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Matrimandir Newsletter

June 2009


Progress in the Garden of Unity

The Garden of Unity was the scene of a massive concreting effort during the first week of May, with over 650 bags of cement having been used over six days to concrete the curving pathways of this garden. Under the hot May sun, a train of wheelbarrows carrying the cement churned out by our trusty 37-year-old mixer, were wheeled into place, and their contents were then leveled to the heights marked by a series of steel pegs.


Concreting a path near the mini-amphitheater in the Unity garden


It was a great effort on everyone's part and the group was fed with frequent snacks of samosas, bananas, boiled eggs and liters of lemon juice and tea to keep them energized under the burning sun. All the paths concreted are sloped so that the monsoon rains flow towards the oval road that circles the gardens, and where eventually the valuable water will be collected for further use. Several of these paths radiate out from the Banyan tree, which stands at the inner boundary of this garden, sloping away from the tree so that the excess water does not accumulate there. Banyan trees like to grow where the soil is dry on the surface, though their roots are famous for being able to seek out hidden sources of underground water.

Having completed this phase of concreting the paths, we will now remove and recondition the composted soil within the circular sub-sections of the garden before beginning the work of cladding the paths with red Agra and green slate paving stones.

Concreting in Unity garden near the Banyan tree



The Stone for the Garden of Existence .

There are times at Matrimandir when a sense of humour is really essential …and this was one of them!


We started the garden of Existence on April 16th. That day the designers moved from the office onto the site and began marking the oval shape of the garden and its spiral pathway, which had up until then been marked only on their maps and drawings. It was wonderful that day to see the beginning in matter of the Gardens that have been studied and planned for for so long. Then an earth mover was called in to level the area where the large central stone would be placed, surrounded by a field of white gravel.


The Oval outline of the Garden of Existence begins to take shape


The garden team began to search for this stone, making exploratory forays to granite quarries near Mailam, some 40 km west of Auroville. Finally, on April 29th, a stone was found which seemed to fit the bill…it was six meters long, two and a half wide and a meter thick. Just what the designers had in mind for this central symbol of the garden of Existence . The problem was that this large stone was very, very heavy. No ordinary lorry would carry it and an especially strong crane would be needed to lift it. The stone was estimated to weigh something like 18 tons!


Several days went by before the needed equipment could be assembled. Then the process was interrupted by the general elections in India . After that, everything seemed ready, the moment seemed to have come when the stone could be lifted onto the lorry and brought to the Matrimandir gardens site. But then, on returning once more to the quarry for the final loading (so we thought), we got instead the bad news that our wonderful stone had been shattered to bits by a routine quarry-mining blast that was set off near the stone! Nothing remained of the huge boulder but a small pile of chunks of rock!


Then it was back to square one: we would have to mount fresh expeditions to locate another stone, one whose size and shape were suited for the garden...this was no joke…this job would be difficult.


On the other hand, something had very much changed on the site, in the spot where the stone was to come: the oval-shaped area where the stone was to be placed was leveled now, the soil having been removed from the contoured wave form which reaches out to the Oval road. There is an outline too, showing where the stone would have sat, - where the now shattered stone would have sat! But there is something more -- there is a real sense now of the presence of the stone, this anchor of the garden of Existence . Something has begun to grow there, on that leveled space of red earth with its surrounding border of green grass. The garden has somehow taken root and begun to grow, and it grows in spite of this temporary setback, the loss of the stone.


One is reminded of similar instances that occurred during the construction of Matrimandir. The most famous one was the loss of the first set of ramp glass panels which landed up trapped in a glass factory for years on end due to a labour dispute there. We came out of that impasse when another factory was eventually found much closer by. The tempered glass panels that make up the beautiful curved parapets that border the ramp today were produced there.


Then there were the inner skin panels: three times we had to start over again to produce the triangular panels before we got it right, before the problems were overcome that stood in the way of a most perfect result.


Then again, there was the time we began to gild the discs using the traditional French method of applying thin gold leaf on a freshly varnished surface. We made almost two hundred discs that way and began to mount them on Matrimandir, only to discover that the crows and pigeons sitting on the upper edges of the discs were damaging them by scratching them with their claws. So we were again back to square one. Eventually we were led to the invention of the highly durable, gold-leaf-in-glass tiles that now cover all of the discs, a fine result indeed.


One could go on, but the point is clear, -- there are no easy solutions here, everything requires a constant effort and attention, sometimes to be redone, obstacles to be overcome, and a continuing search for the perfect result. It is very much a part of the process here. And perseverance is required, to hang on, to move forward, and to let ourselves, finally, be shown the way.

And so it will be with the stone: the search will be started again, we will look in places we did not look before and eventually the right stone will be found; it will be brought here and be placed, just so, at the focal point of this garden, the first of the twelve gardens of Matrimandir.


Aligning the Sun's Ray

There are many tasks involved in maintaining the Matrimandir these days, and ensuring that the sun's ray stays vertical in the Chamber and centered on the globe is certainly one of them; for sometimes, if rarely, the ray moves slightly out of position, and then the maintenance team must act to put it right again.


There are three mirrors on top of Matrimandir. The first is the heliostat, a movable one, which rotates to catch a ray of sunlight. This ray is then reflected through a window to a second mirror, which is fixed, and which reflects the ray horizontally over to the third mirror positioned exactly above the crystal globe at the center of the Chamber floor. This third mirror reflects the ray down to the globe, some fifteen meters below.


Now occasionally, the alignment of these three mirrors gets slightly skewed, whether due to an adjustment bolt becoming loose or due to someone inadvertently bumping into one of the mirrors - and then the ray no longer strikes the center on top of the globe in the Chamber. This is not all right, as an error of even a few centimeters is visible to anyone in the room.


To set things right two people are needed -- one positioned on the roof near the mirrors and one in the room near the globe. Peering down at the transparent globe through the opening in the Chamber ceiling, the bright reflected rays from the globe make it quite hard to see what is going on below, so a target, like a bull's eye, is placed on top of the globe. (The target has felt padding so that there is no chance of its scratching the globe.) This white and blue target makes it easier to see where the ray strikes, but even then it is still hard to judge the correct position of the sunspot from above, for on the exact spot where the ray strikes the target, it is glaringly bright, while all around is obscured in darkness. Thus the person standing next to the crystal has to give hand signals to indicate which way the mirrors need to be adjusted. The person on the roof, positioned normally between the second and the third mirrors, moves one of them, tilting and swiveling it slowly, first one way, then the other. Very often one moves the wrong way, because of the mirror imaging, because of the multiple reflections involved. Eventually getting the hang of it, and moving in smaller and smaller increments, one converges on the exact center of the bull's eye. Finally the job is done, the person below gives a “thumbs up” sign and removes the bull's eye from the globe. The ray is centered again!


Matrimandir Newsletter by E-mail

For those of you who are interested, an e-version of the Matrimandir Newsletter is now available. This soft copy has the advantage of not only saving paper and postage, but also of displaying the photos in full color. If you would like to receive the e-mail version of the newsletter instead of the print copy, please let us know by sending an e-mail to matrimandir@auroville.org.in


Address for donations and correspondence:

(Please make your cheque, money order or DD payable to ‘Matrimandir')


Bookings: Tel (+91) (0413) 262-2268; accounts: 262-2228

Email: matrimandir@auroville.org.in



Please note the new timings for visits to the Chamber:
Bookings : 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. daily
Concentration : 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. daily
First-time visits : 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. daily



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