Alain Grandcolas' involvement with Matrimandir began early. In August, 1970, even before the land for it was bought, he was asked to organize, near the Banyan tree, a ceremony to invoke the Grace for the building of Matrimandir. When excavation work finally began in March, 1971, Alain's job was to pinpoint the centre of the future Matrimandir so that the diggers knew where to excavate.
“At first only Aurovilians were digging. But after six months we calculated that, even if we doubled the speed of the work, it would take until February, 1978 just to finish the excavation – and this was the target date for completing the entire project!” Consequently, the Mother was asked if they could hire an excavator. She told the Aurovilians to take villagers instead, as She wanted to provide them with work.
Alain was put in charge of more than four hundred villagers, some of whom came from as far away as Andhra Pradesh. Within three months the excavation was complete.
When the actual construction started, Alain worked with Ruud Lohman on constructing the ribs. But he was also concerned that the garden work should get underway and asked Mother if they could begin. Mother agreed, specifying that they should start on 24th November, 1972 at six in the morning. “At the end of that morning, however, Piero came and told us a bulldozer was coming – from Calcutta ! – and it would be cheaper to wait (instead, a ramming machine arrived!). But we had workers coming next day. So we asked Shyamsunder what we should do. He opened the Matrimandir map, took a pen and put its point on the urn. That was how Ruud and I took responsibility for the permanent construction of the amphitheatre.”
In September, 1973, when the structure of the amphitheatre was nearing completion, Alain left Auroville to return to the Ashram. Later he returned to France . While he visited Auroville yearly, he only came back permanently in 1999. After two years working in the Information Service he is now once again responsible for the work in the Matrimandir gardens.
Why did he return to the gardens? “One day, in April 2002, I was walking in a meditative mood in my room and it came as an adesh. ‘Go and build the Matrimandir gardens according to Roger's design'. So I decided that if, by November 24th, 2002, the gardens according to Roger had not been started, I would begin working there to achieve this. Since then my main concern has been to develop the designs with Roger and Jacqueline and to build them as prototypes.”
Alain is hopeful that the structure of the gardens – meaning the contouring and pathways – will be completed by March, 2007. He notes, however, that Roger now considers that the gardens themselves should continue to develop and evolve rather than represent a fixed solution.
Has Alain's understanding of the significance, the meaning, of Matrimandir developed over the years? “Very much so. In the beginning, Mother's statement that ‘the Matrimandir will be the soul of Auroville, the sooner it is there the better' was sufficient to motivate us. But this was only a very rough understanding of what it represents. At the same time, something very important for Ruud and myself was chapter six of Sri Aurobindo's The Mother where the four aspects of the Universal Mother are described. We even used to play a game: whenever we encountered a problem, we would try to understand it in terms of the four aspects, playing out the different roles to arrive at a more comprehensive solution.
“Then, one day in the mid 1980s, an Ashramite was going through his papers and found something written by the Mother. ‘The Matrimandir wants to be the symbol of the Universal Mother according to Sri Aurobindo's teaching.' ‘Symbol', in this sense, means a ‘charged' tool that constantly invites us to be in contact with something higher within oneself. I was so happy to read this because, for me, it is the most beautiful explanation of the deeper meaning of Matrimandir.
“The other quote which has helped me in better understanding the Matrimandir is that ‘Matrimandir wants to be the symbol of the Divine's answer to man's aspiration for perfection'. This means that whenever we are working on the Matrimandir we are invited to strive for perfection. My work with Roger on the gardens has been a living experience of this. For he modifies his prototypes many, many times until the moment he feels he has attained perfection in the design, which means that he believes he has achieved what Mother wants us to do.”
No one doubts the striving for perfection at Matrimandir. But how is it that the Matrimandir project, a project intended, among other things, to unify the Aurovilians should have witnessed so many conflicts over the years? Alain pauses. “When something is very close to your heart you do not want it to drift off course. People have different views about what should be done but because it's the Matrimandir, and because there's a sense that what is done here is for eternity, people hold on to their views more strongly. And, it must be said, working at Matrimandir boosts the ego very easily.”
So is working at the Matrimandir a blessing or a curse? Alain laughs. “In the early years we felt that in building the soul of Auroville we were building our own soul. In fact in 1986, when some Bombay businessmen offered to fund the completion of the Matrimandir as long as there was a plan to complete it in four years, the offer was refused on the basis that the soul could not be built so quickly!
“Now I don't think that working at Matrimandir helps you to progress any quicker than working elsewhere in Auroville. At the same time, this place is definitely more charged than many other places. Certainly the inner room has an atmosphere of a very special quality and intensity. It's very similar to the atmosphere of the meditation hall in the Ashram – you feel a peace infusing all the cells of your body. In the meditation hall the atmosphere is more intimate. Here it is wider.”