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August 2003

Light play in the Petals

- Priya Sundaravalli

Art and technology collaborate in the meditation chambers of the twelve petals around Matrimandir


The pace of the work to complete the twelve meditation chambers in the petals around the Matrimandir has been slow, as this work was never considered a priority. These days, however, much progress is being made and there is light at the end of the tunnel - in fact almost literally in the case of the light shields for each of the windows, the porthole-like opening in each Chamber. Auroville Today met with artist Shanta (Chantal Gowa) to hear about the latest realizations.

Shanta appraises a model for the shields
"I have been working on this project for over 7 years," says Shanta. Recognised for her intuitive sensibility and artistic vision, Shanta was invited by Roger Anger to select the correct colours and design the window shields for each of the twelve meditation chambers surrounding the Matrimandir. Each of the chambers is to be painted a specific colour, to which The Mother attributed a specific quality, so that visitors to the chamber can meditate on that aspect of their journey towards integrality.
"Sincerity (light blue), Peace (deep blue), Equality (blue violet), Generosity (pure violet), Goodness (reddish violet), Courage (pure red), Progress (vermillion), Receptivity (orange), Aspiration (golden yellow), Perseverance (light yellow), Gratitude (light green), and Humility (dark green) are the dozen.

The  play of light and shadow through the window shield of 'Generosity'
Shanta has painstakingly researched the meanings behind the attributes of each colour. Gathering The Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's own words to describe these attributes, she has built up a voluminous reference work to which she constantly turns for inspiration as she visualizes her window designs.
"When I first came here, it was the pale shades that Aurovilians liked," says Shanta." An early experiment was with the colour violet painted in a Spanish fresco style and tested in the Generosity chamber. But it has given a somewhat washed-out impression and more and more I got the feeling that it is the wrong choice." The search for the perfect violet continues.
"The Mother always spoke of pure colours. When She spoke of pure red, it is not pink that she meant! Mother spoke about the petals as a space in which to have a colour bath," explains Shanta. "If you need courage for example, you go to the appropriate chamber with the red walls. There you sit for whatever time you need and immerse in the vibration of that colour." Shanta believes that if the colour is the exact pigmentation as visualized by The Mother, then its vibration will bear the quality attributed to it. "This is why we have been so particular to get the colours right."
Currently a seemingly correct deep blue pigment has been 'discovered' for the Peace chamber and brought all the way from Germany. "It is a pure pigment, and we had to mix it with media and prepare the paint ourselves," recollects Shanta. She goes on to narrate the elaborate process that followed. "We decided to use the dynamised water prepared by Bhagawandas that had been exposed to the mantra of The Mother [see AVToday January 2002, #156]. We made close to15 litres of paint, and seven of us painted the rooms."

Section through petal chamber (not to scale)
Alongside the work to select the pigments, the design of the shields for each window progressed. Shanta explains that until three years ago the shields were visualised as circular semi-transparent pieces. "Then Roger Anger wanted to try the overall shape of the Matrimandir. This resulted in oval shields, measuring 155 centimetres by 130 centimetres."
The white-colour shields are double layered and curve inwards. A gap of a few inches separates them. The inner layer consists of a sheet of translucent fibreglass. The outer layer is also made of the same material. It is on this layer that Shanta creates her designs of oval cut-outs of various sizes. The light coming through the two shields into the Chamber has a chiaroscuro effect, a magical play of golden light and shadow through the cut-outs in the fibreglass. Shanta shares her experience: "I discovered a wonderful effect. Sometimes it is like a sphere, sometimes like the moon, like the various phases of the moon. It feels like something from another world."
Shanta does her experiments using some of the finest white paper available in France. But recently work progressed a step further. In collaboration with Joel, who fabricates light aircraft bodies in a factory near Bangalore, Shanta has realised the first of the 12 shields, an inspired creation of breathtaking beauty, which will soon be placed in the Peace chamber.
As with so many other aspects of the Matrimandir, the collaboration of artistic vision with modern materials and advanced technology has again borne fruit.


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