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Matrimandir Newsletter

October 2009


The stone crushing machine is shown in this photo taken in 1975



A bit of History gets uprooted


In late August, a bit of the Matrimandir’s construction history was dug up by an earth mover and rolled out of the way of the developing oval road that surrounds the Matrimandir gardens. The uprooted piece was the massive concrete foundation for the stone crushing machine that was used during the first phases of the construction here. In the mid-1970’s, when concreting on the four pairs of reinforced concrete ribs of Matrimandir was in full swing, it was not easy to get the mountains of crushed granite that were needed for the concrete mix.
More easily available and less costly were larger blocks of broken granite, for there are stone quarries in our area. These quarries, however, could not supply enough of the cleaned separated gravel we needed, so we set up here, on the site, our own stone crusher. This consisted of an electrically powered set of massive mechanical jaws into which were fed blocks of stone via a hopper fixed on the top. Weighing some three tons, it mounted on a very solid concrete foundation, the very same one which has now been removed. This photo taken in 1975, shows the arrangement – the crusher on its high concrete foundation and some Matrimandir workers of that era working on its mechanism.
The crusher’s job was to produce gravel to fill the large holding areas placed just beyond the four pillars of the growing structure. There had to be enough gravel stocked there to build the complete RCC structure of Matrimandir. The crusher had largely done its job after a couple of years and was moved from the site, to be used elsewhere to produce gravel. Its 2m high foundation remained a witness, solid, silent and quite anonymous, to the 30 years of Matrimandir construction that followed.

Many children played on this block of concrete over the years, wondering perhaps what this odd bit of a structure was doing here in the Matrimandir area. Trees have grown up slowly around it, a large neem and a tamarind, watching the Matrimandir grow, starting from those four giant pillars emerging from the wide crater in the red earth of Tamil Nadu to become the golden sphere that it is today.
The removal of this piece of history marks a transition, a movement outwards from the Matrimandir structure, to the gardens and beyond. The intense energy of construction that was centered here for so long radiates outwards now through the gardens and into the city. The stone crusher is long gone, but the memory of the massive work it did for Matrimandir is preserved.


The uprooted foundation of the stone crusher today


An adventure in Andhra Pradesh


The paving of the pathways in the Unity garden requires a large quantity of slate stone. In our last newsletter we showed you a photo of this cladding work. The stone is a light sandy color and does not come from our area. We undertook a journey to locate it at its source in a bid to purchase the stones in bulk and at a price much lower than the local dealers were charging. The problem was that the local dealers would not tell us where it came from!! Searching the internet, it was clear that there were some major sources of this stone in Andhra Pradesh, the large state just north of Tamil Nadu.
We had another clue too....some odd place name whispered by the drivers and handlers in our area. On September 3rd two of us set off in a taxi on a journey of adventure to find the source of this stone. It was a journey like the hunt for the Holy Grail, the lost treasure, the hidden source. The taxi drove north, leaving Tamil Nadu and moving into the flat lands of southern Andhra Pradesh. For hundreds of kilometers there were plantations of cashew trees to be seen with small towns and villages spaced along the winding highway. One or two quarries were found here, but they mined a different kind of stone, a black granite, or a reddish one, not the slate we were looking for. The flatland turned to rolling hills, covered with small trees and freshened by the occasional waterfall. Cotton fields were nestled in the valleys between the rocky hills. Eventually, taking the advice of people encountered along the way, our explorers came to a town where there was a group of companies who had the stone we were looking for! But they too were dealers, intermediaries who had purchased their blocks of stone and were slicing it up for sale to buyers here, or for export. The owners here, however, were very friendly and sympathetic to our search for the source of the stone, and they pointed the way. Our team drove for another 150 kilometers and finally came upon the spot they were looking for.
Having traveled some 800 kilometers, they came to the town of Miryalguda and it was here that they found the quarry which supplied the very type of stone we were searching for. From the side of a large hill, blocks of this sandy colored slate were being cut. Clustered around the hill were many stone slicing machines that, with multiple blades, would slice up the large blocks into slabs as thin as 1½ centimeters.
These thin slabs would be exported, to be used a cladding on the facades of buildings, or on plazas around the world. The stones we required needed to have a rough surface, not a smooth one. This type of rough finish was obtained by taking a sliced slab, say 4 or 5 centimeters thick and splitting it in two by hand, using a series of small sharp chisels, thus giving two slabs, each with one sliced surface and one rough and nicely textured.
Our explorers were, needless to say, overjoyed at having found this spot, exactly what we were looking for. They made the arrangements with the owner to load a first lorry of stone to be sent to Matrimandir.
About three lorries will be needed to finish the work on the Garden of Unity. On the evening of September 10th this lorry arrived and was happily unloaded the following morning in our stone cutting yard. It was wonderful that this journey of adventure and exploration had come to such a fine result.


Disc Clean Up


We have shown you, in the past, some photos of people suspended from our crane busy cleaning the golden discs of Matrimandir. That is a technique that works just fine for all those discs which are above the equator line of the building, but for the discs below, the crane does not help us. The steel cables of the crane, which hold the gondola in which the cleaners sit, come too close to the fragile gold tiles of the discs once we go below the equator. Thus another method has to be employed. Indeed, for this job of cleaning the lower hemisphere, we have long been searching for a technique or a machine to do the job. There are many ideas floating around, ranging from erecting scaffoldings seated upon special rails fixed to the tops of the petals, to using a mobile vehicle on the ground which could lift a moveable work platform, like those used by firemen and people who change light bulbs on street lamps.

Well, while this thinking continues, time is passing and the discs go on getting dirtier… for the pollution each rain washes down accumulates on every surfaced it touches. So we had to dispatch our aerial cleaning team to tackle the two rows of discs just below the equator, which our crane team had not been able to reach. Fitted with safety belts anchored to the legs of the discs, they were able, over the space of several days in September, to traverse the circumference of the building, wiping away the grey dust which was noticeably visible here. You would see these men pop out from between the discs, far above the peaks of the petals…like rock climbers they would perch on the edge of one of the discs and reach out to wipe the gold tiled surfaces. It was an exhilarating job, no doubt - to be there between the discs and the sky with the Banyan tree and the petals below. It has always been the privilege and joy, over the 37 years of building Matrimandir, for a team of the strongest and most agile builders to enjoy these aerial views – to be out in the high wind, to work physically for Matrimandir in the most demanding of circumstances.


Around the Work Site

It is an interesting time at Matrimandir. There is an air of consolidation, of putting things physically in order as we move from of the phase of building the structure of Matrimandir to the work of building the gardens. The two phases overlap a bit… we still have a set of smaller, detailed works to do on the structure, such as the final adjustment of disc positions , the installation of the moving doors in the main pillars and the improvement of the lighting infrastructure inside the building. At the same time, solid work
has now begun in the garden of Existence. The curve of the spiraling pathway there is clearly visible now, as pathway foundation blocks and concrete slabs are put in place. And in the Garden of Unity, pathway cladding moves along steadily too.
Side by side with this varied movement, we are cleaning up the physical assets, the construction equipment which has been used around the site over the last three decades. A prime example of this is that all the several kilometers of scaffolding pipes piled on the site have been moved into a new covered area and are being repainted to protect them against the coming rains. Some of the pipes have been disposed of, either transferred to other building projects within Auroville or sold to small projects in the surrounding villages.
Many pipes come and go temporarily these days to construction projects within Auroville, whether it be to help build an apartment complex or the re-roofing of someone’s house.So these precious pipes, so full of memories of the building of Matrimandir, are now well housed and cared for.
Another area of activity revolves around the collection of machines we have acquired on site over the years. There is of course our ancient cement mixer, which still finds occasional use here. Then we have a brand new tractor and tipper trailer, purchased to replace the old one so as to be ready for years of building the twelve gardens. We also have a Bobcat, with its assortment of digging attachments, and a large air compressor which was brought in during the phase when we were redoing the waterproof coating on Matrimandir a few years ago and needed to sand-blast the entire surface. There is a van, a compost sieving machine and an odd assortment of other machines. All need a proper rainproof parking area. Thus we are now in the process of building, in a temporary fashion, a fine new shed which will house all of these useful vehicles. This new shed is located just behind our present set of workshops, and will remain as long as they are here. This might be for the next five years or so, until the development of the lake and park around the outside of the oval demands a full clean up of the central area. Then everything will have to be moved further out into the city area, leaving the entire center free from all the apparatus of construction that has been used at Matrimandir since 1971.


Night watch returns to Matrimandir

Many of us have wonderful memories of doing nightwatch at Matrimandir during the 70’s, 80’s and into the 90’s too. The purpose then was twofold: the concrete structure was being built, and it was necessary to cure the freshly poured concrete, so that it became fully strong. Then, there was the need to be a watchman too, to make rounds of the site, to walk through the casurina forests that were growing up in a circular belt around the site. There were no fences at that time defining the Matrimandir area, indeed there were hardly any fences in the whole of Auroville, and at first no paid watchmen, so a measure of watchfulness was needed at night.
For the last 15 years or so, this practice faded out just as the phase of concretings ended and night watchmen were hired and fences built to secure the area against animals and intruders. We sometimes remembered wistfully those wonderful nights under the wide star-filled skies, being alone perhaps with the Matrimandir throughout the night…it was such a privilege.
Now, however, we are entering a new phase. The building is complete in all but a few details; it stands witness to the efforts of those hundreds of volunteers, who have worked over the last 37 years to bring it to completion. It stands too as a symbol of Auroville’s aspiration, indeed of humanity’s aspiration for the Divine and for Perfection. And we feel drawn somehow to nurture this aspiration, to be close to and keep vigil over the Matrimandir throughout the nights again. Thus Matrimandir nightwatch has been revived over the last two months. Teams of two or three volunteers arrive at the office gate by 10 p.m. and make their way through the gardens to the central area of the wide Matrimandir compound. Throughout the night, until dawn, they will keep watch, moving between the three principal features at the center of Auroville: Matrimandir, the Banyan tree and Auroville’s inaugural Urn in the Amphitheater.
It is a renewed and very welcomed opportunity for Aurovilians to become closer to Matrimandir, to breathe the very special air that settles over the area at night and to be a watchful presence here at the center.



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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