The crane comes down..
Preparations for one of the most visible changes
in years have been underway for the last several weeks. We are
preparing to remove the crane, which has stood on top of Matrimandir
for the last 21 years.
With an overall length of 30 meters and a
height of approximately 6 meters the crane has served the Matrimandir
exceedingly well over the last two decades.
The crane was built here in the Matrimandir
workshop during 1979-80 when we were preparing for the upcoming
job of lifting into place the 1100 pre-cast concrete beams, each
weighing up to 400 kgs, that were to make up the spherical space-frame
The actual lifting of the crane into place
This was a major event - as it was recorded
by a Matrimandir worker, Sept.13,1980:
"Today is the day of the crane.
All the pieces are ready, totally ready. The two towers which
fit into each other and which sit inside the top ring, the 20
mtr boom and the 10 mtr counter-weight. Also everything is ready
on top: the old crane has been removed and a big pipe structure
erected, sticking out 4 mtr outside and above the walls of the
Chamber and meant to hoist up the towers and the boom. The work
on the crane, down and around the workshop, has been the only
work for months at Matrimandir.
[ ] A lot of pipe work, fitting, grinding, painting, and then
testing. About three weeks ago we tried to put 1-1/2 tons on the
end of the boom, which we had fixed to the main tower, but at
one ton already some of the pipes of the main tower started bending
a little. That meant another week of reinforcing."
Then large teams of Aurovilians carried the
four pieces down into the excavation of Matrimandir, and, one
by one they were winched by hand into place high on top of the
Work over the years..
Beams for the space frame: over
the years which followed the crane lifted the beams that form
the space-frame in a steady process which went on day by day
until 1987. Then the concrete for the massive top cap of Matrimandir
was lifted for the prolonged concreting which was completed
on the significant date of 8.8.88 !
White marble for Chamber: the crane's
attention was then turned to the Inner Chamber, for the completion
of the Chamber was the next task before us. The 1140 slabs
of pristine white marble that make up the twelve inner walls
of the Chamber were carefully lifted up by the crane. These
slabs, having come to Auroville from Italy in 1978 slept for
years in the Amphitheater's underground rooms before being
hoisted through the Tamil Nadu sunshine to their final station
during 1989-90. o Having lifted Plaster of Paris for the ceiling
and Rajasthan marble for the floor, as well as the four doors
of the Inner Room - massive 6 cm slabs of white Italian marble,
the crane then faced the toughest task it had ever been asked
to meet: lifting the 12 huge columns that stand inside the
The twelve columns: weighing in
at over 800 kgs per column, each with its multiple coats of
brilliant white paint and wrapped for protection in specially
made mattress covers, these columns were lifted one by one
over a period of several months up to the Chamber level. They
were swung into a horizontal position outside the rib of the
structure then moved carefully in on wheels through the Chamber
door and winched gradually to their final standing positions.
The crystal globe: after tackling
its heaviest load, the crane was entrusted to lift its most
precious one: the 450 kg crystal globe for the centre of the
room. After checking the steel cables of the crane and ensuring
that all was OK, the crane control button was pushed on April
27th, 1991 and, holding our breath a hundred Aurovilians watched
the cubical wooden box holding the priceless globe rise into
the air. The trip to the Chamber level was over within a matter
of minutes. The crane had done its job flawlessly once again.
Ferro-cement triangles: after the
Chamber was completed the crane took up the job of lifting
the hundreds of ferro-cement triangles that were fixed to
the concrete space-frame to make up the solid outer skin of
Matrimandir. That task was done during the years 1992 to 1995.
Then, for a while, the crane had a little rest. It was perhaps
meditating on what it had done and looking forward to it's
last and most visible task - to lift into place the hundreds
of golden discs that now dress the outer skin of Matrimandir.
The golden disks: after a few trials
with different samples of discs, the definitive lifting job
started in early January 1999 and still continues today. Now
the disc fixation has reached to just below the equator level
of Matrimandir, and that is as far down as we can go using
the crane, for the subsequent rows, where the sphere curves
inwards, cannot be reached by the crane without risk of damaging
the golden discs above. So the career of the crane, long and
illustrious, is at an end.
Time to bring it down. Scaffolding has been
built up from ground level to support the long lifting arm of
the crane, and arms and towers were cut into short pieces. Carefully,
so as not to damage any of the golden discs below, these pieces
were lowered by rope and pulley to the ground, and on Monday November
5th it was done.
This is truly the end of an era in the life
of the Matrimandir construction work.
There is more than one generation
of young Aurovilians who have never seen Matrimandir without its
crane! For more than twenty years, school children here, when
asked to make colour drawings of the finished Matrimandir, have
almost always drawn the finished building with the crane still
sitting on top!
Now they can see, as do we all, the shape
of Matrimandir in its spherical purity. But in our hearts there
will be many of us - not only the children - who will still see
that crane perched high up on Matrimandir, and will remember it
fondly and with gratitude.
These and many more 'Matrimandir kid
cards' were made by Aurovilian kiddies some 13, 14 years
ago.. On Saturday mornings the children used to come, often riding
their ponies, to the MM Office which was then still on the site
itself. It was there that they made innumerable colourful and
touching cards, many of which were sent in a thank-you letter
to people in India and abroad who financially helped us building
the structure. (And what joy when an extra check was sent in return..,
the pride of the kids of participating in this way..!)
On the backside of the cards the kids would write their own good
wishes.. One of them read: "With much love from MatriMyDear.."