New energy has flowed again into the design and materialisation of the Matrimandir gardens and recently there was a well-received exhibition of new designs for the first three gardens. Marc who, together with Marie and Maurizio, designed these gardens, talks about the process.
AVToday: What is the recent history of the Matrimandir garden design?
Some years ago, Roger Anger asked Paolo Tommasi to draw up a design for the twelve Matrimandir gardens. Roger also came up with his own design. Their very different proposals were exhibited in 2002. Roger was not happy with Paolo's design but Roger also said later that he didn't want his own designs to be implemented .This was the end of the first phase.
The second phase started five years ago when Roger publicly invited anyone to come forward to design one or more of the gardens. There were certain guidelines to be respected but otherwise there was great freedom. Ultimately fourteen proposals were put forward by nine Aurovilians.
A Garden Reflection Group was formed, with Roger at its head, to scrutinise the designs and decide if any full-scale prototypes should be made. Eventually four prototypes – for the Unity, Bliss, Light and Power gardens – were installed on site. Roger was quite positive about some of these designs. However, for several reasons, the Matrimandir executives were reluctant to take the next step – the main one was that they felt their mandate did not include starting the actual gardens – so the process was effectively blocked.
Model of the garden area with designs for the gardens of Existence (left), Consciousness and Bliss
The most recent phase began one and a half years ago. I had been out of Auroville and when I returned, I met Marie who is a landscape architect. A few weeks later Maurizio, another landscape architect, arrived from Italy and we all decided to work together on a new concept for the gardens.
This time we agreed we wanted a unified design for the twelve gardens. Meanwhile, Roger had left his body but he had left enough clues – for example, regarding the basic parameters and the ‘necklace' and ‘jewels' etc. – about how to unify the gardens.
What are the ‘necklace' and the ‘jewels', and where did they come from?
The jewels are something that represent the essence, the meaning, of each garden. They will not be immediately visible: you have to walk into the heart of the garden to discover them. I think Roger must have taken the concept from Mother – She mentions them – and he was very attached to it. So in our conception the pathway through the middle of the gardens is a kind of connecting ‘necklace', and there is a ‘hook' in each garden which leads you towards that garden's jewel. The ‘jewel' of the sat garden is a stone beneath which is a hidden spring; in chit it is a square fountain in a pool in the shape of a water-drop; in ananda it is a thousand-drop fountain and seven bowls in a white surrounding.
Maurizio spent five years in Japan . He has a deep knowledge of rock arrangements but he is also a calligrapher, so he proposed that our initial approach should be to take ink and brushes and try, without thought, to sketch the twelve jewels. Later, Marie and I also used this intuitive, non-mental approach to come up with ideograms to represent the essential form or direction of each garden. We took the name of each garden and sketched a simple shape. Interestingly, we got very similar designs. For example, ananda was represented for both of us by a circle and Progress is steps or a spiral or something soaring upwards.
We also tried to grasp how the gardens relate to other elements of the Oval – the Matrimandir, the Amphitheatre and the Banyan – energetically and symbolically. We think there is some hidden meaning in the layout of the Oval. The Oval itself has the shape of a tantric egg and I think Roger consciously – and even unconsciously – put strong symbols here.
Last summer I also sat down to read the compilation of Gilles Guigan about what Sri Aurobindo and Mother had said or written about the ‘qualities' which each of the twelve gardens should express. It was a beautiful work, which also gave us very interesting clues to the design of the gardens. For example, Sri Aurobindo says sat (or existence), “has formed itself here, fundamentally, as Matter”. So what is fundamental matter? For us, in a garden, it is rock. But Sri Aurobindo says sat is not only being, but also becoming, it's the source, the beginning of manifestation. So we have a spring in the Existence (sat) garden, and there is also a large egg-shaped area with a large stone partly in and partly out of the ground, symbolising fundamental matter emerging from the soil. Symbolically, the subsoil of the garden is sat as being, and the surface is sat as becoming. From the source, a thin golden spiral spreads itself out in the twelve gardens, as a golden necklace symbolising both the manifestation and the unity of these gardens.
How important is it that when one enters the gardens one understands the symbols?
Mother said that when you enter a garden you should experience what it tries to express. In the Bliss (ananda) garden you will feel ananda and so on. I don't think we are there yet. I've seen that in many symbolic gardens in the world – Japanese gardens, for example – the symbols are not obvious, but you can read explanations about what is represented. I think this adds to the experience, so it might be better to understand the symbols before entering the Matrimandir gardens. In terms of approaches to garden design, Paolo represents the more ‘natural' approach and Roger the more ‘architectural'.
Your designs are clearly closer to Roger's conception.
Yes, I have chosen to follow Roger and to respect the basic parameters he laid down because Mother chose him for this work and She told him everything about the gardens. Actually, my own preference is for Japanese gardens – I love Japanese gardens – but it makes no sense to have a real Japanese garden here. These gardens are integrally part of a specific culture, and there are also different gardens at different periods of Japan 's history. Besides, Roger was very clear that the Matrimandir Gardens would not be recreational. They would be unlike any other gardens in the world because, for him, they would be the first step in an initiatory journey that would end in the Chamber. So it's obvious there will never be many people in the gardens at any one time: probably people will have to get permission to enter them.
As to how the gardens will be used, we don't know exactly whether or not people should enter them in any particular order. My personal opinion is that there is an order but perhaps, like the petal concentration chambers, people will simply go to the garden corresponding to the quality they wish to explore and experience at that moment.
However, these gardens can reflect the spirit of other gardens. For example, we've had some meetings about how to translate the Japanese spirit – that of reflectiveness, beauty etc. – into these gardens and I think we've made some progress. The problem with designing the Matrimandir gardens is that there are so many different tendencies in Auroville – some want big trees, others just flowers, some want to be able to see the starts at night, etc. – and they are difficult to harmonise. I notice, however, a softening of previously held positions.
When we displayed our first three garden designs recently we had positive feedback from many whom before had strongly-differing viewpoints. Also, let's not forget that there will be a large park with beautiful big trees just aside the twelve gardens, on the other part of the Oval Island .
Perspective drawing of the garden of Existence
Roger did not want any trees in the gardens and your designs reflect this wish. Won't this lack of shade make the gardens unapproachable for long periods during the hotter months?
Roger didn't want big trees in the gardens because he didn't want the view of Matrimandir to be obscured but also because his vision was that the Matrimandir site should be perceived as a whole. But this problem of shade could be considered. We could study how to put small trees at the back of the gardens far from the Matrimandir – as far as I know Roger was not against this. Roger also had the idea that people could be provided with Japanese-style paper umbrellas so they could walk in the gardens during the day.
Water is also a very important element in the designs of all your gardens. Is this wise in a region of water scarcity?
We haven't made an estimate of the water consumption yet, but we are aware of the problem and are working with Narad and Tina, and Richard from the Ashram to find drought-resistant plants. Also, all the fountains in our gardens will recycle the water they use.
Once in place, will the gardens be very tightly controlled or allowed to develop naturally?
Both. Now there is consensus that, except perhaps for some specific plants, most of the plants and bushes will be planted in the ground so there will be some natural development. But the gardens will also be carefully maintained and controlled in a way that won't feel artificial.
What is the next step in deciding upon these three garden designs?
We had a positive response from most people (about 180 people, including 150 Aurovilians) who came to see our recent exhibit. The next step is to call for an official two weeks' feedback from the larger community. If the response is good we can start the Existence garden soon as everybody at Matrimandir wants to begin and the money (for the gardens only) is available. If all goes well, the first garden could be realised this year and the next two by the end of 2010.
But these gardens will evolve. We can change them easily if, after some years, we have another vision. Meanwhile we can start work on designing the second sequence – Light, Life and Power.
Were you not tempted to start with easier concepts to materialise than Existence, Consciousness and Bliss?
Yes, my first feeling, when Roger asked me to work on the design of the Matrimandir Gardens five years ago, was to start with the Progress garden because the concept seemed more concrete, easier to materialise. However two years ago, along with the Garden Group, we came to the conclusion that we had to respect the sequence of the gardens as given by The Mother, starting with Existence and ending with Perfection and materialise the gardens in that order.
Isn't it unusual that the order of the gardens runs anti-clockwise?
Yes, but anti-clockwise, in my opinion, represents the descent from the divine into matter, while evolution is the opposite movement. So the Matrimandir would be emerging clockwise from matter. It's interesting that in his Record of Yoga Sri Aurobindo mentions not only seven supramental suns but also an ‘eighth sun of Truth' hidden in the heart of Mother Earth. I think Matrimandir is the eighth sun which, he said, will awaken Earth “to her own divinity”.
But let's be clear – we don't pretend we have the truth of these gardens, and we are open to people joining us in this adventure. But we do think we got a lot of clear indications from our research and from our intuitive work. Five years ago I thought it was almost impossible to catch anything of these gardens but once we started working, we discovered a certain magic in the process, especially during the last phase. We could be empty for days, weeks, and then one day we would start drawing, with nothing in mind, and within a few minutes we would catch something and in a very short time the whole concept would be there. For example, the last design of Bliss garden came like that, in ten minutes.
It's what Roger told me. You don't need time; once you catch the thing it can be done very quickly. You just have make yourself open, not to pull but just to be available for whatever wants to come through. So now I'm very confident about the other gardens because I know when we start working with a certain attitude, the thing comes. Even if the mental knowledge is a great help, it's absolutely not a mental process.
Marc and Marie working on the concept
Features of the proposed gardens
SAT: Garden of Existence
Quality: Psychic Power in Existence, “Manifold, imperious, and irresistible in its comprehensive sweetness.”
Features: Emergence of a primary and rough stone; beginning of the spiral of evolution in an egg shape (birth); spring of water which appears hidden by the stone and disappears into matter, to gush back in chit; generous use of minerals; pink flowers to express the psychic.
CHIT: Garden of Consciousness
Quality: Supramental Consciousness, “Gloriously awake and powerful, it is luminous, sure of itself, infallible in its movements”.
Features: Water gushes from a square fountain; flows down 7 stepping-stones representing the seven steps to reaching matter; and impregnates a marshy area; yellow flowers express the Supramental sun.
ANANDA: Garden of Bliss
Quality: ananda, “Calm, tranquil, equal, smiling and very gentle in its truly simple austerity.”
Features: Calm austerity of the vast white esplanade; crystalline harmony of the sounds created by the thousand drop fountain; seven bowls representing the seven major anandas catching the light of the sky; white and pale blue flowers.
The Matrimandir Gardens as a whole cannot be compared or identified with any past or existing garden since they have to respond to the indications given by the Mother to manifest a specific beauty and various states of consciousness. They are the first step on the initiatory path of the Matrimandir, and have to create a favourable atmosphere for the visitors' inward receptivity. This research has still to be done. It will be more of a quest to allow a vision to be manifested than a mental work to get a synthesis of the various existing traditional forms of gardens, Japanese or Western.
Roger Anger, January 2004