The sound of grass cutting machines drifts in through the office window…with the arrival of good summer rains our lawns are growing quickly and need frequent cutting to keep them trim. Some gardeners are busy pruning hedges out near the visitors viewing point while others are using heavier machinery to keep down the growth in the outer park area.
A Lake may well occupy those outer park areas one day; it was certainly one of Mother's strong wishes that the whole oval island with the twelve gardens should be surrounded by water, to isolate this more concentrated, meditative space of Matrimandir from the liveliness of the city surrounding it. We have spoken of this future lake several times but for the time being, there are acres of wild growth there to be kept in some kind of order. The discussion and planning for the Lake goes on within the offices of Auroville's planning team, a project not at all forgotten, but very challenging to realize; given that we have little ground water and are located on the top of a plateau !
Now, silence descends…it is noon, the flow of visitors has subsided and the garden workers have gone for their lunch break. Some Aurovilians head off to the solar kitchen for lunch, others to pick up their children from school. All in all, there are about 190 people working on the site each day. Some are paid workers, some are Aurovilians and others are volunteers, all of them busy either with gardens construction, maintenance and cleaning of the Matrimandir itself, or with the reception of the morning visitors. The afternoons are quieter, with visitors restricted to the viewing point beyond the gardens' oval.
Cutting grass in the gardens
At the Visitors' center - a fifteen minute walk away - the new reception hall to receive visitors to Matrimandir is being constructed, funded by several Auroville commercial units. This new building will help to streamline the flow of people coming to see Matrimandir each day, with a new and larger exhibition space, a separate room to show the Matrimandir introductory video, as well as office spaces. There is even some talk of building a solar tram to bring the visitors quickly, quietly and smoothly up to the viewpoint. Thus even though the main building of Matrimandir is done, there are still plenty of dreams and challenges ahead.
Up on the structure an afternoon maintenance team has the job of removing nests of pigeons and crows from the stainless steel catwalk that runs around the equator of Matrimandir behind the discs. There are now so many birds living on the structure, having found very convenient nesting places between the steel legs behind the discs, that the mess from the birds poses a regular challenge for those maintaining the petals and the marble pool below the globe. We look for solutions to this situation, but for the moment, we can only easily access the equatorial catwalk, which is a favored nesting place. Occasionally a pair of monkeys arrives to give us a hand…
A young crow on its nest behind the discs
Back on the ground, in the garden of Consciousness, masons proceed steadily with the detailed job of cladding the pool and cascade with white granite and green slate stones. There are curves and steps to negotiate. The complex cladding job is a welcome challenge, a little more difficult than making just another level pathway in the gardens. By February the garden of Consciousness should be done. Of course there will always be some fine tuning, like adjusting the details of garden lighting or calibrating the exact volume of water that will flow down through the seven pools in the garden. And then, there will be the ever changing needs of the growing plants to attend to, to keep them happy under the hot Tamil Nadu sun and monsoon rains.
In the garden of Existence nearby, one person works quietly, alone, to complete the arrangement of white stones in and around the pool at the center of the garden. It is an artistic work, needing time to bring to a satisfying conclusion. Trials are made, then changes, and slowly the pool changes from a bare cement basin to a glowing white pool filled with clear water where a school of fishes play around a small fountain.
Stone cladding of the pool proceeds in the garden of Consciousness
On the other side of the gardens, close to the Amphitheater one of our main bore wells, one of the five that supply water to the gardens and Matrimandir structure, has been giving us problems, an excess of sand and mud from deep in the well causing three pump failures in the last six months. Thus we had to take the step of putting a new PVC casing down the full depth of some 100 meters to protect the well for the years ahead. These wells are the lifeline of Matrimandir, supplying water not only for all the irrigation needs, but also for cleaning the structure and filling the marble pools and fountains. The water for the building passes through a reverse osmosis filter to remove any minerals, so that no deposits will be left behind to stain the glass of the golden discs or the marble surfaces.
In the long run we will have to turn to other water sources to supply Matrimandir and the city. In planning for future water supplies, attention focused is more and more on harvesting the annual rainfall that we receive. About 1.2 meters of rain falls each year in Auroville, and if this could be harvested, it would go a long way towards meeting our needs. And even beyond that, there is the possibility desalinating ocean water. Mother spoke about this as early as 1965, suggesting that such a source would eventually need to be tapped for the city. Developments are underway on property close to the beach, five kilometers from Matrimandir, to begin to use this vast resource.
In the metal workshop, just outside the gardens oval, several small projects are underway. A special mobile trolley is being made which will ride up the curving slopes of the petals to enable maintenance of the high structures; several pumps require attention - special fittings have to be made; a water sealing method has to be found for a particularly tricky spot in the lower pond in the garden of Consciousness…the list goes on. Each job, often a design challenge, is taken up and carried out with care.
The expanding work in the gardens brings in a whole set of design challenges, be they the sealing of a garden pond or keeping a pond's water clear and sparkling, or developing a concealed electrical control box that can be mounted in the gardens without detracting from their beauty…the challenges are manifold.
We meet at tea time and toss ideas around, spirited discussions ensue, as we have always people with different approaches to any technical problem….and then some will sit more quietly together and find a way forward. The job ahead, the construction of the twelve gardens around Matrimandir is a huge one. Existence is basically done and Consciousness is well under way. The plans for Bliss are clear and work there has started, but beyond that there is an almost endless horizon - to create nine more gardens, to make the most beautiful gardens that we can, to hold in those gardens states of consciousness as indicated by the Mother …Youth, Perfection and all the rest. Once the first three gardens are ready, and even before that, what has to follow will become clear to us step by step just as it has throughout the whole process of building Matrimandir.
Time is quite a strange thing. I mean personal, psychological time. Looking forward, the construction of the gardens seems like it may take a long time indeed. It is not that there is physically such a huge amount of work to do to accomplish the task, but rather it is that the road to get there is unknown, - and that makes the goal of garden completion seem far away.
This is not a new feeling, however. Back in the early ‘80's, when only the four giant ribs of Matrimandir and the concrete shell of the Chamber had been built, when only the first row or two of the precast concrete beams of the spaceframe had been cast in the workshop and the spherical shape of Matrimandir had yet to emerge, the completion of the Chamber itself seemed, likewise, an unimaginably distant reality. As we welded the steel sections of the two spiral ramps in place high on the scaffolding, as they arched their way up towards the doors of the Chamber, one could just barely imagine the glass parapets they would eventually be fitted with, or the white wool carpet that would one day cover the ramp's surface. For years and years together the bare steel ramp frames stood in mid-air fully exposed to the sun and the rain, they seemed unchangeable. One would walk over them, on narrow lines of bound wooden planks, into the empty concrete shell of the Chamber, inhabited for years by droves of bats, and just gaze in wonderment , imagining the beauty that would one day, somehow, come to be housed there. And slowly that beauty did come. And the ramps did receive their fine glass parapets and their soft white carpet. All that had seemed so very far in the future did indeed get realized, in time. And now those days of completion, of placing the crystal globe on its golden stand in the inner room, seem far in the past! It is like a reversal of the human time-kaleidoscope! Things which once seemed unimaginable, far in the future, are now felt to have been realized in the distant past! The changing perception of time is truly amazing.
And so it will be with the gardens…their completion, which now seems to be a far distant goal, will undoubtedly be achieved. We walk, each day, a small step forward on the path that will lead us there. It is because the way is not known that the goal seems far away, difficult even to imagine. But surely we will arrive one day and marvel at the beauty that has been created here.
Shyamsunder Jhunjhunwala, whom the Mother appointed as the Secretary of Auroville in 1971, passed away in July at his home in Pondicherry. Shyamsunder played a key role in the early days of Matrimandir's construction and the development of Auroville, and throughout his life he remained faithful to his commitment to the Mother to ensure that the Matrimandir was completed. Long after he was no longer secretary, he continued to raise funds for this central work. He will be remembered for his clever wit, his wry sense of humour, and his unwavering fidelity to Matrimandir. He authored several books and continued to churn out the editorials for Sri Aurobindo's Action magazine up to the end, despite his often fragile health.
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