John Harper of the Matrimandir team shows the progress of the work
“It is certainly the intention that the Matrimandir will be ready by the end of this year.” John Harper, originally from Canada , has spent a life-time working at the Matrimandir. He carefully expresses the prevailing hope: that after 33 years, the construction of the Matrimandir will finally be concluded. “We'll have to stay focussed, for there is a lot happening. Barring an unforeseen event, the Matrimandir, including the meditation chambers in the twelve petals and the garden infrastructure, is scheduled to be ready by December 2006.”
The tour of the site starts with a walk around the structure. John points at the fresh white Kemperol which now covers about three quarters of the skin. “The waterproofing is expected to be completed by the end of April and all the discs will be in place by the end of the year,” he says. “The disc team, the scaffolding team and the Kemperol team are chasing each other in a kind of exquisite dance, and it all works quite harmoniously.”
The work at the four entrances, the golden shields and the four-petalled discs above each doorway, is progressing as well. Each disc will have its own geometrical shape representing that particular aspect of The Mother––a hexagon for Maheswari; a square for Mahakali; a circle for Mahalakshmi; and a triangle for Mahasaraswati.
We move to the petals. Black stains––signs of mould––mar the surface of the red Agra stone. “ Agra stone belongs to a desert climate,” says John. “It needs exposure to the sun to be fungus-free. The humidity and the rains here create the problem.” The team plans to use high-pressure water jets to clean the surface, and then treat it with a water-repelling silicone-based anti-fungal material. “Experiments with a German project have shown that, treated in this way, the stone stays clean for approximately 4-5 years,” he explains.
Inside the petals, work on the meditation rooms and their connecting corridors is in full swing. “Peace and Equality are fully finished; in Sincerity only the air-conditioning remains to be installed,” says John. “We have yet to choose the precise type and size of the air-conditioning units for the remaining rooms.” All the other research for the petals is complete: the exact shades of colour for the walls have been picked; the design of the shield for each room is done.
The pond under the Matrimandir is almost ready. “In the centre of the pool will be a sculpted marble cone supporting a crystal. This is being made in the marble workshop. It will receive the ray of light that has passed through the crystal in the Chamber,” says John. For the time being, a blue tarpaulin sheet protects the surface. Above the pond, work on the Mother's symbol in white marble continues. “It is the last major job for the marble section. Apart from this, and fixing the discs to the bottom of the structure, the area below the Matrimandir is virtually ready,” says John.
We move into the Matrimandir. There, two major works still remain to be completed: the ramps and the inner skin. “For the floor boards of the ramps, we have opted for lightweight honeycomb aluminium panels. They will be covered with an industrial-grade heavy-duty carpet,” explains John. The glass parapet design is being developed in consultation with an expert from the Impact Safety Glass firm in Bangalore , the company which supplied the glass doors and parapets for the 12 meditation rooms inside the petals. “There are a lot of options in the glass world,” says John. “We are still deciding on the final glass parapet design and whether to import diamond-clear glass from Germany , or use one of the Indian varieties.”
The other major work is the inner skin of the Matrimandir. After years of experimenting with different materials, such as fibre-glass reinforced plastic, coloured glass and cloth, the decision has been made to go for a flame-retardant translucent fibre-glass fabric. “This fabric will be fixed into the white powder-coated aluminium triangles,” explains John. “The work promises to be immense as each triangle has a different dimension.”
Within the Inner Chamber, work is complete. Eight of the nine openings in the ceiling have been closed.
Only the central one has remained, for the sunbeam and the artificial lighting on the crystal as well as for the cool air from the new air conditioning system which has been installed in the north and south pillars. Gone, also, are the huge cotton sheets covering the carpet. Instead small cloth mats have been made available.
The top of the Matrimandir awaits the installation of the heliostat and a crane for cleaning the discs. “Both will hardly be visible from the gardens,” says John. “A company in Hyderabad is manufacturing super-transparent mirrors from diamond-clear glass for the heliostat, so that the ray on the crystal will be as natural as possible. The ordinary mirrors that were used before created a slightly greenish tint to the light.” The crane, custom-made in Germany is to arrive shortly. “It is probably the only completely stainless steel crane in the world,” says John. Designed to be 10 metres long in its collapsed form, the crane will have the capability to be raised up hydraulically and then telescope 20 metres outwards . The operator will clean the discs from a gondola at its tip.
The main work on the gardens is to establish the infrastructure. All the pathways radiating from the Matrimandir are being paved with granite and red Agra stone. Also the installation of the water infrastructure for the gardens has begun. An Indian company is to install about 8 kilometres of HDPE pipes. “The whole thing is going to be controlled by a computerised weather station,” says John. “The computer will know if it is hot and sunny or raining, and accordingly adjust the timings for watering by automatic pumps.”
Walking back to the office, John shares his own feelings about the work. “It is wonderful to see it moving at this speed, all the facets dancing together in harmony.”