Ánanda Nagar: An Eco-Community Model for a post-COVID19 era.
Ácárya Shambhúshivánanda Avadhúta, Kulapati (Chancellor)
Ánanda Márga Gurukula (AMGK) , Ánandanagar, India
In every age, there have been attempts by the visionaries of the era to build sacred spaces in order to manifest the noble traditions of their time. In the recent past, the cities of Santiniketan, Auroville, and Chandigarh are just a few examples.
Shantiniketan, founded in 1942 by Nobel Prize recipient Rabindranath Tagore, is the home of Vishwa Bharati University. It lies in the neighborhood of Bolpur city in the Bolpur subdivision of the Birbhum district in West Bengal, India, approximately 152 km north of Kolkata. Debendranath Tagore founded an ‘Ashram’ here in 1863. In 1901, his son Rabindranath started a school, which took the shape of Vishwa Bharati University forty years later.
Auroville is an experimental spiritual township in the Viluppuram district mostly in the state of Tamil Nadu, India with some parts in the Union Territory of Puducherry (formerly known as Pondicherry). Pondicherry was a French settlement in British India until 1954 and was then taken over by the Government of India. Puducherry is about 163 km from Chennai by road. Auroville was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa and designed by the French architect Roger Anger. It is a universal city in-the-making in south India dedicated to the ideal of human unity based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, a spiritual associate of Sri Aurobindo. Prime Minister Modi visited Auroville on February 25, 2018.
In post-independence India, Jawahar Lal Nehru inaugurated a garden city in northern India with the help of the American town planner Albert Mayer, the Pole architect Matthew Nowicki (who died in a plane crash) and ultimately, the Swiss-French town planner Le Corbusier and called it Chandigarh — “The City of Beauty.” It was named after the tantric goddess Chand́i. An old temple “Chand́i Mandir” still stands in the hills on the northern outskirts of Chandigarh. Chandigarh is located 260 km north of New Delhi. The metropolitan area of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula collectively form a tri-city, with a combined population of over 1.6 million. In 2011, the population of Chandigarh was 1,055,450. Chandigarh covers an area of 114 square kilometers. Mr. Nehru first visited Chandigarh in 1952 and said, “Let this be a new town symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.” Now it has become a pensioner’s paradise and one of the cleanest cities of India.
Here we shall look into a vision put forth by another renaissance man of our times. The educational township of Ánandanagar, located 330 km northwest of Kolkata in the Purulia district of West Bengal and 106 km northeast of Ranchi, Jharkhand, was founded in 1962 by Shrii Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (aka Shrii Shrii Anandamurti) to serve as a global master-unit (Cakranemi)— a global eco-community. It manifested his desire to build a service community that would host the global headquarters of his new socio-spiritual movement and become a beacon of light for a world steeped in strife, conflict, dogma and inequities. No one ever imagined at that time the extent of his grand vision. His all-encompassing vision was actually revealed in full detail only in 1987-1990, just prior to his physical departure from this earth. Very few persons are even aware of the intricate details of the Ánanda- Nagar’s rural township plans, which evoke wonder and inspiration in anyone interested in the welfare of the planet, people and all its flora and fauna.1 Ánandanagar is like an oasis in the barren landscape of human consciousness. In this short article, a few interesting details about Ánandanagar are revealed, from its glorious past to its enlightening and bright future.
In a remote and pristine wasteland far away from the din and bustle of life lies the holy city of Ánandanagar, which represents “global peace, harmony and benevolence” and carries the marks of its birth, when it emerged from the womb of the universe at the time when the earth was first formed. Ánandanagar, located in Ráŕh, can be called the first cradle of human civilization and is of great historical importance for all inhabitants of the earth, who may be interested in its past and future. Ánandanagar, named by its founder, is located on the eastern border of West Bengal and partly in the state of Jharkhand in India and spans an area of 675 square kilometers (almost as large as Singapore.) The landscape of Ánandanagar opens up a fascinating panorama of open sky, sprawling hills, ancient rock formations and winding rivers. In the shadows of these mountains still lie the fossilized remains of the ancient creatures of pre-historic India. A scant twenty kilometers to the southeast are the hills where Maharśi Kapila, the first philosopher, lived and propounded the Saḿkhya philosophy in 1700 BC. Interspersed throughout Ánandanagar are small tribal villages where local inhabitants continue with their centuries-old routines. Sheep and cows graze freely in the vast grasslands of the area. Most of the inhabitants have benefited greatly from Ananda Márga’s many developmental projects and educational institutions started in the early 1960’s.
On September 7, 1990, Ánandanagar was designated as the headquarters of the global campus of Ánanda Márga Gurukula (AMGK) University. Two years before the inauguration of AMGK, the founder spelled out a vision of a vast network of roads (saraniis), junctions (mors), meeting points, water harvesting structures (sáyars), forest compounds, orchards (kánans), botanical gardens, parks, beauty-spots, sanctuaries, over two hundred proposed agricultural research centers, over fifty renewable energy projects, and a natural gene bank for thousands of plant species from all over the world. The gurukula at Ánandanagar stands as a living embodiment of applied neohumanism and a testament to the founder’s vision for creating a space for preserving and protecting the benevolent tantric heritage of humanity.
Against the backdrop of a world of inequities, materialist culture, crowded cities, humans in masks, and a constant fear of a collapsing civilization, Ánandanagar emerges as a CITY OF BLISS, true to its name. There is abundant fresh air, mineral-rich water and green vegetation spread out over a thousand parks and kánans (botanical gardens and orchards), and a plan of hundreds of farm-products and industrial compounds with potentially easy access to an optic fiber cable networks for global cyber connectivity.
Ancient Geological and Cultural History of Ánandanagar
About 300 million years ago, there was a great ocean but no land mass and no one present to name that ocean. After a long time, a nameless mountainous terrain emerged covered with snow peaks that gave birth to numerous rivers.2
Ánandanagar has geologically been a part of Western Ráŕh, which itself is millions of years older than the Himalayas. It is the oldest landmass on earth and carries a history of millions of years in its bosom. Gondwanaland was the name given to that landmass, which broke up over time to form different continents. Eastern Ráŕh (Bengal, Sundarbans and the Northeast) was formed much later from the silt of high mountains. There is evidence that human beings appeared in western Ráŕh in the ancient past, built a developed civilization with the guidance of Shiva, and took the first steps towards cultural progress. The inhabitants of Ráŕh spread out over the entire world and became the “sons of the soil” wherever they went, and contributed to the cultural progress of the world everywhere. The first philosopher MaharśI Kapil was born in the area and pioneered spiritual inquiry. The pictorial stone engraving of tantric symbols found in the navacakra guha (cave) near Ánandanagar is also a testament to the spiritual heritage of the inhabitants of western Ráŕh.
[The founder’s first visit to Ánandanagar was by train in 1964. He took the Bardhaman Ranchi passenger train at Dhanbad to Pundag station.]
In 1962, The Raja of Garh-Joypur donated an initial area of 170.69 acres in Baglata Village to be the service center of Ananda Márga. At that time, this plot was on the border of West Bengal and Bihar. The Bihar portion became part of the newly formed state of Jharkhand. Many more plots of land were later purchased or received as donations. Shrii Shrii Ánandamurtiji first visited Ánandanagar on March 6, 1964, arriving from Jamalpur. At that time there were no roads and no landmarks except the railway line. He laid the foundation stone of AMIT (Ananda Márga Institute of Technology) on March 8, 1964. Its first principal was Áchárya Amitánanda Avadhúta. Amitanandaji also served as the Rector Master of Ánandanagar. Primary schools as well as junior and senior high schools were soon started, and a degree college was opened on July 23, 1966.
Ánandanagar now has an AMGK Teachers Training College and a host of other educational institutions. Two dams have been built along the Dakśina River. In order to provide employment to 60 local people, a fully solarized ANDS (Ánandanagar Development Society) bag factory and a solar energy compound were built in Pundag, near the entrance to Anandanagar. ANDS also undertakes massive development projects like building roads, as well as distributing seeds and saplings to villagers on a regular basis. Students of the high school get free training in football from a sports academy in Kolkata. The Ánanda Márga Universal Relief Team (AMURT) is also engaged in conducting regular medical camps, and distributing food and basic necessities to the poorest of the poor. 18 primary schools, and four junior high schools have recently been added. Two senior high schools in Bokaro district in the Jharkhand area of western Ánandanagar, each of which have enrollment of over 750 students. Over the past five decades, thousands of students hailing from local villages have graduated from the high school in Central Ánandanagar. The women’s welfare section of the mission has also established a high school for girls in Uma Nivas (in Dakśina Pratyanta of Ánandanagar), and the Ráŕh School has recently been constructed nearby for younger children. One orphanage is run in Central Ánandanagar, and lady sannyasins are managing another one in Sarjo Mahato. A music college for ladies is run in Hawa Mahal nearby. The building was designed and constructed by two female volunteers from Turkey and the Netherlands.
It is heartening to note that recently, on February 12, 2020, the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India acknowledged the five decades of selfless work of Ánanda Márga by Ánandanagar and declared it as one of the best NGOs (among 408 selected from a nationwide screening); for transforming rural India and exemplifying sustainable development. Of course, this is just the beginning as only 2% of the projects envisioned by the founder have actually taken shape so far. It would not be far-fetched thinking to imagine, in the not-too-distant future, an international airport in the vicinity of Ánandanagar to cater to the potential demand of overseas tourists and devout followers wishing to visit the Gurukula global campus. Children and adults of all Ánandanagar villages also look forward to a Bháskrácárya Planetarium to experience the space age.
Ánandanagar (AN) is located between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer and consists of twelve sections (mini-anandanagar’s): Madhya AN (Central), Kaoshikii AN (South), Shyamal AN, Bhaeravii AN (West), Bhavanii AN (East), Tarun AN, Mohan AN, Arun AN, Maloy AN, Pinaki AN, Saeket AN and Gopal AN.
Seven rivers flow through this land and have been named by Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiji as the Daksina River, Uttara River, Guaki River, Alkananda River, Paragati River, Mandakini River and Kunti River. An elaborate program of building dams, lakes, causeway bridges, culverts and barrages continues as donations trickle in from devoted disciples and sympathizers. No government grants are ever accepted by the organization for building the educational township and global headquarters.
The Gurukula Educational Network is spread around the world, but the campus headquarters lies at Ánandanagar. The primary tertiary educational institutions of Ánandanagar are the Saḿskrta Vidyápiitha, Music College/ Prabhat Samgiita Academy, Veterinary College, Yogic Cikitsa Kendra, Agricultural College, Áyurvedic College, Homeopathic College, Rural Medical College, NATAC—Naturopathy, Acupuncture & Chandsi, Teachers Training College, Fine Arts College, Bangla Vidyapiitha, Hindi Bhárati, and Ráŕh Kalá Kendra/Museum for Ráŕhology research.
Ánandanagar is home to numerous rare species of plants from around the world. Basil, for example, has ten varieties alone, such as Ram Tulsi, Rawan Tulsi, Krśna Tulsi, Radha Tulsi, Ban Tulsi, Chandan Tulsi, Karpur Tulsi, Italian Tulsi, American Tulsi and Spanish Tulsi. 60% of the neem (maragosa) plants are of Indian variety, 30% are ghora neem (highly bitter), 5% sweet neem (curry patta) and 5% are neem species like Sadao of Thailand, and other species from around the world. Then there are Paraguayan coconut, American arrowroot, German walnuts, Thai rambutan, mangoes, mangosteens and jackfruits, Chinese litchi, papayas from the Philippines and Taiwan, bamboo from Bali, Singapuri betel nuts, Iraqi date palms, African red jams, Valencia oranges, sweet lemons from Cyprus and Laos, Tanzanian cashew nuts, and a thousand others. Ánandanagar now cultivates plants from every continent. Herbariums in particular are given special attention in different compounds made expressly for that purpose. The Cashewnut kánan , Mango orchards and Papaya garden are favorite tourist attractions. Sannyasins made pickels from the surplus production of the jackfruit crop this year. Bee boxes near the Ráŕh Kala Kendra museum provide honey for medicinal purposes. Young workers feel free to use their creativity to make the production units self-supporting and to create economic self-sufficiency in the area. As a result of the massive afforestation program undertaken at Ánandanagar, the rainfall has increased over the past decade. The 1300 sáyars (ponds/water harvesting structures), each of which has received a saḿskrta name from the founder, were designed to preserve the water table in the area. The boundary plants, surface plants, slope plants and fishes designated for each sáyar are a unique way to help retain the water in the sáyars during periods of intense heat.
On June 16,1988, the Ánandanagar staff was directed by the founder to make a provision for ponds and pools for rare and endangered aquatic animals, such as Shiila Shaekta for coloured fishes, PASAKA for other types of fishes, Durlabha Druma for aquatic animals, Pushpa Purodyana for water tortoises and Stamba stavan for land tortoises. On the shores of these ponds, there is a need for sand for the tortoises. The tortoises come to the shore, excavate the sand and lay their eggs there. The eggs hatch into young tortoises due to the warmth of the sand. Water tortoises are carnivorous and like rotten fish and meat. They are the vultures of the water. The land tortoises are herbivorous and eat gram (peas and beans). The land tortoise lives up to 500 years and is very big. The water tortoise lives for about 300 years. Similarly, directions were given by the founder for about eighty sanctuaries to provide a safe haven for birds and other creatures. A large python has been living quite happily for many years in the PASAKA central sanctuary.
The roads (saraniis) in Ánandanagar are named after well-known luminaries such as— Bhaskaracarya, Spinoza, Galileo, Surdas, Vidur, Albert Einstein, Varah-Mihir, Kalidas, Madhusudan Dutta, Rabindranath Tagore, Miirabai, Tansen, Mahatma Gandhi, Marconi, Bernard Shaw, Tolstoy, Shankaracarya, Ramanuja, Aurobindo Ghosh, Vidyapati, Patainjali, Dhanwantri, Ram Mohan Roy, Vivekananda, Parshuram, Gautam Buddha, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Maharaj Yudhisthir, Kumarjiiva, Ramakrishna, Sant Tukaram, Madame Curie, Sigmund Freud, Aryabhatta, and scores of other great personalities who have illuminated the world with their minds. The founder also paid tribute to many senior sannyasins (monks and nuns) and lay supporters who contributed to the development of Ánandanagar or who sacrificed their lives at the altar of cosmic ideology, by naming projects after them such as Parshivananda Forest, Abhedananda Dihi, Sutreshvarananda Kanan, Bhaweshvarananda Compound, Ananda Praceta Seemakhand and so on. It is indeed refreshing to breathe the air at Ánandanagar, which carries the goodwill of so many persons who lived their lives for the sake of building one human society free from all dogma, superstitions, exploitation and narrow sentiments.
For spiritual seekers, the 64 tantra-piithas (places where yogis meditated and attained ultimate self-realization) are a special attraction. Ánandanagar provides an antidote to the materialist culture that has become the breeding ground for so many ills of society, ranging from physical sickness to mental illness and spiritual vacuum. No one smokes at Ánandanagar; pure sattvika foods are served there; everyone practices yoga and meditation daily; and all live in harmony with nature. The morning chirping of birds wakes everyone as early as 4am and the morning siren alerts everyone at 4:45am to gather for a half-hour meditation called Paincajanya, which starts at 5am sharp. The extreme temperatures at Ánandanagar can be challenging, but the inhabitants have learned to cope with the different seasons that bring extreme rainfall, extreme heat, extreme cold and extreme thunder and lightning. The palash red flowers, magnolia, night jasmines, roses and other flowers in different seasons bring smiles and inspire the villagers to dance and sing in their own traditional styles. Birds fly around freely and even monkeys visit periodically to feast in the numerous kánans and sanctuaries. Once an elephant came by and broke a wall of the farm in Ajitananda dihi next to the Gurukula campus. A bágh (leopard) that came to the central sanctuary near Baglata village was finally transported to the Kolkata zoo by an expert team in the late 1980’s.There was a time when foxes used to howl every night, but now only frogs make merry after the rains. Bats and owls hide in very dark spaces far away from humans. In the 1960’s, snakes were found at every step, but over the years, they have moved away to distant forests and mountains. Ánandanagar has survived as a green zone, and is 100% free from the onslaught of COVID-19 infections. Everyone moves and engages in their work here without any fear.
Sixteen canteens have been envisioned to satisfy the palate of residents and visitors. The names of these canteens, coined by the founder, are inviting too. Abar Asun (come-again), Garam-Garam(hot-hot), Rasan Ranjaka (tasty pleasure), Asun Basun(come-sit), Bar Bar Asun (come again, again) are a few examples. The menu of these and other canteens range from milk bars to tasty snacks like khirer kachuri, rasa bara, vegetable chop, gokul piitha, nona-paratha, China badam bhaja, beguni, puran puri, bhel puri, salted pumpkin seeds, rabri , malai, and other mouthwatering delicacies of the area. The Ánandanagar Yogika Cikitsa and Wellness Center is open around the clock for detox routines. Indigenous remedies prepared from fresh herbs are also readily available from the herb gardens. Ánandanagar was one of the first places in the area to treat people using acupuncture. People come from distant towns to get treated with the acupuncture healing modality.
Ánandanagar is designed to provide joy to one and all. It shines in the glory of the eternal gospel of universal humanism. May those who get educated at the Gurukula at Ánandanagar carry divine blessings to build a world inspired by a spirit of selfless service for the welfare of one and all, and free from injustices, dogma, and sectarian or materialist outlook. The goal is to create a cooperative community where every individual works for the collective welfare, and the community facilitates and provides a cordial atmosphere for each individual’s all-round growth. Ánandanagar represents a new hope, fresh dynamism, determined optimism and a stir to awaken the élan-vital of humanity in the post-COVID-19 era.
Some people fear that state and corporate control of society through extreme digital surveillance is bringing about situations where human beings are living in detention centers in their own homes, becoming like animals in cages. Everyone wishes to be free. But freedom will only come through a structural shift in the way we conduct our social and economic lives as well as through a fundamental shift in our lifestyles. The trafficking and consumption of wild animals and the industrial production of birds and animals lie at the root of viral zoonosis production including SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 disease) and the production of extra carbon emissions. We have intensified agriculture, expanded infrastructure and extracted resources at the expense of wild spaces. Dams, irrigation and factory farms are linked to 25% of infectious diseases in humans and the spread of pathogens. UN agencies report that if we continue exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, we can expect to see a steady stream of diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead. Sustainable land management, improving biodiversity and investing in scientific research is a priority today.
The only way out of the vicious cycle of unsustainability is to shift towards a new paradigm— like the one represented by Ánandanagar (AN). Ánandanagar endeavors to free human beings and all other creatures from the psychology of ‘exploit for profit ‘ or ‘use and throw’ and minimizes the influence of “centralized controls” by adopting a policy of strict adherence to aparigraha (simplicity, being satisfied with fewer material things) and santośa (mental contentment). A global chain of master-units (eco-service communities) like Ánandanagar could help create a new world that would be in alignment with the deeper aspirations of humanity to provide freedom, good health, happiness, abundance, progress and justice for all.
1. Asiimánandaji’s Notes containing directives from the founder on Ánandanagar.
2 Shrii Shrii Ánandamurti , Ráŕh- the Cradle of Civilization, Ánanda Márga Publications, Ánandanagar, West Bengal, India.