The Evolving Matrimandir Shopping List
The shopping list at Matrimandir recently contained some very unusual items: chillies, garlic, jaggery and ginger…… It sounded like someone was ordering items to cook a well spiced soup …but how did these spices relate to the building of Matrimandir?
In the beginning, at Matrimandir, the shopping list was quite simple: in 1971 -72 we had to purchase basic tools for digging the huge crater for the deep foundations of the building - dozens of crowbars, mumpties and cane baskets to loosen and move the red earth. As the digging work force expanded from being just a handful of Aurovilians and volunteers to an army of some 400 local earth workers, the transformation of the site from a flat empty plateau to a dynamic work place centered around an ever deepening excavation was a clear sign that something remarkable was about to happen here.
Then, in 1972 as concreting of the foundations began there was the need to set up a basic workshop, to buy our mechanical cement mixer (still in use on the site after 40 years!) and the various tools needed to cut and bend the steel reinforcement bars used in the concrete work of the building. And soon scaffolding pipes and clamps had to be procured as the concrete pillars began to rise out of the excavated crater…Then the purchases settled down for the long period of building the main structure, up to 1978 to finish the shell of the Inner Chamber - cement, sand, granite gravel to make concrete and always more heavy steel bars for the reinforcement; with plywood, nails and bolts to create the shuttering for all the concretings. They were wonderful days, with huge, sometimes all night concretings and the participation of so many people from all over the world working together to build up the basic structure of Matrimandir. No prior training was required, one just needed to be ready to jump in, to do whatever had to be done at that moment and be ready too to be swept up and along in the waves of energy that were carrying the work forward.
Meanwhile, there was one very special purchase underway. In 1977 a team had gone to Europe, to Lasa in Italy, to find and purchase the marvelous white marble that would be used to clad the walls of the Inner Chamber when the time came. This polished white marble arrived in Jan. 1978 and was put into storage until the time came to use it in 1989. Also in the late 70’s, there was another special purchase to be made, for it was time to construct the two spiral ramps which would later curve up from the second level of Matrimandir to reach the doors of the Inner Chamber. These ramps were made out of welded sections of 110mm diameter steel pipes; so a huge quantity of these pipes was bought and used during three years for the fabrication and installation of the ramps.
After the shell of the Chamber was complete, and the pipe frames of the ramps were installed, we went on to build up the whole spherical outer space frame of Matrimandir. The materials purchased were again more and more steel and materials for making concrete to cast the prefabricated concrete beams which made up the spare frame. The purchase list during these years included welding rods and hack saw blades and not much else, -one trip by bicycle to Pondicherry took care of the shopping needs during this period, apart from the monthly lorries of cement and steel. The process was simple, but long….it took 9 years to do this work. The team at work on a daily basis during those years was quite small, but once a month or so the call would go out to the whole community to come and help when a horizontal row of beams had been welded in place and the time came to concrete that row of joints. The chetty lines were something to see, winding their way up the scaffolding to the level where the concrete was being cast. Chetties of wet concrete were tossed up from level to level, from person to person with a steady rhythm and always with smiles and laughter.
In 1989, our shopping list began to include new items, evolving as it always does, to support the ongoing work of the day. At this time, the marble work in the Inner Chamber was being done…so special marble adhesives were bought and also stainless steel from which clamps were fashioned to hold the marble on the walls. There were new tools needed too: - marble cutters and polishing machines and other fine tools began to appear in our storeroom, replacing the bar bending levers and heavy metal working tools. The team during this period of Matrimandir’s construction was very concentrated, with everyone working in that tall echoing space of the Inner room. It had lain empty and silent and grey for almost a decade while the outer space frame was being made ready. But now, week by week, month by month the room was transformed into a space of pristine whiteness and amazing beauty.
And the shopping list, of course, asked for those very special things that the Mother’s vision of Chamber called for: a 70 centimeter diameter crystal globe, 12 tall majestic columns and a white carpet to cover the floor. It took quite some time to hunt for each of those items, and other parts, such as the device to capture the ray of the sun and the Symbols of Sri Aurobindo needed to uphold the globe in the center of the room; - to complete each of those searches was an adventure and a story by itself.
By the mid 1990’s we were again busy purchasing cement and steel as the construction of the outer skin and the large petals went ahead after the Inner Room had been completed. Then, when we came to the phase of fabricating the golden discs for the outer cover of the globe we again began to purchase a whole new type of materials…different kinds of stainless steel rods and bolts and bars to support the discs and also hundreds of stainless steel circular shells which make up the body of the discs. There was a requirement of huge quantity of 2mm thick, very clear glass and a lot of high grade silicone too, as we began to fabricate and glue the 2 million gold tiles to the discs. After more than 20 years of work, one could begin now to see that the building of the Matrimandir was truly moving towards its completion. It would still take a decade or more to be done, but the energy and the dynamism of the team, now numbering over 350 people, was remarkable. Indeed, each phase of the work over the years has had its particular team size, its own rhythm, its uniquely flexible response to the need of the hour.
While the interior of Matrimandir was being finished, - the first and second levels and the central staircase, there was a fresh requirement for marble: this time a pure white marble was found in the north of India. Several special trips were made to find and procure the loads of marble slabs and blocks needed for the work. From the north too, came the huge quantities of red sandstone that were needed to clad the petals and pathways. The entire surface of the amphitheater too needed the same stone, so lorry after lorry of red sandstone came down from the quarries in Rajasthan.
In 2009 the creation of the gardens began, and this brought a whole new range of materials again onto our shopping list. Plants, of course, - for although our Nursery could supply a large part of the plants needed in the beginning, we soon exhausted our stock and had to explore the nurseries of Pondicherry, Chennai and Bangalore for specimens that we did not have. In was an interesting shift, - away from the hard materials of steel and glass and stone into the living realm of flowers and shrubs. (There was, even so, a whole world of irrigation equipments to discover, some of which came on our shopping list too,- sprinklers and drippers and all kinds of pumps and piping needed for watering the gardens.) And, we had to find compost too..for of course, our hard red laterite soil ,- the same soil out of which the excavation for the foundation for Matrimandir had been dug some 37 years earlier,-could not by itself form the foundation for the growth of the gardens to come. We began our own compost production, gathering leaves and organic materials available from within Auroville, but we had to also purchase large quantities of compost and cow dung from the local villages. And as we shifted over to the gardens work, our team reorganized itself too. Some, who had earlier spent years up on the scaffoldings building the main structure now became gardeners, some perhaps moved on in their lives, others arrived,- for always, we have seen that the Matrimandir calls to itself the team and the energies that it needs for the phase of its manifestation that is currently at hand. Each person comes in the right time, to contribute what he or she may, to give their best for however long they are called to do so, and when their work is done, they move on.
So, where do the chillies and garlic and ginger come in? How have they come to be now on our shopping list? Early in the mornings, on most days, a visitor might see our garden team, armed with spraying machines out in the gardens spraying away happily. For those who are unaware, they might be concerned that some chemical pesticides are being sprayed…but no, the sprayed materials are organic and being used here on site as a part of our program of garden maintenance.
They are used to nourish the plants and to combat the pests and weeds which inevitably appear in the growing gardens. The garden team at Matrimandir is preparing several different types of sprays:
For the biocontrol of pests and diseases which attack the plants, we are preparing a spray called “Fermented plant extract.” The chillies, garlic and ginger, along with tobacco and a specific set of naturally occurring weeds and with other local leaves such as neem and thulasi, are being used to prepare this potent natural bio-pesticide. These materials are chopped and ground and left to ferment in water for about two weeks before being put to use in the gardens as an effective anti- pest spray. This is a mix which has been known and used by farmers in India for centuries and which we have adapted here according to the availability of local weeds having medicinal value.
For boosting the health of plants, “Panchagavya” is classical bio fertilizer which is being made here on site. This particular preparation is not at all new, for it has been recorded even in very ancient Indian sacred texts, such as the Vedas, as being an important fertilizer that enhances the biological efficiency of crop plants and the quality of fruits and vegetables even in those ancient times. In Sanskrit, Panchagavya means the blend of five products obtained from the cow. (All these five products are individually called ‘Gavya’ and collectively termed as ‘Panchagavya’) It contains ghee, milk, curd, cow dung and cow’s urine. An Auroville farm helps us out with the provision of these materials.
Another very potent plant booster is Jiwamrita (Nectar of Life). This is a rich bio-formulation containing a consortia of microbes. It is one of the cheapest bio enhancers which is prepared here and used regularly to improve the biological properties of the soil and thus the humus content. It is prepared by incubating cow dung, urine along with virgin soil from the gardens area. Pulse flour (ground chick peas) and jaggery are incorporated as food to the microbes developed during incubation. Flowering plants and our areas of grass are visibly happier after being sprayed for a few weeks with this preparation!
For enhancing the color and quantity of flowers a fruit hormone spray is prepared here too. This is made from unripe papaya and pumpkins and ripe bananas (with the peels). These are cut up into small pieces and left to ferment for a week. Some EM (effective micro-organism solution) is also added. Improvement in the flowering of plants here has been seen on several kinds of plants after using this potent spray
And while these formulas are being used to boost plant health and control some of the bio pests on site, good old scrubbing is still used to help clean up the algae growth on certain special stones, such as those beautiful white pebbles in the garden of Existence. A group of volunteers from the Ashram in Pondicherry has helped very much with this particularly difficult job. They have been coming on a regular basis for many years now.
So many people, so many lives have contributed to the building of the Matrimandir. And so many more will surely come when the time is right, - for the gardens, for the Lake, to carry out their unique roles, to contribute what they can, and perhaps to grow a bit, here at the center of Auroville.
Address for donations and correspondence:
(Please make your cheque, money order or DD payable to 'Matrimandir')
MATRIMANDIR – AUROVILLE 605101 – TAMIL NADU – INDIA
Bookings: +91(0413)262-2204 between 10 to 11:30 am daily;