Sadhana forest is one of the communities in Auroville that left a lasting impression on me. The sanskrit word "Sadhana" means the dedicated practice.
I was there for a tour of Sadhana forest which they conduct every Friday.
Dry Compost Toilets At Sadhana Forest
The very first thing we were introduced was the dry compost toilets. They have a model of it right outside near the entrance. It looks like in the picture below.
There is a pee hole, poo hole, a pan which is used to separate both and saw dust. So, the idea is to do both businesses in different holes or use the pan to separate in case both are done at once.
Once done, saw dust is used to cover the solid waste. This is later on used as a manure after it is composted. I found this video on Sadhana forest's official channel for those who are wondering how it all works. It's a very old video but I think the procedure is same.
I didn't use or go to the main toilet or the washroom. But, I heard about this before coming to Auroville but was not up to using it. It takes time for those who are staying here, from their words.
From there, we were told about the hand washing technique used in Sadhana forest. They have kept a small steel mug with a small hole in the bottom and a bucket full of water near it. Also, an in-house made biodegradable soap is also kept near the tap.
The idea is to conserve water and use only what is necessary.
Next, we moved on to the main hall where we were told about the history and what is Sadhana forest is all about. To simplify the long talks inside the hall, which was very interesting and well presented btw, Sadhana forest is all about Indigenous Reforestation.
What Happens Inside Sadhana Forest?
We were next gathered inside this hall which is made of palm leaf roofing. This is where we were explained about the starting of Sadhana forest and the values they stand for.
I stopped taking photographs for one the talk was interesting and two, it needs to take permission to take photographs of volunteers and kids were playing around. So, I have very less photographs from here, well it was mostly the case for Auroville. I kept the gadgets away and more focused only on people and conversations.
Sadhana forest is a community inside Auroville started by Aviram Rozin and his family in search for a lifestyle that fit the ideologies they followed and as an effort to building a future they want to bring about. Today, Sadhana forest have expanded their mission to Haiti and Kenya too.
Sadhana forest have different types of volunteers, short and long term to help with the activities. The life here to me, as an outsider, seemed like a frugal on energy consumption model.
After the explanation about the foundation and early days of Sadhana forest, we were taken for the tour of the place. I think more detailed information about Sadhana forest is available on the official website.
We had our foot wares kept outside before entering the hall and had a choice to use or not use for the rest of the tour. I regret using it for the rest of the time. It had rained and the whole place was muddy which made it a bad decision to continue wearing them.
The next stop was the kitchen. Before that, let me tell you about the routine followed inside the forest. Everyone wakes up around 5-6 (I don't remember the exact timing) and continues toward the first seva.
The activities are termed "seva" which is translated into service, which here stands for selfless service. Everyone takes up two sevas each day. The chores include mulching, watering, cleaning, planting and so on depending on the seasons and needs.
I think this page gives enough information about the life inside for those who are looking to participate as a volunteer.
Food inside Sadhana Forest
Sadhana forest is a afforestation effort which focus on bringing back the indigenous biodiversity of this place. The colonial era had exploited the land and its resources by planting cash crops and left the place almost barren.
The geographically tropical dry evergreen forest which is (only) spread across southern India and Sri Lanka is almost dead. It was such a land, of ~70 acres, that Sadhana forest is been trying to bring back to life through reforestation, water management, soil recharging by natural means and without much of intervention.
Seeing the pictures from the starting days will definitely make anyone wonder if it is the same land. Today, this place is green and has a great canopy of happy trees. With that being said, Sadhana forest is not a mission to create a food forest.
They follow a strict vegan diet here. Organic food prepared thus is sourced from outside (as far as I understood). As a volunteer, you only need to pay for the food which is around INR 600 (~8$) per day.
Not just that, like I said earlier, they try not to waste anything literally. The wood is used to cook and later used in the forest.
As and when we were given the tour, volunteers were busy preparing food for us. The Friday tour ends with the food.
Water Conservation and Management In Sadhana Forest
The region where Sadhana forest is located can dry up during the summer. Sadhana forest is designed to conserve water all the water it gets during the rain and recharge the soil, make available for different uses.
One interesting method they kept in place was the water management system for human use. There is a steel mug with a hole in the bottom that was kept on a post. You fill up the mug and use it to wash hands. This helps not wasting a lot of water as it is with the taps.
They also have dry compost toilets which I mentioned in the starting. It makes sure there is no waste produced which remains as "waste". As many things as possible are recycled too.
Next we were explained how to wash the plates after the food. There were 3 tubs of water kept and a bin. You first empty the plate if there's any food waste. Then proceed to dip in the first tub and wash away anything left there.
The next step is to use the ash to clean the plate and dip in the next tub and then into the next one before keeping it in the final one. This way less water does the job.
Products Used In Sadhana Forest
When I say washing hands and everything, we were using soaps and other products that are prepared here. They are biodegradable and cause no harm to the environment. I think they are available for purchase too.
Minimal Energy Consumption Model
Another aspect of living in Sadhana forest was the minimal energy consumption. There are eco-friendly energy harvesting techniques used which powers the entire place.
Since it is not an abundant resource, the usage of electronic gadgets are also limited or people think twice before spending endless time on their phones. One interesting fact is in times where this doesn't work, the power generation is done in manual mode.
This is where the ones who are staying there manually take turns to bicycle to produce energy. As exhausting as it sounds, this makes a conscious decision on energy consumption.
Planting Trees In Sadhana Forest
We were then taken to the forest to show the planting, how it is nurtured and the rest. Brandon, who was explaining everything did a great job going after every details.
The saplings are planted in a technique which they found worked well for the region. Meaning how deep they planted it and the likes. There were plastic bottles used to bring the water effectively reach to where it was needed.
There were high rises and lows created in the land to conserve water. There was a pool which was made in the middle and it was the swimming pool which was 100% natural.
All around the forest, there were trees that indigenous to the area. There were a few trees from different countries like Australia which were planted intentionally. These are the ones which withstand the dry climate and were planted for different purposes without destroying the land.
Tree Houses Inside Sadhana Forest
The houses here are such tree houses. There were no closed doors which is another idea they were trying to convey. Volunteers also stayed in such tree houses, and had mosquito nets.
Sadhana forest promotes an ideology of non-competitiveness, non-violence and compassion. This makes everyone to do their best work without the need of competition or comparison and brings more harmony.
Children's Play Area And Unschooling
Even though it all sounds more like just sayings, it is notable when someone paves the way by examples. The best example here is the founder's children themselves who follows this path and proves it is effective to bring up a confident individual.
There is a play area dedicated to children. Children from the neighboring communities are also allowed to come inside and spend time here. The rule is they can do whatever they want. So, they can create or play how they want.
In between the talks in the hall, children were allowed to go and play if they wanted to. It was great to see how fast they were made friends and went on with their time.
Unschooling is an alternative method to the traditional schooling system. They believe children learning in their own pace and with their interest is the best way to learn.
The Eco Film And The Food
The last part of the tour was the film and then the food. We were shown a film that talked about the mistreatment of trees and environment that is mostly covered up by the powerful hands.
After that, the food was served and I must say it was the best food I(most of us) had in a while which pretty much changed my mind on vegan food. It was a great time to interact with others too some of who instantly changed the plan to stay back as a volunteer canceling other plans.
Such was the influence of Sadhana Forest. It feels home, in a different way than at your own "house" or place we grow up. It felt to be at the right place. I hope I will be back there someday, if not volunteer to understand and learn better.