March 12 th : A sudden cold and rainy day gives time for reflection after the bright and busy days of February. The push towards the very special day of Auroville's 40 th birthday on February 28 th helped some aspects of the construction to move rapidly forward.
The newly mounted disc over the Mahasaraswati entrance to Matrimandir
The new crane on the roof for example, which stood imposingly over the Matrimandir for the last few months, one day quickly disappeared from view as its hydraulic legs were tried out for the first time. Swinging around to face North-South the multi-ton crane settled down on its haunches between the rows of golden discs like some tiger hiding in tall savanna grasses. From the ground it was almost invisible, and now work is continuing so that it will nestle even closer to the concrete cap. When required for some task, it will rise up on its stainless steel legs to a height of some three meters above the structure so that it can deploy its extensible boom that can reach 20 meters from the center of the sphere. It will be used mainly for maintenance of the 1400 discs.
Above the West entrance, the second of the large four-petalled discs was fixed in place on the 16 th of February. This pillar was named Mahasaraswati by the Mother. In Sri Aurobindo's words, “Mahasaraswati is the Mother's Power of work and her spirit of perfection and order”. The symbol chosen by the architect to represent this aspect is a blue triangle situated at the center of the large disc.
Below the sphere, the scaffolding which was erected for the work on the main entrance doors and fixation of the remaining discs on the lower surface of the sphere was fully removed, revealing the beautiful lotus pond with its surrounding marble and granite-clad plaza. This wide cool space with the flowing waters of the pool at its center was a favorite spot for visitors wishing to spend a few quiet moments during the busy birthday week.
Inside the building, on the second level, the four fountains in the main ribs were made operational for the first time. This special feature, for long a subject of debate as regards its possible side effects, has proved to add a fresh and unexpected dimension to the marble and glass stillness of the second level, like that which one experiences in nature when one is near a small waterfall. The play of sound of the four rivulets splashing into the pools in the four ribs is very soothing, breaking the stillness with its quiet babble, helping to carry the mind back from structured thoughts into a more relaxed and open state -- a fitting preparation for the ascent up the ramp to the inner chamber.
The water from the second level fountain splashes into a small pool at its base
In the middle of all these preparations for the birthday week, we had unexpectedly to engage in some important troubleshooting too, for the Ray of sunlight in the Chamber suddenly started to wander out of focus! We have mentioned from time to time over the years the process of developing the heliostat, the sun-tracking system that sits on top of Matrimandir which, by means of a computer program, follows the sun all day and, using two fixed mirrors, directs a sunbeam down onto the crystal globe in the Chamber. This heliostat, a second generation prototype, had been functioning almost flawlessly since its installation three years ago. But suddenly in mid- January it began to search for the sun in the wrong part of the sky! The result was that the Ray would disappear from the Chamber, leaving us with the backup spotlight only. This development was definitely unacceptable, and it came just when everything was expected to be finished and as perfect as possible.
As Matrimandir approaches completion, its support and control systems – whether for the heliostat, the Chamber air-conditioning, the fountains or the irrigation of the gardens, to mention only a few – are inevitably more and more complex. The maintenance of these systems is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the work here. But in the case of the heliostat, the electronic controls are so specialized that its erratic behavior was very challenging for the on-site team. And then, an amazing thing happened: the electrical engineer who had developed and installed this system on a visit three years ago, and who had not been here since then, suddenly reappeared, apparently of his own accord, just to revisit Auroville and with some other projects in mind. Immediately he was alerted to the new problem, and of course he happily gave his full attention to it right away. By mid-February, after going through all the portions of the control system one by one, certain faults were identified, and the heliostat was made to follow the sun again, although in a temporary mode, (full repairs to the system were made in March). Thus the Ray returned to the Chamber in time for the Mother's birthday, and the play of this ray on the globe – the meeting of light and matter that Mother described in 1970 as symbolizing “future realizations” -- was once again in place. We were ready for Auroville's 40 th birthday too!
The folded and retracted boom of the crane on top of Matrimandir
With the birthday week over, it was once again back to serious construction work for the teams on the site. The crane on the roof poked its head above the discs and the heliostat as work resumed to finalize the fitting of the many control mechanisms for its hydraulic, electrical and water systems.
Scaffolding began to appear near the entrance on the South – the Maheshwari pillar – in preparation for fixing the special disc there, which will have an orange hexagon at its center. This disc is presently being finished in our gilding workshop nearby.
Below the sphere, scaffoldings reappeared to allow for the completion of work on the discs.
In the building and around it too, experiments were resumed to test and choose various light fittings needed to highlight areas such as the rib fountains, the vestibules to the Chamber and the entire golden globe with its twelve pathways approaching between the petals.
In the gardens, beyond the Banyan tree, work has picked up speed now on the completion of the masonry and structure of the mini-amphitheater in the Garden of Unity . And in the planning offices, minds turned again to the questions of the future gardens and the lake to come. The Matrimandir project has three main aspects, it must not be forgotten -- the structure, the gardens and the lake. And in spite of loud pronouncements in the local media on the occasion of Auroville's 40th birthday, this project is far from being “complete”! The structure of Matrimandir is virtually complete, that is true, but the gardens and lake are still ahead and represent a huge amount of work both in terms of planning and execution not to mention investment.
The gardens project presents an immense imaginative challenge: to create this very special environment which will embody the twelve atmospheres denoted by the names Mother gave to the various gardens (Existence, Consciousness, Bliss, etc). Intense efforts by several people have gone into creating previous design proposals for these gardens. Several on-the-ground trials, of varying scale, have been made over the last twenty years. The nearby Matrimandir nursery, developed and maintained over the last 37 years, harbors good collections of many types of plants (orchids, plumeria, hibiscus, cacti, to mention only a few). And now with the main structure of Matrimandir virtually complete, with the surrounding environment tamed sufficiently to allow for the introduction of a variety of more delicate plants, and with the gardens infrastructure fully in place, right down to the automated sprinkler system that will water them in future, it is time indeed for the gardens to come.
The present challenge is to map out the direction, to work out an integrated design for the next phase of execution and thus to open the door to the flowering of the gardens. In this regard, a fascinating summary of the current development of garden planning was presented on March 28 th by the three landscape architects who have been busy at work for some time. A line of development that has emerged from their study and previous design efforts for the harmonious and integrated linking of all the gardens was described.
On the basis of this overview, and within its general structure, their work will now begin to focus on the design for the cores of the various gardens. This process of design and implementation will be evolutionary, with initial steps being made that will themselves show the way forward to the next steps. This aspect was one that Roger Anger, the late architect of Matrimandir, emphasized often in the last few years -- that the gardens would be evolutionary, that we would not reach the heights that the Mother had envisioned for them in a single bound. The growth of the gardens is going to be an adventure of a very new kind!
A final note to say how happy we were to see so many of you here at Matrimandir during February, not least on Auroville's birthday. A surprising number of people had also been present here on the same day, 40 years earlier! We are grateful to all of you for your heartfelt collaboration in the ongoing work here!
Matrimandir seen from the garden of ‘Light', with the hibiscus Mother named
‘Light of the Purified Power'
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