With the completion of the Matrimandir the stage is set for the completion of Bharat Nivas, the Pavilion of India
On March 1st, the Auroville Foundation staff moved into the Auroville Foundation Bhavan, its new office nearby the Town Hall. The old administrative offices at Bharat Nivas, from where Auroville was administered for more than 25 years, are now empty, awaiting a new future.
Studying the plans for Bharat Nivas. From left to right: Dhruv, Dr. Karan Singh, Prashant, Meenakshi, Aster and Divya
Bharat Nivas, the Pavilion of India, has harboured almost 40 Auroville units ever since, in 1984, its unfinished structures came into the possession of Auroville. It was the time of the Auroville Emergency Provisions Act. “Auroville received a grant of Rs 1 lakh from the Human Resource Development Ministry to set up a Centre for Research in Indian Culture,” recalls Aster. “It was a large a sum for the Auroville of '84, and we discussed how best to handle it as many units and working groups in Auroville were in urgent need of offices.”
Aurofuture, the Development Group, the Entry Group, the Residents' Service, the Archives, the Library and SAIIER were all in need of space. The library books, stored in cardboard boxes under the Amphitheatre, were disintegrating due to inflowing rain water. “We decided that Bharat Nivas should be opened up to all Auroville,” says Aster. The money was not only used to start the Centre for Research in Indian Culture, but also for makeshift arrangements for many other units. And so the unfinished structures of Bharat Nivas became the administrative hub of Auroville's community life.
With the departure of the Auroville Foundation offices, most of Bharat Nivas has now become available to fulfil its true purpose: to be the Pavilion of India in the International Zone. To assess its importance, we have to go back to February 1971, when The Mother initiated the work on two construction sites: the Matrimandir and Bharat Nivas. “She said that she wanted the Pavilion to be finished by Sri Aurobindo's centenary, in 1972. This calls for a deep reflection,” says Aster.
In 1970, The Mother explained to Prem Malik the main purpose of the International Zone: to demonstrate, at the physical level, the essential unity that exists behind the diversity which manifests itself in the world in the form of different cultures. But, She said, this unity manifests itself only at the spiritual level. For that reason She stressed the importance of revealing the spiritual heritage of each country. In the record of his meeting with The Mother, Prem wrote that “The Mother made a statement that this was the reason why She wanted the Indian Pavilion to be the first to be built, as India was the one country which had an unbroken spiritual heritage and one which could act as an example for the other pavilions to follow.”
The original design of Bharat Nivas was for an auditorium, a restaurant, a school of linguistics, a guest house and pavilions for the different states of India . The Mother wanted the Government of India to provide the funds for building the Pavilion. A grant of Rs 90 lakhs was received. Unfortunately, this money was not used for the purpose for which it was granted and the buildings that had begun – the auditorium, the restaurant and three circular state pavilions – remained unfinished.
“Over the years, various teams of architects studied how to finish the buildings,” says Aster. “The original plans of architect Chakrapani had been badly modified. But as there were no funds and the spaces were not free, little could be done.”
The situation changed in 1994. With a small government grant the auditorium was somewhat renovated. Subsequent grants helped to modify the restaurant building into an art centre, called Kala Kendra; to build Atithi Griha, a students' guest house; and construct the ground floor of the Sri Aurobindo World Centre for Human Unity. This year it became possible to do a first-class renovation of the Sri Aurobindo auditorium and to build Swagatham, a new guest house with facilities for visiting scholars and other senior people.
Plans are now in progress to make a Master Plan for the Bharat Nivas campus in order to integrate all buildings and create a true campus ‘feel'. Two new buildings are planned. One is the Tamil Heritage Centre designed by Auroville architect Poppo. Its construction will start soon on the site allocated to it years ago, as funds have meanwhile been allocated. The second new building is the Centre of Indian Studies, to be designed by renowned Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi. Here, preparatory work has started but the plans are yet to be made. The three unfinished circular pavilions will be demolished when the present occupants have found another location. They will be replaced by a small open-air amphitheatre. The former offices of the Auroville Foundation will be turned into an exhibition space to host a permanent exhibition on India titled ‘The Sense of the Infinite'. An implementation programme for the next 5 years is being worked out under the guidance of B.V. Doshi. “Dr. Karan Singh, on his visit to Auroville on March 30, 2008, discussed the plans with the Bharat Nivas team,” says Aster. “He said that this was the first time he sensed the identity of Bharat Nivas!”
Meanwhile, the purpose of the Pavilion to reveal the spiritual heritage of India continues to be pursued by all the activities that are based there. “The Centre for Indian Studies will continue its frontline comparative research in areas such as philosophy, psychology, new dimensions of spirituality and their correlation with the traditional knowledge of India and the work of Sri Aurobindo,” says Aster. “The seeds of this work were sown as early as 1984 when we started programmes in all these areas and organised exhibitions, lectures and conferences.”
With the financial support of the Government of India, Aster is confident that Bharat Nivas will soon manifest more fully. “The Government has decided to fulfil its commitment made to The Mother in 1971 to provide the funds for Bharat Nivas,” she says. “But also the support of the Auroville community is of the essence. We should all feel the importance of finishing Bharat Nivas, for it holds the key to the flowering of the entire International Zone.”
Photo credit: Photo Giorgio