Thousands of visitors come to see the Matrimandir.
That number will increase in the years to come.
How does one preserve the inviolability of the Matrimandir and its gardens?
“She never gave a free right to enter the Matrimandir. She said that there will be a time in the week or a time in the day when visitors will be allowed to come; a fixed time or a fixed day to show people around, and that for the rest of the time, the Matrimandir will be for those who are serious – serious, sincere – who really want to learn to concentrate. She said to Roger Anger, the architect, that the Matrimandir is reserved for Aurovilians; but that not everyone will be admitted. The first condition for those who want to go there is to ask. On this basis we have formulated our Matrimandir access policy.”
The members of the Matrimandir Access Team, Srimoyi, Arayamani, Lala, and Shiva, nod in unison when fellow-member Gilles explains what The Mother had said about access to the Matrimandir. They have been in charge of receiving visitors and regulating admission for the last few years. “Our main concern,” says Gilles, “has been that the Matrimandir and its gardens not become a “free for all' and that the atmosphere doesn't decline. Those who have visited the Baha'i Lotus Temple in New Delhi will know what we try to prevent: thousands of tourists walking and chatting all over the place, with scant concern for the sanctity of the place.”
The Soul of Auroville
“The reasons why people want to visit the Matrimandir vary,” says Gilles. “Some are attracted by what the Matrimandir truly represents; others are day-trippers curious to see ‘the golden globe'.” With India 's fast development, many people now own motorbikes and cars and outings have become fashionable. Others come by tour buses. On special holidays, the number of visitors runs into thousands.
“One of the first things we noticed is that most visitors do not understand the relationship between the Matrimandir and Auroville. For them, the Matrimandir is just another temple in South India ,” says Lala. “You can't blame them, for Auroville can nowhere be seen. The communities, the schools, the workshops are all hidden and closed to visitors. That's why we have made it mandatory for all visitors to see the video on Auroville before visiting the Matrimandir. In that way they come to know about Auroville's aims and ideals and that the Matrimandir is an integral part of Auroville and would never have been built if it was not as Auroville's Soul. The video also communicates something of the inner meaning of the Matrimandir: that it is an instrument for a change of consciousness, an extraordinary tool for Sri Aurobindo and The Mother to communicate their message.” After having seen the video and the exhibition on the Matrimandir at the Visitors Centre, visitors can get a pass for the amphitheatre from where they can see the Matrimandir from a distance. These visits can be made at any time throughout the week, with the exception of Sunday afternoons, the time when staff who deal with the visitors everyday have their free afternoon. We also noticed that the crowds on Sundays afternoons in particular, were rather undisciplined. Some caused us quite a bit of trouble. We are open Sunday mornings for those who cannot come during the week to see the Matrimandir. As we do not want to promote the Matrimandir as a tourist attraction, we find the Sunday afternoon closure quite appropriate,” says Srimoyi.
Visiting the chamber
Those who are interested to meditate in the Matrimandir have to express their interest and are then told how to get a special pass. “Access to the Matrimandir,” says Aryamani, “is very much an individual affair. The Matrimandir is not a building to see, but to experience. Meditating in the Chamber has an effect on people, but not all people are ready for that. It is for this reason we do not allow groups inside. The Mother made it clear that the Matrimandir is for individuals to concentrate. We have created an individual booking service, where those interested can make a reservation.”
For first-time visitors, a special introduction programme has been organised. After having seen the video on Auroville, one of the team members gives a short talk on the Matrimandir. Says Srimoyi, “We deal with groups of 30 to 50 people, each afternoon from 4-5 p.m.. We always get many questions. People want to know the reasons for the golden discs, the why of the rose inner skin, the meaning of the crystal, and why there are twelve gardens and petals. Some ask about the ideals of Auroville and the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.” After the introductory talk, the visitors are brought to a meditation chamber in one of the petals for 10 minutes and then to the Inner Chamber for a concentration of another 10 minutes. “We give them time to get a sense of the place. There is usually a lot of looking around. As this time is specially set aside for first-time visitors, they do not disturb those who come to do a serious concentration, “ says Srimoyi. This experience, it appears, has been very successful.
The team is more relaxed about repeat visitors. “Once a person has been in the Chamber, he or she is entitled to a pass for the 5-6 pm meditation,” says Srimoyi. But advance booking is necessary as the room can only hold a limited number of people at a time.
Matrimandir attracts people from all levels of society. Visits from VVIPs are usually announced well in advance so that special arrangements can be made. Some of them come with a police escort – but firearms are strictly banned from the Matrimandir. VIP visits are often announced on the day itself. “We are not always certain who comes,” says Shiva. “Sometimes it is the VIP; but sometimes it happens to be a distant relative or friend who uses the VIP's name to get special reception. It is difficult to fit them in, particularly if they turn up with a large entourage. Also they often do not care to come at the stipulated time. But we cannot mix them with first-time visitors or with the 5-6 meditation groups. Ideally, they should visit when there are no other people in the Chamber. We'll have to make a special time for them. And as they often bypass the Visitors Centre, we'll also have to find another location to show them the videos on Auroville.”
The team has observed that there is no big rush from Aurovilians to meditate in the Chamber. So far, they've had free access each morning and evening from 6-8. But not many have come.
“It's not an act of indifference,” says Aryamani. “Don't forget that the Matrimandir is a presence and an action. Quite a few Aurovilians are aware of that. They may sometimes feel that they can't go into the Chamber for inner reasons. Many Aurovilians meditate at home, or just come to the banyan tree and sit there for some time in silence. With the growth of Auroville this will all change. Can you imagine how many people will come to the Matrimandir when the city has 50,000 inhabitants?”
Once Matrimandir is completed
“Once the Matrimandir is finished,” says Srimoyi, “the situation may change.” Is there any intention to then give more access to day-visitors, for example by allowing them into the Matrimandir to have a look at the crystal as was done many years ago? The answer is a definite ‘no'. “According to what we understand, after studying all that She has said on the Matrimandir, She did not want the Matrimandir to be open to the public in this fashion,” says Srimoyi, and she adds, “and moreover, it is not manageable. It's impossible to regulate thousands of people in and around the Matrimandir. It's all marble and white carpet inside. So many people cannot put on socks, walk up to the room, then walk down and out again into the gardens or into the other meditation rooms. The atmosphere would be destroyed. Moreover, we do not have the required manpower to supervise all these people. Already now we need a minimum of 10 people to supervise access to the Inner Chamber and one for every one or two petal meditation rooms. If you calculate the number of guards that would be required if all the petal meditation rooms and the gardens were open to the public, you would easily reach a number of 50-80 people! The organisation would be massive.”
An equally impressive organisation will be required to regulate access for those who want to meditate in the Inner Chamber or in one of the 12 petal chambers. “Over the last years we've allowed on average 30 new people each day to access the Chamber,” says Gilles. “This means that we are effectively entitling an additional 11,000 people each year to meditate in the Chamber! We intend to computerize our visitors' system so that we can check if someone has indeed been visiting the Matrimandir before, but that will not affect the numbers very much. Advance booking will become a requirement. In due time, it may even be necessary for Aurovilians to book in advance if they want to come to concentrate.”
The most important change the team foresees is shifting the visiting times to the mornings, early morning for first-time visitors and later for repeat visitors' meditation. This would leave the afternoons, and particularly the hours after work, free for Aurovilians. The area around the Banyan tree will be available for people to sit and gather themselves inwardely before they enter the Matrimandir. But the team is still in the process of reflecting on its experience, in order to propose access regulations for the future.
Understanding and goodwill
Though the basics of the Matrimandir access policy seems to have been worked out, the team expects the pressure to grow. “Whatever we do, it won't be enough,” predicts Gilles. “The pressure to take more people will only increase. And even if we take more people than we wish to, we still will be under pressure to take more.” The situation is comparable to that of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Ten years ago it was easy to get permission to visit Sri Aurobindo's room. These days, with crowds of people visiting the Ashram, permission is only granted to those who have their birthdays. “I asked Manoj Das Gupta, one of the Ashram trustees, for advice about how to deal with the problem,” says Gilles. “His answer was interesting: ‘Change consciousnesses'. It will be difficult.”
Sri Aurobindo said...
On January 30th 1971, while reading to the Mother a chapter from his book “On the way to Supermanhood”, Satprem quoted the following passage from one of Sri Aurobindo's letters:
“... I don't believe in advertisement except for books, etc., and in propaganda except for politics and patent medicines. But for serious work it is a poison. It means either a stunt or a boom – and stunts and booms exhaust the thing they carry on their crest and leave it lifeless and broken high and dry on the shores of nowhere – or it means a movement. A movement in the case of a work like mine means the founding of a school or a sect or some other damned nonsense. It means that hundreds of thousands of useless people join in and corrupt the work or reduce it to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy and silence. It is what has happened to the ‘religions' and it is the reason of their failure.”
Sri Aurobindo: On Himself
“That passage should be typed and put up in Auroville. It is indispensable. They all have a false idea about propaganda and publicity. It should be typed in big letters; at the top, “Sri Aurobindo said,” then put the quotation and send it to Auroville. Say I am the one who's sending it.”