Rain at Matrimandir - a challenge and a blessing
The rains of the winter monsoon arrive at the Matrimandir site, driven by a tempest of wind, or falling gently from quiet grey skies. The rains have always been a challenge at Matrimandir and yet, ultimately, its greatest blessing from the natural world.
In the beginning, years ago, the rains would turn the red earth of the central plateau of Auroville into a sticky red mud….feet became stained with its color …. everyone came to have the reddish feet of the Bharata Natyam dancer. These days at Matrimandir, it is a bit different, for there are pathways paved in sandstone, slate and granite, so that, here at least, one can move without the ever present red mud clinging to one's feet.
The rains have always tested the structure of Matrimandir. “Is it waterproof?” one asked oneself as each monsoon arrived. “Will the water be kept out of the inner room, out of the interior of the building, with its white carpets and clean marble surfaces?” There are four thousand square meters of outer surface to protect.
During the 1990's we were forced by the rains to change the entire waterproofing coating the structure, for the outer skin — a mosaic of ferro-cement triangles bolted onto the concrete beams of the space frame — was constantly expanding and contracting slightly, creating hairline cracks and making it a great challenge to waterproof fully. We finally applied a layer of “Kemperol”, a German flexible polyester membrane, to do the job; a job complicated by the fact that most of the outer skin panels have at their center a round porthole to allow daylight to enter and illuminate the inner skin of the building. After putting special rings around each porthole to hold down the polyester, and applying silicone sealant in just the right places, the building is now waterproof and we are able to rest quietly on a rainy night, knowing that the interior of Matrimandir is safe and dry.
Underneath the building, it is another matter however for there, in the great tank concealed beneath the lotus pond, several pumps operate on rainy days to keep up with the heavy inflow of water that drains in along the sloped paths from the 100 m wide circular area that contains the Matrimandir and its twelve petals. During the very heaviest rains, even the combined 36 HP of these bottom tank pumps cannot keep up with the river of rain from the gutters flowing into the bottom tank….(and the pumps only work if our generator has come on during the inevitable power cuts that occur here during the heaviest rain and wind!) By design, and fortunately for the pumps under Matrimandir, the entire network of pathways that radiate further out from the petals, slope gently away from the structure, so most of the rain water flows by gravity outwards toward the gardens edge, where it will, in future, be fed into the water body that will surround the whole island of the gardens.
This is the downside of the rains, the challenge. But their other side, the side of the gift, is infinitely greater, for without these rains the life of the gardens around the Matrimandir would be not able to persist through the long and arid months of summer.
Like the rest of India, everything alive on the Auroville plateau depends completely on this annual arrival of the monsoon rains. We receive some 120 centimeters of rain here each year, divided mostly between the summer and winter monsoons. A good amount of this percolates down into the aquifers at 30 or 100 meters depth, to be accumulated and stored there for the future. We have four bore wells on the main Matrimandir site from which we pump up some of this water every day for use in the gardens and the buildings which border the site. Water use is a great concern, for we are well aware that this is a limited resource, one that must be carefully conserved. Attention to the methods of watering the gardens already established is critical and is always being improved upon, with drip irrigation and night watering more and more the norm here.
The future task however, with regard to water, promises to be a most interesting phase here, for there is the yet-to-be-realized project ahead to encircle the entire gardens oval of Matrimandir with a body of water, a lake. This lake would be a reservoir to collect the runoff from the monsoon as well as a buffer zone of peace and silence surrounding the 20 acre oval. It would be the fulfillment of a part of Mother's vision for the Matrimandir; about which she spoke twice in the initial stages of planning Matrimandir during 1969-70:
“There are material difficulties; for this islet [i.e. the Matrimandir gardens oval], we need water – naturally; otherwise it's not an islet! To have water we must transform it – there isn't enough ground water. ….There is water, but it's enough for one or two houses, anyway not enough to create a permanent flow. We would need to transform sea water…..”
“It has been decided and remains decided that the Matrimandir will be surrounded with water: However, water is not available just now and will be available only later, so it is decided to build the Matrimandir now and surround it with water only later; perhaps in a few years time….”
The creation of that lake, to give a final setting to the Matrimandir and its gardens, is a project which lies ahead of us and will be one of the greatest challenges we have faced in the building of Matrimandir.
What's happening around the site?
The feeling on the site has changed very much from what it was, say, 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. At that time the emphasis, the whole energy of the site was directed towards construction of the main building, and of the pathways surrounding it. Today, that main construction work is over, and the principal pathways are laid, and what lies ahead as a next large phase is the building of the 12 gardens around the sphere. And at the same time, two other aspects have come very much to the fore. One is the maintenance of the structure and existing garden areas, and the other is the reception of the increasing number of visitors who come to experience Matrimandir, whether from outside, seeing it from the Viewing point at the garden's edge, or from inside, concentrating in the Inner Chamber.
Thus these three aspects are going on side by side, intermingling and giving quite a different feel to the site than we had experienced for many years. There is a sort of nostalgia amongst some of the long time workers here, for those days of massive concreting, the months of long careful placement of marble inside the building and for the many other aspects of the construction that occupied us from 1971 to about 2008. But one has to move with the times and so we all become involved now in the present set of activities. In our August newsletter we described several of the aspects of the task of maintaining the sphere and petals of Matrimandir.
The reception of visitors is the other evolving field, as we learn day by day how to receive and handle the many people who come from all over the world to experience Matrimandir. A number of electric vehicles ply back and forth between the Visitors Center to Matrimandir, carrying those who need special transport to the Viewing point, and all those who are coming to the Inner Chamber. In this way, the rush and noise of vehicular traffic inside the Auroville center area has been largely reduced. (Please see the box below for the current modified timings for bookings for the Inner Chamber)
Regarding the third area of activity, the future work on the gardens, our team of designers is currently in the process of finalizing plans for the next phase of the gardens. We have described to you, in past newsletters, the progress on the garden of Existence; this garden is now almost finished. Hundreds of flowers bloom daily in this garden, establishing a colorful beginning for the set of varied garden environments which will surround Matrimandir one day.
An abundance of flowers bloom in the Garden of Existence
Construction activity in the neighboring garden, the garden of Consciousness, continues through the period of the monsoon rains. We are laying out the lines of the pool, pathways and hilltop crests that define this garden. When the rains are over and when the foundation of the large pool has been cast, then we will be able to proceed with more planting and lay the surfaces with natural stone. The plan for the third garden in the series, the garden of Bliss, is ready too.
But what the designers are working on now is the set of plans for the next three gardens, the gardens of Light, Life and Power. The garden of Light will be large, like Existence and Consciousness lying in relatively free space on the northern side of the Matrimandir , but the gardens of Life and Power are very close to the Banyan tree, and lie in the smaller space between the Unity garden and the Matrimandir. Their proximity to the Banyan and the fact that the spreading branches of the tree already overreach the edges of these areas means that their designs will be very carefully considered. It is a delicate work that has been underway for several months now. To design a garden near the quiet space of the Banyan tree, the symbol of Unity in Auroville, is a challenge that will severely test our dedicated team.
Challenges, however, are what Matrimandir is about …to build the structure over 36 years was a supreme challenge for Auroville in many ways, and the least of these was the technical aspect. The human challenge is always the greatest test in front of us here - to build together, to build without undue insistence on our own ideas, in a spirit of true collaboration that the Mother insisted so much upon at Matrimandir and in Auroville as a whole.
Thus these two great challenges still lie ahead of us: to bring the Gardens into being, that they may be those amazing places of beauty and consciousness that She described, and next, to build that surrounding Lake. These things may look almost impossible to us now, just as the construction of the sphere of the Matrimandir on a barren red plateau might have looked to casual observers four decades ago. But to face the impossible and to realize it is the joy of our task, the joy of building Auroville.
We close this newsletter with the reproduction of one of Sri Aurobindo's inspiring sonnets where he beautifully describes this challenge of facing the impossible:
The Call of the Impossible
A godhead moves us to unrealized things.
Asleep in the wide folds of destiny,
A world guarded by Silence' rustling wings
Shelters their fine impossibility:
But parting quivers the caerulean gates;
Strange splendors look into our dreaming eyes;
We bear proud deities and magnificent fates;
Faces and hands come near from Paradise.
What shines above, waits darkling here in us:
Bliss unattained our future's birthright is,
Beauty of our dim souls grows amorous,
We are the heirs of infinite widenesses.
The impossible is our mask of things to be,
Mortal the door to immortality.
There are some small changes in the timings for bookings at Matrimandir. Kindly note them down:
1. For those who have previously concentrated in the Inner Chamber, please contact us for your booking between: 10.00 to 11.00 am any morning at (0413)-262-2204. Alternatively, you can send us an email at email@example.com at least five days in advance. We will confirm your booking and provide the booking numbers by return email.
2. For those who wish to experience a concentration in the Matrimandir for the first time, we would encourage you to make your request in person at the Visitors Centre of Auroville, any day between 10 and 11 am or 2 and 3 pm. or, by calling (0413) 262-2268 between 2 and 3 pm. However, we recommend that bookings be made at the Visitors Centre itself to maximize the chance of getting an early appointment. Those making a request to concentrate in the Inner Chamber are expected to have taken the trouble to gain some knowledge and understanding of the project of Auroville, both of which can be obtained by viewing the videos and exhibition at the Visitors Centre.
We kindly request everyone to observe the new timings for bookings
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