Since October 2003, work on Matrimandir and its gardens has progressed beyond expectation
“We are in the process of clearing the area for the ring-road around the Matrimandir oval. More than four/fifths of it has been done. The remaining part goes straight through the former Matrimandir workshops, which are now being pulled down.” Alain Grandcolas, my tour guide for the morning, points at a group of people who are busy dismantling buildings and clearing rubble. These workshops, which have stood for almost 30 years, are no more. Also the trees that provided shade to the many people who worked there will be cleared. “But perhaps we can save that one,” says Alain, pointing at a magnificent Banyan. Out of its massive trunk, four Palmyra trees have risen, creating the symbiotic entanglement which is typical of these species. It is a beautiful specimen and will be even more so if it stands free from the workshops. “It may find a place in the garden of Existence ,” explains Alain. “As the ground level of the former workshop area is higher than in the rest of the gardens, some digging will have to be done. And then the route for the oval ring road around the inner gardens will at long last be cleared.”
Sounds of incessant hammering greet us when we walk along the future road. Two teams of stone workers are dressing large granite slabs, making them smooth and level, in such a way that “there is some life left in the stones.” These granite slabs, more than 7,000 of them, have been stacked behind the workshop for more than 10 years. “In total,” says Alain, “we'll need about 40,000 slabs of granite and 7,000 slabs of Agra stones in various sizes for the inner gardens alone. These two teams dress about 30 stones a day, which are then being cut to the required sizes in the cutting workshop. And from there they are transported to their final destination: the pathways of the inner gardens of the Matrimandir.”
Together with Somu, Alain is in charge of the pathway department. Their first task is to have all the pathways originating from the Matrimandir and leading through and around its inner gardens ready within two years. “So we deal with the four entrances to the Matrimandir, the eight pathways that lead down to the pond underneath the Matrimandir, the area around that pond and also with the two circular pathways around the Matrimandir: the one in between the large and the small petals and the one outside the small petals,” he clarifies. “The work involves building the utility channels along the pathways, and laying granite and red Agra stone slabs on the 3.3 kilometers long pathways in the patterns indicated by the architect.” The work is scheduled to take not more than 2 years, and expected to be ready by February 2006. “We are on schedule,” says Alain cheerfully.
The achievement of this objective would not exactly leave the pathway department jobless. “The present work covers only half of the oval area,” he explains. “After this, we'll have to do all the pathways in the area around the Amphitheatre and the Banyan, the rose garden and the unity garden. For this area, the designs are still awaited.”
Creating the pathways around the inner gardens defines at the same time the area of the gardens themselves. “Each inner garden,” explains Alain, “consists of two parts, separated from each other by the circular pathway. Each garden starts at the crest of the small petal, and from there undulates down, continues over the pathway, and waves up again into the next petal. The wave pattern, which results from the Matrimandir as it emerges from the earth, continues in the inner gardens. The largest garden (Light) is about four times the size of the two smallest gardens (Power and Life).”
The present work is to prepare the cradle of the garden of Bliss , the garden opposite the Town Hall, by finishing all the pathways and the water channels around it.
“Bliss will be the first experimental garden,” explains Alain. “The pathway department has set itself the target of November 24th, 2004 . We hope that then we can show a first idea of the garden, with all the flowering plants that Mother has named ‘Ananda'. Primarily, these are two varieties of hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), the one with cream petals and a pure white centre and the other with cream petals and a red centre (called by Mother ‘Ananda' and ‘Ananda in the physical' respectively); two varieties of Canna Xgeneralis (cream white flower with pink specks named by Mother ‘Ananda in the centres' and a cream white flower with a red centre called ‘Ananda in the physical body.') Then there is a Zinna variety, a cream flower with a red centre (Zinnia elegans – named by Mother ‘Ananda of endurance'); Plumbago auriculata, the cluster of small soft pale lavender blue flowers Mother called ‘Krishna's Ananda', and the fruits of Vitis vinifera – common grapes – named by Mother ‘Divine Ananda'. The gardeners may add other plants as well, but these plants will be the heart of the garden of bliss.
Has the design for each garden been finalized? “Not at all!” says Alain. “Roger Anger, the architect, has invited anybody interested to present their design, preferably with a model. Right now three Aurovilians have given a design, and then there is the design of Roger himself and of the Italian architect Paulo. We have asked Paulo to allow us to make a model of his design, so that in August there can be a presentation of five or six models. Ideally, we would like to have one concept for the Bliss garden approved in August so that we can start. As long as the concept has not been finalized, we may simply plant grass everywhere, which will be replaced when a garden is built, so that in the meantime the area doesn't look dead.”
We descend below the Matrimandir. The seating arrangements inside each of the four pillars that support the Matrimandir, now high above us, will offer a view on the future marble pond underneath.
“In the original plans this was to be a lotus pond,” says Alain, “but this idea has been dropped as there won't be sufficient light for lotuses to bloom. Instead, it will be an ornamental marble pond. There will be a continuous water flow on both sides of the circular pathway between the large and small petals and alongside the large petals, cascading down into the ornamental pond. When we experimented with it, we noticed the reflection of the golden discs in the water. It was fantastic.”
The tour finally comes to a halt at Alain's improvised outdoor office – four scaffold poles carrying a rejected disc, below which three low stools serve for comfort.
“You know, something funny happened,” says Alain reflectively. “In March 2002, when I was wondering how I could contribute to the construction of Matrimandir, I unexpectedly received a strong intuition, what they call in India an adesh, to go work in the Matrimandir gardens. I wondered about it, as I am no gardener. But I decided to listen to it since I have nothing to lose, and I did not want to take the risk of rejecting a true intimation! Some weeks later, I was reading the Matrimandir diary of Ruud Lohman [an Aurovilian who passed away in 1986, eds.]. He described something which had skipped my memory. In November 1972 Mother had given instructions that the work of the gardens should start. Shyam Sunder [appointed Auroville liaison by The Mother eds.] called Ruud and me and told us to start the gardens at the date and time given by Mother: 24th November, at 6.30 am . There was a small celebration, and 20 workers arrived next day to start levelling work. But on that day we learned that a bulldozer would arrive from Calcutta , so we decided to wait. That afternoon we went to Shyam Sunder, who said ‘OK, start the amphitheatre' and that's what we did. We never started the gardens.
“In April 2002, in a general meeting, I announced I would stop my work for the Information Centre and start with the gardens designed by Roger on November 24th – which I did. After a delay of 30 years I have finally started the work Mother had given to us.”
The Matrimandir gardens
1. Existence, 2. Consciousness, 3. Bliss, 4. Light, 5. Life
6. Power, 7. Wealth, 8. Usefulness, 9. Progress, 10. Youth
11. Harmony, 12. Perfection, 13. Unity garden,
14. Amphitheatre – Urn, 15. Rosegarden
Eight pathways lead to the pond underneath Matrimandir (F)
Four main pathways give entrance to the Matrimandir (P)
W: oval ring road, M: Main petals, S: small petals