Newsletter April 2007
The interior of Matrimandir partially unveiled at last
February 21 st , the Mother's birthday, was a day like none other here at Matrimandir. The building had been closed to visitors during most of January and February as we worked intensively to prepare the interior of Matrimandir for this day. The target was to complete one ramp with its new glass parapet and wooden handrail so that the Chamber could be safely accessed via this ramp and to install as much of the inner skin as possible so that the design and effect of light passing through the fabric could be seen.
Finally the day arrived. One quarter of the first level, the entire central staircase and one part of the second level were fully unveiled, so that people could reach the newly readied ramp using socks to walk over these gleaming white marble surfaces. The view was enchanting as one ascended the pristine white steps of the central staircase and came to the second level with its wide open view of the ramp spiraling in a wide arc to the Chamber above, enhanced by the subtle glow of the inner skin panels in the background.
The Chamber, with its strong central ray of light, was visited by many on that day. All who came were touched by the very special atmosphere of plenitude.
The day came to a fine conclusion in the evening with the premiere of a new documentary film on the construction of the Matrimandir. Marvelous footage showing the many stages of the construction work and some of the many hundreds of people who have worked here over these 36 years had been gathered from every possible source. Several interviews of present day work and participants were also featured. It was moving indeed to see this film on a day when much of the interior of the building was being unveiled for the first time in its finished state. (When the inside of Matrimandir is complete, then the video will also be completed. We will let you know when it is ready for release.)
Below Matrimandir there was also a wonderful view in those last days of February. All the scaffolding built up from the promenade under the building was removed, revealing the full sweep of the inner curves of the petals as they converge at the central lotus pond. Water was flowing from the rim of this white marble pool towards its centre where an 18-cm diameter crystal globe was placed, receiving the same ray of sunlight that had transited the entire building from top to bottom.
The curving lines of the petals meet the lotus pool under Matrimandir
At the beginning of March, after a period of relative quiet in the construction schedule during the week between Mother's birthday and Auroville's, the work of completing the interior was once again taken up. The lower portion of the inner skin and the entire glass parapet for the second ramp along with the wooden handrail remain to be fitted in place.
The installation of the LED lighting modules behind the inner skin panels began. These will give the skin a golden-pink glow during the evenings and at night. By mid-March, one quarter of the globe had been fitted with its LED modules and trials were begun to adjust these variable light sources consisting of four LED's each (one blue, one green and two red), to give the final color. To get an accurate result, this adjustment has to be made at night so that the sunlight coming in through the many orange coloured windows of the skin does not mix with the LED light and give a false result.
The 78 glass panels for the second ramp have now been ordered. It will take just a few days for them to be made in Chennai and we expect that the installation of these panels will be fairly rapid, as we have learned a lot from their installation the first ramp. Once the glass has been fitted and glued in place with silicone, the team of carpenters will take 2 to 3 weeks to fit the white wooden handrail. When all the carpentry work is over we will call the carpet fitters from northern India to come and do the very specialized work of fitting the white woolen carpet on the ramp. This carpet arrived in 25 separate rolls just before Mother's birthday. As both ramps need to be ready and all dust-producing works finished before the team comes south to do their job, the carpet rolls have been stored for the moment.
At the top of the ramps, work is underway to finalize the vestibules leading to the Chamber doors. The marble work on the west side has been completed and now a team is concentrating on the delicate job of fitting a false glass ceiling in the vestibule and perfecting the lighting of the surfaces there. This work too must be over before the carpet can be safely installed.
As far as the construction of Matrimandir is concerned, the major remaining work on the outside of the structure is that of completing the four entrances with their mechanized doors, along with the execution of the large golden shields framing each entranceway. This will be a major occupation over the next months, as it involves not only fabrication of a complex stainless steel framework but also the manufacture and gluing with silicone of some 20,000 gold-glass tiles of various shapes.
Just picking up steam now, as a good part of the work inside the building is coming to an end, is the mammoth job of preparing to lift the stainless steel service crane up to the top of the building. This crane will be used in the future for all the maintenance and cleaning needs of the structure. Having considered and ultimately rejected a wide range of possible methods for hoisting the crane, including the use of helicopters, giant cranes and even hot-air balloons, we have now starting building the scaffolding structure needed to do the job of lifting the various parts of this crane, some of which weigh up to 2.5 tons.
By an amazing coincidence, we have just begun cleaning out an old Matrimandir storeroom at Bharat Nivas, one kilometer way, and have come across the very winch that was used to lift up the original parts of our first crane in 1979! Perhaps that old winch will find a role in this new and last major lifting action at Matrimandir!
Outside the main building of Matrimandir the efforts of our gardens teams have started to bear fruit. Over the last few months grass seed has been planted on the open rectangles in the large and small petals around the building. Now, with the passage of time and the miracle of nature, these seed beds have developed into lush green grass. Maintained by lawn mowers and watered by the automated sprinkler system, these mini-lawns add a pleasantly contrast to the red agra stone surface of the petal structures.
Other areas, especially the borders of the future gardens, are being planted with grass as the concentration of the gardeners moves outward from the building. For this huge work (about 13,000 sq.m), a lot of compost has to be prepared, sieved and mixed with top soil. For this purpose, a special rolling compost sieve was designed and built here on the site and for the last several months it has been hard at work, manned by a team of people who feed it with material. It is captivating to watch this machine roll and roll, producing good quantities of well-sieved material every day.
Sunday volunteers try their hand at feeding the compost sieving machine
We have described above how the work on the interior of Matrimandir will come to a close over the next two to three months, and how the work on the four main doorways and entrance shields of the building will keep some teams busy for perhaps the rest of the year. But what of the future?
The answer, very definitely, is that a large portion of the work force here will shift to the gardens. Recall that the Mother has said that the gardens of Matrimandir are as important as the Matrimandir itself, and she has given a number of moving descriptions of the feeling and atmosphere to be established there.
Already, as we have mentioned, a fairly large work force is busy with the preparation and planting of grass in the border areas of the gardens. At the same time, more and more energy is going into planning the actual gardens, based on the indications given by the Mother.
Beyond all this, encircling the entire Oval of the gardens area, another huge aspect of the Matrimandir project awaits us. That is the establishment of the water body which will eventually surround the 8.9-hectare Oval. The Mother has made a particularly strong statement regarding this concept. In 1970 she wrote “It has been decided and remains decided that the Matrimandir will be surrounded by water.” She knew very well, however, that water was a scarce resource in Auroville, and that special research efforts would be needed to find the water for Matrimandir and for Auroville. She pointed out that the desalination of seawater might well be the answer.
Several people here and elsewhere have been studying this problem of water supply for the Auroville bioregion in all its aspects including treatment and recycling of waste water, rainwater harvesting and desalination for a number of years now, and the results of their studies begin to be clearly formulated. We may hope that some initial trials towards these ends will be made in the not too distant future, and that some of these pioneering trials will be made at Matrimandir.
Thus the future of Matrimandir still holds a vast amount of work to be done, and all this without even touching upon the aspect of the ever-growing use of Matrimandir, of the reception of visitors who come in increasing numbers to see this very special place, this ‘shrine' of the Mother. The future here is full indeed. But the story of the manifestation of the Matrimandir is far from over!
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