Designing the Gardens of Matrimandir
Where do the designs for the Matrimandir gardens come from? What is their history?
On the northeastern side of the Matrimandir, today one can see the nearly completed garden of Existence, with fifteen varieties of flowering plants and many design details, from the sculpted benches to quiet hidden pathways leading from one section of the garden to another, to its large central stone surrounded by the calm field of pebbles and a spiral line of golden tiles. Adjacent to this garden the large lines of the garden of Consciousness are visible, the civil works, the “hard components” of this garden are almost complete: the pool in the outer petal, the curving pathway that leads toward it, the cubical granite benches and the beginnings of the cascade which will flow down from the fountain in the main pool. And then a little further to the west we can see the beginnings of the garden of Bliss, in the very early stages, with the basic leveling complete; the details of contouring and the construction of its pathways and seven quiet pools yet to begin.
But from which base is the creation of these gardens taking place?
The history of the Matrimandir gardens is as long as the history of Matrimandir itself. The Mother first described in 1965 a very special garden-park she had seen in vision as a child:
“This central point is a park I had seen when I was a little girl (perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world with regard to physical, material Nature), a park with water and trees like all parks, and flowers, but not too many (flowers in the form of creepers), palm trees and ferns (all species of palm ferns), water (if possible, running water – it must be running water) and, if possible, a small waterfall – running water.” And again, “There will be rockeries in Japanese style, varieties of cactus, small waterfalls, small pools with lilies, lotuses, small bridges, various kinds of fountains and marble statues – one of them will be Shiva in deep trance.” “The Park of Unity will be divided into twelve gardens, which will represent the twelve attributes of the Supreme Mother.”
At this point the central Shrine envisioned within the park had a form quite different from the Matrimandir we see today. The concept of that era evolved considerably as time went on.
Speaking of the Matrimandir garden again in 1969 the Mother said: “It must be a thing of great beauty, of such beauty that when people come they will say `Ah, this is it' and they will experience physically and concretely, the significance of each garden. In the garden of Youth they will know youth. In the garden of Bliss they will know bliss, and so on. One must know how to move from consciousness to consciousness.”….. “It must be an expression of that consciousness we are trying to bring down.”
The model of Matrimandir, shown to Mother on March 24th, 1970
During 1966 and 1967, Roger Anger, the chief architect of Auroville, developed several models for the center of the new township while developing his concept for the overall shape of the city to be. At the inaugural function of Auroville on February 28, 1968, the model displayed of the Center area showed a central Shrine surrounded by a lake, with 12 gardens on the outer edge of that lake.
Then in early 1970, the Mother first described her vision of the Inner Chamber of the Matrimandir. Roger and his team again went to work and rapidly produced five models of the structure which could house the space she had seen. Roger showed these to her on March 24 th , and the Mother chose the model in which Matrimandir was simply represented by an upside down round brass pot. In this model the twelve gardens were shown symbolically surrounding the central sphere.
The arrangement of the gardens, their position in relation to the Matrimandir structure, was finally settled in 1971. It is the one we know today, with the 20-acre oval island holding the 12 main gardens surrounding the Matrimandir, the garden of Unity reaching out from the Banyan tree on the western side, and further park-like areas beyond the Amphitheater.
Roger designed a rosewood model of his concept which was displayed under the Banyan tree on Feb 21 st 1971, the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of Matrimandir.
The rosewood model of the Matrimandir and gardens area (1971)
Roger's concept of the gardens at that time, based on his many conversations with the Mother about Matrimandir, was minimalistic, symbolic, using the key flowering plants which she had specified placed in small, jewel-like settings.
The structure of the Matrimandir began to grow from 1972, arching upwards out of the dusty fields from which its foundations had been excavated in 1971.
It was not possible, in those early days, to begin the gardens. The area was totally unprotected: goats and cows roamed around freely and water was scarce. But even before the crater for Matrimandir had been excavated, the actual foundation of the Matrimandir gardens had begun to take shape. A Nursery was started in December 1969 under a grove of mango trees half a kilometer west of the Matrimandir site. In the shade of those trees, the first of a wide range of flowering plants and trees that would eventually be planted in the gardens of Matrimandir were collected, and propagated. The Nursery developed as Auroville grew slowly around it.
In a first attempt to create a park-like atmosphere outside the limits of the oval island, small hills and valleys were sculpted in the red earth to the south and west of Matrimandir. Trees were planted during the early 1970's and the land began to turn from the ever-present rusty red to more hospitable shades of green. Fragrant colored flowers began to appear in precious islands of beauty among the greenery.
By the early 1980's a first trial of gardening closer to the dusty construction site was tried out. The area all around the Banyan was planted in a wide band of grass, our first sprinklers were installed and symbolically, some of the flowers specially chosen by the Mother for the 12 gardens were planted in the lawn surrounding the Banyan. That wide band of green was a very welcome oasis of life in the still predominantly red landscape, and it was the only expression of the gardens for the next several years. The major energy of those years went into the building the structure of Matrimandir.
As the Matrimandir neared its completion and, in particular as the 12 radial pathways leading out from the structure to the encircling oval road were built, the possibility to actually begin the layout and construction of the twelve gardens began to look practicable for the first time. Some 25 to 30 years had passed, with the Nursery all the while waiting its moment to begin to fulfill its true role of supplying plants for the gardens. During these years remarkable collections of hibiscus, plumeria and orchid flowers had been accumulated, among many other types of flowering plants and trees.
The need for concrete garden designs now became strong, for soon it would be possible to begin that new phase of Matrimandir. Roger had been elaborating his garden plans for some time, and along with his team he created a fresh model of the gardens that was displayed in 2002.
In 2001 Paolo Tommasi, an architect and designer involved from the early days when Mother first envisioned the Inner Chamber, was invited by Roger to work on the garden design within the framework of pathways and contours being realized. Paolo worked for more than a year on this task and completed a set of sketches for each of the twelve gardens, which were also presented in 2002.
Paolo’s overall design for the gardens, lake and park areas
But still it was not quite the time for realization of the gardens: the structure of Matrimandir was still being completed and energy was focused there.
Roger’s more developed model for the 12 gardens.
During the years 2004-2007, Roger encouraged a study group of garden-oriented Aurovilians to attempt the more detailed designs of some of the individual gardens. Several tried their hand at capturing the thread, at trying to bring down those individual garden atmospheres that the Mother had spoken of. Prototypes were carried out on the ground during those years. First examples of the gardens of Bliss, Light, Life, and Unity were tried out on the ground. The results were tentative, searching, looking for the way to proceed with this tremendous challenge of creation.
And then, in early 2008 Roger, architect of Matrimandir, passed away. One garden design team continued to move forward. This team had been quietly working since the previous year and had already interacted with Roger. The three member team worked closely together in a cooperative and supportive way. Thus some first clear indications came to light of what might be done, and the designs for the first three gardens slowly emerged. By mid- 2009, work on the first of these gardens, the garden of Existence, had begun to move ahead on the ground. This was the beginning of the series of three gardens that we see being built today.
The garden design team carrying out this work did not create out of thin air as it were. They drew first on the descriptions of the gardens that the Mother had shared with those close to her from 1965 to 1973. They drew deeply on the written works of Sri Aurobindo, on his descriptions of the qualities which we find in each garden, and especially on his explanations of the meanings of Sat, Chit, and Ananda, the qualities of the first three gardens. The team drew too on the earlier models of Roger, they had discussions with Paolo and they considered too the specific models and attempts which had been tried out in the previous years by different individuals. It was truly a team effort, endeavoring to draw upon the essence of all that had come before, always referring back to the base: Mother's descriptions of flowers, and her comments on the gardens.
Today this design team has evolved; there are new members active either in building models of specific aspects of each garden, or in selecting plants to fit in with the design, or in detailing the more architectural aspects of the components of each of these three gardens.
In the garden design room, one will often find four or five of the design team concentrated on their tasks, exchanging views on how best to seal and waterproof the lower pond in the garden of Consciousness or how to design the electrical and lighting infrastructure for the full set of three gardens, or, sometimes, stepping back for a wider view and considering the overall layout and plan for the full set of 12 gardens to come. There are clearly years and years of work ahead for this team.
The designs for the gardens of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss that are being built today
The team is constantly in evolution as more personnel arrive, some with deep experience of gardens design and others who may be inexperienced perhaps, but all are filled with enthusiasm at the chance to participate in the genesis of the Matrimandir gardens. And out on the site, many volunteers come to spend their mornings in the young gardens of Matrimandir, either helping to build the gardens or attending to the considerable upkeep of what has already been created.
There is a sense of the beginning of something truly marvelous, of an adventure into the unknown, for we look always towards that goal set by the Mother: to create something of supreme Beauty. Each garden will hold its own distinctive atmosphere, while being a harmonious part of the whole: and we are all well aware that the growth of the gardens will be evolutionary. The team will grow, the designs will grow and evolve, and the beauty and intensity of the gardens' atmospheres will change and become more perfect over the years. Of this there is no doubt at all. Simply, we have to make the beginning steps, to set out on the way, so that we may be guided to do what has to be done in this creative adventure.
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MATRIMANDIR – AUROVILLE 605101 – TAMIL NADU – INDIA
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