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Inside Indiana’s largest commune: Padanaram in Martin County

MARTIN COUNTY, Ind. - For decades, it's been the center of stories. A village hidden deep within the woods. Some people don't know much about Padanaram, while others warn people to stay away from it.

"I've heard it all. I've heard like 'Don't go down there at night.' And 'They got a bunker on the hill,'" said Aram Wright, son of Padanaram's founder. "We've been called everything."

But none of that is true, said Wright. Those are all unfair rumors, he said, about a community most people don't bother learning about.

Padanaram is 2,000 acres of woods, water, and hillside in Martin County. It's home to about 150 people who share the land and its responsibilities.

People here have unique names like Diamond, Mylord, Istalker, Irisa, and Urim. Being different is welcome here.

But outside the commune, being different has led to all kinds of rumors.

"We've been grouped with I don't know other... radical groups," said Wright. "Not everybody is after the truth."

Wright's father founded Padanaram in 1966.

Daniel Wright was a minister from Indianapolis in the 60's. One day, he got in his car and started driving. He would later tell his family, he'd heard God's voice and it led him to southern Indiana. Once he arrived to the rural land, he called it holy ground or 'God's Valley.'

"At that time there was just a little farmhouse here," said Wright.

Twelve people followed Daniel Wright and they created Padanaram, a village that takes its name from the Hebrew Bible.

"His goal was to try to create a perfect society or what he felt was a better society."

Today, Padanaram is a bustling community and it's changed.

In the beginning, life revolved around milling lumber on the property. The commune made enough to pay for clothing, food, and shelter for its residents. But by the 2000's, the mill could no longer support the growing community. Residents had to find a way to adapt.

Today, many members go to work in nearby town as lawyers and nurses while other built their own milling businesses. In the evening, they enjoy a drink at the newly built bar on the compound or sip wine and paint with their neighbors.

At one point, the commune had its own school. Now, there's just a daycare on site and children attend local public schools.

Some things haven't changed. Neighbors still help each other build homes with their own hands. There are no loans or mortgages. They still host community dinners once a week. And residents pay an annual fee to cover property taxes.

There is religion on the compound, although members tell us it's not specific to one. They want people of all backgrounds to feel welcome.

"A lot of religions are saying the same thing," explained Wright.

People attend optional meetings where members talk, sing, and share their testimony.

"Ultimately we worship God," said member John Wright. "If God is love and truth is love demonstrated, then what difference does it make what you are? Who you are?"

Padanaram is also known for taking in people with addictions and problems. Sometimes, that's given the village a bad name.

"We try to help people and some of those people bring their problems. You just do the best you can with them," said Aram Wright.

But if a member becomes harmful to the community, then they are evicted from the community.

Helping people is why John and another member recently chose to become deputies with the Martin County Sheriff's Department. Wright said he wanted to create bridges with their neighbors outside the village.

A lot of communes came and went, but Padanaram somehow survived. Leaders say, they learned how to keep up with the times. They promote individuality while maintaining a common goal.

"We got a saying, 'Progress comes on children's feet.' So they'll be running the whole community and they'll be changing it in the future to the beautiful place they want it to be," said Aram Wright. "If you really got into the heartbeat of this place, you would find out that it's really about religious principles; trying to live Godly principles. That's the heartbeat."

To learn more about Padanaram, visit the community's Facebook page here.