) attempted to sell adulterated drugs. “Hey kid, do you want some molly?” they’d whisper in your ear before showing you a packet of India’s finest talcum powder. They were, I assume, responsible for the number of people attaining nirvana by throwing up sada dosas in a bush. One might wonder if dosa is the ideal rave food, but apparently you can fry a crispy one at 3 am and suddenly firangs gather around you like someone’s shooting Slumdog Millionaire 2.

Sadly the smell of dosa-puke remained my last memory of Auroville as I boarded a plane back to Mumbai the next morning. I bid goodbye to Hickey, who for now, would have to continue to have his insightful out-of-body experiences by himself. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I’d decided to make the trip, but one forest rave and five enlightened firangs later, I know why some people choose therapy instead.