Lalit, an Architect and Urban Planner, has been living and taking part in Auroville’s planning, development and related learning activities for the last 15 years and worked as a team member on formulating the Auroville’s Master Plan.
How do ‘self and society’ learn from and are related to each other, create systems and environments and evolve, is part of his continuous quest. Auroville offers itself as an amazingly fertile playground for observation, reflection, action and research on all such aspects in a very open, networked and interdisciplinary manner. Related article link.
Lalit has been following his keen interest in the field of ‘holistic learning from Auroville’ by organizing various national & and international learning programmes and student study visits to Auroville under the ‘Auroville Integral Sustainability Institute’.
Lalit has also conducted ‘Study Abroad Programmes’ for post graduate planning students from SURP and Queen’s University Canada on ‘Planning Guidelines for Social Landscape Spaces on Crown (2012)’ and ‘Auroville Sustainability Indicators (2013)’ and ‘Research on Community Participation Framework (2015)’.
His published article on ‘Sustainable Campus Design’ in the Times of India refers to the critical need, relevance, and potential of ‘integrated experiential learning’ in present times. Article link .
At present, he is also working on the start-up phase of a ‘Center for Design & Environment (CODE)’ in Auroville envisioned as a learning and resource center covering the wider domain of ‘Holistic Habitat’.
Photography is another passion which has clicked to him.
Manoj is passionate about the evolutionary yoga psychology and transformational practice of Sri Aurobindo. He started exploring integral yoga in 1989 right after graduating as a production engineer. He did post graduate studies in Product Design from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, in 1993. After a short period of working as a professional design consultant, he quit the profession and joined Auroville in 1995 to explore integral yoga and collective evolution.
He has co-founded Telos (www.telos.org.in) focusing on integral education based on integral yoga. He also makes 3D motion graphics videos to share the vision and work of Sri Aurobindo (www.sopanam.org). Besides education and film making, he is actively involved in building software for Auroville and loves information technology and its role in building communities, collective self-awareness, and creativity.
He enjoys teaching, sharing integral yoga, making videos and designing software.
An engineer by education, Siddharth joined the first Swadharma program as a participant. Since then, he has been pursuing his journey of self-exploration, discovery, and transformation in Auroville.
Having himself been lost at some point not too long ago, Siddharth relates well to the gaps and troubles the present day youth faces, which is why he feels motivated to share his experiences at Swadharma and deepen his personal journey by learning new ones.
His interests are self-transformation, technology, design, storytelling, creative expression, nature, and integral yoga.
Siddharth strives to be a simpler, calmer, and an effective human being.
As a child, she was an academically bright student involved in many extra-curriculars. Inwardly, she was alone with a rich inner life. She would write poetry, spend hours sitting alone, listen to the sound of the rain, explore inner realms and dance. It was clear that she was interested in the phenomenon of human psychology and inner life. Further, at 6 she began to be aware of the world around her. She would look outside the car and wonder why is it that she is in a car whereas some others are begging. Thus, at 6, she decided not to take up a normal job but to do something for the society.
As she grew up, concerns about career, getting into a reputed college etc. hung around the clear inner calling. At each step, she tried following her heart while 'building a career'. After high-school, with a sense of idealism, she wanted to learn about psychology and use it as a basis for social development. With this plan, she pursued BA (Hons) Psychology from Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) and MSc Social Policy from University of Oxford.
However, soon, the reality began to hit her. The limitations of the education system & scientific paradigm became clearer. Degree in social policy felt like a band-aid solution. She could see something is fundamentally off. Her first conclusion was that it is the economic system that is the unquestioned elephant in the room. Soon, she realised that at the basis of the current economic system is human psychology.
Her degree in psychology at LSR did not equal to a profound and deep understanding of life and human psychology. Thus, in 2015, she came to Pondicherry to study Integral Psychology at Indian Psychology Institute (IPI). At IPI, finally, she began to receive answers to the questions she was seeking. She realised that things that bothered her are symptoms of the human consciousness undergoing evolution; that the solution lies in connecting to the inner self, and use it as a basis of contributing in the world.
After spending a year in Pondicherry, she came to Auroville. For her, coming to Pondicherry was like coming home and coming to Auroville was like finding her true workplace.
Valentine was born in France and raised in Auroville. When she was 14, her family and herself left Auroville and moved back to France. This was very overwhelming for her. After graduating from high school, the time came for her to choose what to study. Being visually impaired, the possibilities were limited. She chose to study to become an English teacher "just because she could", which was the most underwhelming motive to do anything, ever. In fact, she could not make herself study this when she had no passion for it and she felt she did not even know herself, let alone what she wanted to do. Lost and confused, she came back to Auroville at age 19.
Here, she discovered that she was able to do way more than she thought. She started working in Auroville schools and had the time of her life. She discovered she was good with children, and that they brought out the best in her. She became passionate about tutoring, which was her favourite thing to do. She loved the process of helping children understand scary things like Math, and seeing them gain confidence and overcome their difficulties. She learned that every individual thinks differently, understands differently, and that patience, empathy, and goodwill are the three ingredients to bridge those differences.
After teaching for five years, she quit, feeling that her patience was running low. She preferred leaving before becoming a grumpy teacher. She promised herself that as long as she had a choice, she would only have jobs that made her happy to wake up in the morning.
When she was offered to join Auroville Campus Initiative (ACI), the group which organises Swadharma, she was overjoyed. ACI has other programmes besides Swadharma, one of them being a gap-year programme for the youth of Auroville, a topic dear to her heart.
For her, it has been a beautiful adventure to witness Swadharma, full of lovely people who inspire her. She feels that participating in Swadharma is a gift one gives oneself, and which keeps giving long after the programme is over. It takes courage to introspect and question oneself, out of one's comfort zone, and she has the utmost respect for those who undertake this challenge.
Sheetal has been a seeker of his “True Home” ever since his father’s early death propelled him into a deep enquiry around life, death and the purpose of existence. After obtaining his engineering degree from the University of Pune, he moved to USA allured by the promise of an upwardly mobile life in the West.
While studying in business school at Chicago, serendipitous encounters with guides from different wisdom traditions reawakened a shift within from seeking profit and pleasure towards seeking purpose. Paradoxically it was in the West that he truly developed a deep affinity with the spiritual teachings from the East.
After completing his studies, Sheetal went on an open-ended pilgrimage for a few years, finally going back to Pune in 2007 and transforming his family home into the Urban Ashram which was a kindergarten of sorts for spiritual toddlers like himself.
After a decade of facilitating learning workshops, yoga classes, talks, music events, retreats, and community events at Urban Ashram, Sheetal received an inner calling to shift base to Auroville and deepen his yoga practice amongst the birds, bees and trees.
Sheetal is inspired by St Francis' quote "It is in giving that we receive" and has served in generosity based projects such as Service Space, Moved by Love and Giftival. He is most passionate about the potential of songs, stories and stillness to inspire change and curates an online newsletter called Maitri Tunes.
Papale Francesca Emilia, born in Rome (Italy) in 1974 is a professional actress, she has worked mainly in the traditional theatrical field and research. Director and author of her scripts, Francesca trained her acting skills through her work and studying the Lee Strasberg method with Michael Margotta at the Actor Center in Rome. Transferred 6 years ago to Auroville, India, she continues her work here. Currently, Francesca is conducting her own monologues and occasionally collaborates with the Performative Department of the University of Pondicherry. All her work outside Auroville is under the aegis of the Aurovillian Unit she works for (Avart Service).
Losing his father at the age of 5, meant two things – Avinash grew up understanding the impermanence of life which made him averse to doing anything for which he didn’t see reason; and without a male role model he had to define for himself what it is to be a man in this world – a world in which the social structure is rapidly changing.
Avi was always interested in many things. While studying Civil Engineering at Purdue University, he had the opportunity to explore many subjects like film, economics, and psychology. Along with gaining a deeper appreciation for engineering, an appreciation for these other subjects and the realization that all these disciplines are connected was formed. Unfortunately, he did not understand how to apply these diverse interests and skills and remained unmotivated and stagnant for a long time after graduating.
Completely lost, Avi participated in the Swadharma programme in August 2018. Empowered with a greater understanding of his strengths, he has found an avenue to exercise his multiple interests and explore their connections– urban planning. He also became aware of his biggest hurdles – that of self-expression and self-judgement and is trying to work on that front.
Minhaj Ameen is passionate about sustainable living and is convinced that it is possible to live a deeply fulfilling and wholesome life through simple and low impact living. He received an MBA from MBS, UK and lived and work as a management consultant there for 14 years.
He discovered his Swadharma in his mid-thirties and since then he is ardently working to promote sustainable living in collaboration with a network of partners. His passion is to research, practice, consult and teach.
Minhaj currently leads earth&us, a consultancy and implementation organization that is focused on promoting sustainable living. He works with multiple stakeholders to on collaborative projects to create impact at scale. His present projects focus on tackling wicked and persistent problems of India such as soil fertility, climate change and biodiversity loss.
Francesco was born in Italy in 1988. Since very young he practiced several kinds of sports. From 2003 to 2008 he was snowboarding at a professional level, thanks to which he traveled around the world for competitions.
Besides his passion for sports, he has always been interested in philosophy and spirituality. This interest and few fortunate coincidences brought him to discover Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s work, which then led him to Auroville.
In 2008 he quit his snowboarding career as well as his studies on education at the University of Torino and moved to Auroville, where he started working with kindergarten level children. Soon after he discovered ATB and he got trained in it directly by the creators of the method. Since then he has been deepening his knowledge and widening his practice of ATB by giving classes in the schools of Auroville to more than 200 children between age 3 and 11 as well as facilitating workshops and training for adults in several countries such as Italy, Spain, USA, and Argentina.
Francesco is also a certified Somatic Movement Educator graduated by the Ingle Institute of Somatic Education. He studied Hypnotherapy, Silva Method, Psychosynthesis and had been practicing Iyengar yoga for several years.
Since a very young age, Khushmita has been a keen observer and passionate student of the mind-body-spirit phenomenon. Even as she studied economics in college, her heart pulled her deep into the study of health and nutrition. She spent a decade in the fitness industry as a trainer and later an entrepreneur. She had an inner calling to move towards the yogic sciences to deepen her understanding of a holistic approach to life about 10 years ago as she found her mentor and guide in a small village in Kerala. It was like a doorway opening up for her into a deeper study of the Union of life and how all of it is interconnected.
She has trained extensively as a Hatha yoga practitioner from Tulasidalam school of yoga pada and The Sivananda Yoga and Vedanta ashram, along with studying Yoga Therapy and Laughter Therapy. She is a keen practitioner of vipassana meditation for the last 10 years and has been deeply involved as a facilitator and volunteer with various community-driven, generosity and service-based projects such as Moved By Love, Service Space and The Urban Ashram in Pune.
She moved to Auroville last year to study and apply the adage, "All life is Yoga" ~ coined famously by Sri Aurobindo.