The summer months at Matrimandir, and in Auroville as a whole, are months when things quieten down a bit. The cooler months of December to February are jam packed with visitors, volunteers and the events of the Auroville Birthday week. The Auroville roads and restaurants are crowded, the queues at the Solar Kitchen are long and the Matrimandir gardens are full of volunteers helping to weed, transplant, and care for the ever growing number of plants. And then come the summer months: by early May most visitors have long since disappeared and many Aurovilians too look with envious eyes towards the cool hills of Kodaikanal, Himachal Pradesh, or perhaps the foothills of the Himalayas. The Auroville summer camp for youth near Kodai gets into action with a good number of adults going along as guides and leaders. The ranks of those on the ground in Auroville begin to thin out, sometimes dramatically. At Matrimandir this exodus is reflected in a shortage of hands all around, hands to tend the gardens, to meet the unabated flow of visitors, to work in the Chamber laundry, to clean the golden discs of the outer skin, to fill the many gaps left in our 50-strong team by the summer exodus.
Work goes on, that is sure, but when the mercury touches 40 deg. Centigrade, even the most enthusiastic soul here shifts into a lower gear. New head towels and caps are purchased for all the workers, shade nets stretched on poles or scaffolding pipes spring up, small tents to shelter those whose outdoor work is fixed in one spot. They may be for the masons working on details of the circular walls in the garden of Bliss or the man fixing granite tiles with embedded golden tiles in the garden of Consciousness, or the team removing a large and troublesome tree root left over from the havoc of December’s cyclone. The garden team of Aurovilians and hot season volunteers all sport dramatically wide-brimmed hats and look, when they gather in one spot, like they’re part of a milliner’s parade! In spite of the heat and the unrelenting sun, the atmosphere, the feeling is fine, faces are smiling and the tea room is as always filled with jokes in many languages.
Placing the set of three granite cubes that will serve as benches in the garden of Bliss
One of the main activities that continues in these post-cyclone months is the rebuilding of Matrimandir’s 3 kilometers of fence. There was widespread damage to the fences caused by the countless trees that fell morning of 30th December. Rebuilding the fence, which is needed to keep out the cows that would otherwise have a free range in the Matrimandir gardens and Nursery, is now well advanced, but it will still take some months to complete. Aside from this and the ongoing construction in the gardens of Bliss and Consciousness, several other areas are being explored experimentally:
- A 30 square meter sample with cobble stone paving is being laid on the Oval road which surrounds the garden perimeter. This trial, made at the border between the gardens of Existence and Consciousness, will be tested over the next few months to see if it can be used on a larger scale to pave the entire 1.1 km. long oval road. The cobble stones, sourced from Bangalore in grey and pink granite are certainly appealing and durable. What remains to be seen is how stable they will be as road surface when laid in this manner. This oval road is more and more popular for an evening stroll by Auroville residents, so the cobble stones have to prove themselves comfortable for walking too!
- On the first level of Matrimandir, facing the West or Mahasaraswati entrance, a new set of glass doors has just been installed, replacing the old wooden doors which had served there for several years. Work on the permanent, curved, upward sliding motorized doors continues at the same time on the North entrance, but as a temporary trial solution, these new and attractive glass doors have been set up on the West.
The new glass doors installed on the West entrance of Matrimandir
- Up in the Chamber vestibule, trials are underway to replace the original glass ceiling panels with softer panels in fabric, more in harmony with the texture of the nearby inner skin of the globe.
- On top of Matrimandir, a new version of the rooftop hot air vent is being installed after much consideration. The installation of the four air vents on top of the building, to allow fresh air movement through the globe every day, has in fact been much awaited, since its completion will allow us to finally fix in position the very last row of golden discs on top of Matrimandir. The row of discs, not at all visible from the ground, needed this final solution to the air vent question. There are still, here and there, more corners like this on the structure of Matrimandir that wait for more perfect solutions.
- Another area concerns the lighting of the inner skin of the globe. You may recall that the nighttime lighting of the inner skin of Matrimandir is achieved by some 1300 modules containing LEDs (light emitting diodes) in three colours, - red green and blue (using this combination virtually any color of illumination can be achieved). It has been our experience that since their installation some 5 years ago the original LEDs have begun to fade a bit. The difference in effect is not dramatic yet, not noticeable if you do not know where to look, but it is clear that the existing set of LEDs has a definite and fairly short lifetime ahead of it. Thus one of our teams has been very much occupied with monitoring the performance of the existing LED modules while at the same time looking around the world for more durable LEDs. Two different trial sets of new ones have been installed in modules in the inner skin over the last year and their performance will be monitored over the months to come to see if the new versions are stable in their output. So far, the results of the latest set are quite encouraging!
- In the gardens, different lighting methods continue to be demonstrated professionally, with the latest show on the evening of May 12th giving examples of the lighting of pathway, benches and trees. Using fixtures and techniques brought in from all over the world, this session showed very pleasing results particularly for indirect pathway lighting by LEDs fittings concealed beneath the curved granite benches in the garden of Unity. Step by step, exploring and discovering the work of garden lighting design is slowly but surely heading towards a harmonious and pleasing result.
- And then, on a different level, the gardens design team continues its design sessions, working towards possible designs for the next set of three gardens. These are Light, adjacent to the garden of Bliss, and then two smaller gardens of Life and Power which lie partially beneath the canopy of the Banyan tree on its northeast and southeast sides. The design of the next three gardens in their present form was begun some two to three years ago, but it is a slow process, always taking in fresh inputs, fresh points of perspective, always seeking to move towards the goal of embodying in matter the three qualities which Mother has identified for these particular gardens.
Improvement, trials, changes and creation: there is always room for these in the environment of Matrimandir as we aspire to move towards a greater perfection.
Stone masons working under shade nets in the Garden of Consciousness
There was one change at Matrimandir during the summer months that does not fall in this category of growth and change for the Matrimandir structure, but which nonetheless marked the turning of a page in history here on the site. This event was the removal from the construction site of the last thatch roof covering one of our work areas! Thatch, called keet here, was the material of choice for all manner of roofs for sheds and residences for the first 25 years of Auroville’s existence. Of course major buildings constructed during the ‘70s, like the futuristic houses in Auromodel, or the Bharat Nivas, or even the Matrimandir itself, were all constructed of solid and costly materials. But for everyday use, for simple huts and work sheds, for community kitchens, the quick to build, cool and low-cost keet structure was used for decades. The most visible example of this on the Matrimandir site was the 20-room Workers Camp, where so many of the workers at Matrimandir were housed for the first 25 years of its growth. Then, as the costs of renewing these structures every three years began to climb, and as people began to aspire for roofs which were not fire hazards and did not harbor all manner of creeping and crawling insects, snakes and the like, the shift away from keet began. By the year 2000, hardly a keet roof survived on the site, just one or two remained. As the workshops were shifted from their original positions close to the excavation crater of Matrimandir to positions just outside the gardens oval, all those thatch roofs were replaced with removable roofs made from ferrocement channels or galvanized metal sheets. Nothing too permanent could be built here because this whole area, just outside the gardens, is destined to be part of the silent isolating zone, a water body and a park. So, early in May the last of the keet roofs disappeared. The area it had sheltered for several years was our tea and lemon juice making shed, producing welcome drinks for the 100 people working on the site each day. Today this shed, sporting its new white metal roof is reborn, having made the transition from one historic phase in the life of Auroville to the next. And we look forward to the day, not too far off, when it will be removed fully, along with its neighboring workshops and storerooms to make way for the zone of silence that is waiting to surround and protect the Matrimandir and its future gardens.
A panoramic view of the pool in the garden of Consciousness
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MATRIMANDIR – AUROVILLE 605101 – TAMIL NADU – INDIA
Bookings: +91(0413)262-2204 between 10 to 11:30 am daily; accounts 262-2228