Maintaining the Matrimandir
To build the main sphere and petals of the Matrimandir was the work of more than one generation, with hundreds and even thousands of people participating. Now that the work is done, a different team is slowly coming into being to care for this building with all its complexities.
This care entails huge cleaning jobs, like polishing the 1400 golden discs twice or thrice a year, and then cleaning their hidden backsides too. There are delicate jobs, like the daily cleaning of the globe in the Chamber or sponging down the glass-based fabric of the inner skin (all 2,000 square meters of it!). There are daily jobs and weekly jobs and some that have to be done when the monsoon rains are over…. there is, simply put, a huge amount of work to do to maintain the Matrimandir in top condition. In this issue we look at some of the teams and the tasks they do.
Cleaning of the crane is a daily job
The Crane and the Heliostat
Starting on top of the Matrimandir, we find two technically complex systems. The stainless steel crane, designed and built in Germany , then shipped here in pieces and reassembled in situ on top of Matrimandir, is used for heavy servicing jobs on the discs and outer skin, and for cleaning the discs too. The crane is a sophisticated device, relying on 8 electric motors to extend its 20 meter boom, lift its gondola and drive its hydraulic system. To keep all of these motors and their associated cables, sensors, switches and hydraulic parts in good working order requires the labour of two people for an hour or two every day. The climate of Tamil Nadu is merciless to any machine left unattended in the humid and salt-laden air in this coastal location. We have to stay on top of the rust and the dust!
The heliostat, which shares the privileged location of the roof of Matrimandir along with the crane, also requires close attention. The heliostat is the rotating mirror device which directs a ray of sun through a window, to be reflected from two fixed mirrors down through a large lens towards the crystal globe in the Chamber below. This device is controlled by a sophisticated computer program which knows very well the position of the sun at each moment of the day and must make the mirror follow that path. There are mechanical driver devices involved, stepper motors and linear drives that must be kept oiled and smooth so as to follow the movements indicated by the computer. Even the slightest irregularity in this drive system will cause the ray to dance on the globe down below in the Chamber. The heliostat goes about its daily tracking task automatically and on its own, but there are always one or two people who have to keep a watchful eye on the system to make sure that it is cleaned and tuned as it should be!
The golden discs and outer skin
Keeping the golden discs of Matrimandir clean and shining is one of the biggest jobs today on the structure. Cleaning the top few rows of discs is relatively easy, for one can perch oneself there and, with a little soapy water, wipe off the black soot and pollution that settles on the discs with each rain shower. But as one progresses down the outer curve of Matrimandir, the job changes character dramatically. Originally, it was intended to use the crane to take care of this work, and a hanging gondola for two was built so that it could be lowered down, level by level, to clean the discs.
This technique does work, but is not by itself enough to complete the whole job, for we have also to clean the backs of the discs (and this cannot be done from the crane gondola), and we have to clean the discs on the inward curving lower hemisphere of Matrimandir where the crane cannot reach. With these challenges in front of us, a new and dynamic team effort has recently come up on the site. A group of workers has adopted the methods and equipment of rock climbers to tackle these tricky jobs. Starting at 5 am in the morning, the assembled team of volunteers puts on its safety harnesses and, with ropes hooked strongly to anchorages on the structure, drops down from the equator to work, in silence, either behind or in front of the golden discs. Experimenting with a wide variety of detailed techniques, ingenious systems are being worked out to accomplish the job. Matrimandir these days is glowing freshly golden under the care of this adventurous team.
Volunteers clean the discs while being suspended from ropes
The Chamber and interior spaces
Inside the building, several other teams make their maintenance rounds. One team of two technicians daily services the AC system that sits inside the building and supplies cool air to the Chamber and then to the entire globe. This remarkable AC plant, situated just a few meters outside the wall of the Chamber, is virtually inaudible inside the Chamber, a vast improvement thanks to a lot of fine-tuning over the earlier air-conditioning system which interfered with the silence in the Inner Chamber. But the technicians have to keep a close eye on it, for if a bearing wears out or a compressor misbehaves, then the increased volume will immediately be heard in the Chamber.
There is a team of electricians too, who have to keep their eyes on the complex set of power distribution boards in the structure that energize everything from the AC plant, the many lights illuminating special features of the interior and the water pumps of the second-level fountains. If any of those four pumps ceases to function properly, there will quickly be a noise problem within the sphere of Matrimandir. So a plumbing team makes its regular inspection patrols here too.
Electricians checking the LED system
The inner skin, with its hundreds of concealed LED modules, designed to create the night time salmon-pink glow of the globe's interior, is another system that requires a specific team trained to make sure that everything functions well and that failed parts are promptly replaced. Climbing up inside the 70 centimeter wide gap between the outer skin and inner skin of Matrimandir to service these lighting modules requires a special agility indeed!
And then there is the interior cleaning team: right from the days when the Inner Chamber was first completed and began to be in regular use, around 1991, the Chamber cleaning team started to take shape. There, inside the room, the work is to clean virtually everything: the 70 centimeter glass globe, Sri Aurobindo's and Mothers' symbols, then the white carpet, the cushions and the lower parts of the columns and marble walls. At more infrequent intervals special efforts are mounted to wipe the full height of the 8.6 meter high walls and columns and even to shampoo the entire 400 sq m white floor carpet. When the interior of the Matrimandir sphere was completed, the Chamber team had to expand its duties to include the cleaning of the entire first and second levels and the two spiral ramps leading to the Chamber. The enlarged team of volunteers now cleans everything from the glass of the ramp parapets, to the white marble floors and carpet leading up to the Chamber.
Inner Chamber cleaning team at work
This team works in silence and with clock-like regularity, doing all that has to be done to keep the interior of Matrimandir as the Mother would want.
Inside the bottom tank!
There is another part of the structure, at its very foundation, that requires constant and very special care too. This is the 500 cubic meter underground tank located between the feet of the four main pillars of Matrimandir. All the rain water flows into this tank as well as any water that comes down from cleaning the discs. This tank is not visible when one looks under the structure. Rather one sees the marvelous 216-petalled marble lotus pond, with its 20 centimeter diameter crystal at the center, receiving the ray of sun that has passed through the entire building to finally land there. The storm water tank, called the “bottom tank”, is underneath all of that, and the lotus pond is a part of its roof.
Dusting off the Inner Skin is a delicate job!
Two concealed hatches in the plaza surrounding the lotus pond open onto ladders that lead down into the bottom tank…and down there, there are so many things to do! The tank presently houses six pumps of different sizes, some very large and some tiny, which are used to keep the tank as dry as possible, for we must insure against the accumulation of any standing water where mosquitoes would surely breed. To take care of these six pumps, with their water level sensors and the cleaning of the tank (which occasionally involves the removal of live snakes and scorpions) is a constant task requiring a very dedicated team!
These are the main areas of the structure that have to be cleaned and cared for. But the list certainly does not end there, and as one moves out into the petals, with the twelve smaller meditation rooms inside and then beyond into the gardens, the number of jobs, and the people involved in doing them, is set to multiply tremendously. The Garden of Existence is now almost complete and holds more than 1,000 flowering plants which need daily care and attention, as do the hundreds of other plants in the Garden of Unity and near the visitor's entrance to the Matrimandir. And then there is the entire Nursery to attend to, where young plants are being raised that will be moved into the future gardens. Many dedicated gardeners, both paid workers and volunteers, are busy every day with the upkeep of the expanding garden areas, and many more are needed; it is an out-in-the-sun, get-your-hands-dirty kind of work that is very satisfying for those who are connected to the world of plants and flowers.
The maintenance team of Matrimandir is thus constantly expanding with the growing needs on the site and more volunteers are coming to participate. This is the way it should be, for everyone in Auroville is connected to the energy of Matrimandir, and it is a place where each one can offer some of his/her time, working together, to help sustain this Center of the township.
Address for donations and correspondence:
(Please make your cheque, money order or DD payable to ‘Matrimandir')
MATRIMANDIR – AUROVILLE 605101 – TAMIL NADU – INDIA
Bookings: Tel (+91) (0413) 262-2268; accounts: 262-2228