Matrimandir, Auroville

Introduction

Evolutionary Principle 

The name 'Matrimandir' means literally 'Temple of the Mother'. According to Sri Aurobindo's teaching, the 'Mother' concept stands for the great evolutionary, conscious and intelligent principle of Life, the Universal Mother, - which seeks to help humanity move beyond its present limitations into the next step of its evolutionary adventure, the supramental consciousness.

At the very centre of Auroville one finds the 'soul of the city', the Matrimandir, situated in a large open area called 'Peace', from where the future township will radiate outwards. The atmosphere is quiet and charged, and the area beautiful, even though at present large parts of it are still under construction.

As yet incomplete, the Matrimandir emerges as a large golden sphere which seems to be rising out of the earth, symbolizing the birth of a new consciousness seeking to manifest. Its slow and steady progress towards completion is followed by many.

The Principal Architect

Roger ANGER Architect. Roger Anger has executed more that forty major projects in France and abroad and has been rewarded with several prizes. Currently he is particularly interested in town-planning issues and has been charged by the Indian government to design commercial centers and cities linked to industrial complexes. Since 1986, he is engaged in the conception and realization of the project of Auroville, an experimental city in the south of India, where he is currently completing the world-renowned meditation structure known as the Matrimandir.

Roger Anger, who had received the Mother's instructions regarding this aspect of Matrimandir, has worked out the technical details: The diffuse sunlight behind the golden disks should shine through the 800 portholes in the ferrocement skin, illuminating 800 translucent orange-pink triangles, which form the Matrimandir's Inner Skin. Although the shape and size of these translucent triangles is determined by the triangular beam structure, the beams and portholes should not be visible through the Inner Skin. The whole inside of Matrimandir should be filled with this orange-pink glow, coming from all sides, and no design-element or detail behind the orange screen should disturb the peaceful impression. 

Symbolism

The Matrimandir wants to be the symbol of the Universal Mother according to Sri Aurobindo's teaching. 

Inner Chamber

The spacious Inner Chamber in the upper hemisphere of the structure is completely white, with white marble walls and white carpeting. In the centre a pure crystal-glass globe suffuses a ray of electronically guided sunlight which falls on it through an opening at the apex of the sphere  The four pillars that support the structure of Matrimandir, and carry the Inner Chamber, have been set at the four main directions of the compass.

Maheshwari (South Pillar)

One is her personality of calm wideness and comprehending wisdom and tranquil benignity and inexhaustible compassion and sovereign and surpassing majesty and all-ruling greatness. 

Mahakali (North Pillar)

Another embodies her power of splendid strength and irresistible passion, her warrior mood, her overwhelming will, her impetuous swiftness and world-shaking force. 

Mahalakshmi (East Pillar)

A third is vivid and sweet and wonderful with her deep secret of beauty and harmony and fine rhythm, her intricate and subtle opulence, her compelling attraction and captivating grace. 

Mahasaraswati (West Pillar)

The fourth is equipped with her close and profound capacity of intimate knowledge and careful flawless work and quiet and exact perfection in all things.

The Mother's Symbol and the Petals

The meditation rooms inside the twelve stone-clad 'petals' surrounding the Matrimandir carry the names and colours of the 'petals' in the Mother's symbol:

These are:

Colours of Meditation Rooms

The above mentioned names and colours have been integrated into the sequence of the meditation rooms which are being completed inside each of the twelve petals surrounding the structure in the following order:  

  • Sincerity - light blue  
  • Peace - deep blue   
  • Equality - blue violet 
  • Generosity - pure violet 
  • Goodness - reddish violet 
  • Courage - red   
  • Progress - orange red   
  • Receptivity - orange 
  • Aspiration - orange yellow   
  • Perseverance - pale yellow 
  • Gratitude - pale green   
  • Humility - deep green 

(When moving from the south axis towards the east axis, the Humility room is in the first petal.)

Sacred Geometry

What in terms of `architecture' makes the Inner Chamber a special place?

It was ten years after Mother first expressed her vision of the Inner Chamber that it was found by chance that the Golden Section and the proportions of the Great Pyramid are precisely incorporated in its cross section (fig 1).

It was also discovered that Sri Aurobindo's symbol fitted exactly into the Shalagram, the form in which Matrimandir has been built (fig.2). (A shalagram is an ancient symbol described in Hindu Cosmology as 'the Egg of Brahman' from where the creation has sprung forth). In other words, there are two triangles with the same proportions as the Great Pyramid inside the Shalagram 

The energy field inside the Great Pyramid is located at one-third of its height (the place where the King's Chamber is situated). If we project this to the two triangles inside the Shalagram, we get a band of about 110 centimeters where the energy field will be concentrated. This band will be in the Inner Chamber, precisely where the people will sit. fig 3.)

The Gardens

There are  twelve gardens surrounding the structure, converging around it in the huge petal crown from which the Matrimandir arises.  In 1969, when discussing the gardens, the Mother indicated that they would have to be of such quality and beauty that people visiting them would experience, physically and concretely, the significance of each garden:

Garden Names

  1. Existence
  2. Consciousness
  3. Bliss
  4. Light
  5. Life
  6. Power
  7. Wealth
  8. Utility
  9. Progress
  10. Youth
  11. Harmony
  12. Perfection

A - Matrimandir

B - Garden of Unity

C - Ampritheatre

D - Rose Garden

Construction Phases 

1970

It all began with a vision the Mother had in January 1970, which was taken up by Roger Anger, the French architect she chose for the project. After this, Roger presented her with various possible designs, and in 1971 the final, approved globe model for the structure was presented to the Mother and to the residents of Auroville, and work could start. The foundation stone was laid on February 21st 1971, and the practical work of overseeing the engineering requirements for the construction was given to the Aurovilian architect/engineer Piero Cicionesi who lead the development up till the completion of the Inner Chamber.

From 1971 - 1973

Excavation and Foundations

Research into the design of the structure went on simultaneously with the excavation of a ten metre deep crater at the centre of Auroville for the foundations. 

Consultancy for the structural design was graciously given by Dr. T.K. Santhanam of SERC (Structural Engineering Research Centre), Chennai. The detailed construction drawings, the design and fabrication of the staging and shuttering, as well as the overall organisation and execution of the construction, were done by the Aurovilians under the guidance of Piero. 

The foundation stone was laid at sunrise on 21st February 1971 - the Mother’s 93rd birthday. The excavation was started in March by Aurovilians and Ashramites, but was later taken over by a paid local work force more equal to the task. Construction of the sphere started with the erection of a steel-pipe scaffolding, anchored on the foundation. The scaffolding reached a height of ten metres to support the 400 ton weight of the first slab of the sphere. Wooden scaffolding and temporary towers for hoisting had to be erected on the four pillars. Steel mountings to hold the discs planned for covering the outer surface of the finished structure had also to be fixed in a regular pattern. Then came the concreting for the first slab, which went on without rain interruption for six days during the peak of the monsoon season. It was completed at the Western pillar summit at 7.25 p.m. on the 17th of November 1973, in perfect weather.

From 1974 - 1979

The Pillars

During January and February of 1974 preparations proceeded for concreting the first layers of the four pillars which would form the framework of the sphere. Casting of the second level slab was completed in March 1974. During the autumn of 1974 construction entered a new phase with work on the four pairs of cantilevered arm-brackets joining together the four rib pairs in a ring-beam at the centre; situated more than 14 metres above ground level, these brackets and this ring-beam would support the floor of the inner chamber. This beam was cast in December 1974. By the beginning of 1975 work on the ribs at all four pillars had reached the half-way point after a steady succession of concretings. By September 1975, the ribs had begun to curve inwards and upwards and preparations were underway to join the ribs in a ring beam at the top of the sphere. This beam was finally cast in a two day concreting which began on the 28th of May 1976.

At 29 metres above ground level a final ring-beam supports the roof of the interior chamber. In June 1976 the pipe scaffolding was taken down and for the first time the interior space of the Matrimandir was visible.Concreting of the floor of the Inner Chamber took place in November 1976, and the work on the walls of the Chamber began. These were poured in layers using a specially fabricated steel shuttering.Simultaneously, ramps which would join the second level to the Inner Chamber were being fabricated in sections in the Matrimandir workshop.Construction of the roof began quarter by quarter, and was cast through numerous concretings over the next two years.

From 1979 - 1987
 
The Space Frame
 
 
 
The space-frame to support the skin of Matrimandir is a grid of triangles of varying sizes which runs the length and breadth of the sphere. It allows for a double skin, and though many possible materials could be used to cover the triangles of the space frame, the original plan was for cement inside and outside (subsequently, ferrocement was chosen as the most adaptable material for the outer skin and tinted glass for the inner skin). The outer skin will finally be covered by golden discs. Precasting of the 1,200 concrete beams that form the grid began at the end of 1979. Fitting them took 8 years, and was completed on 15th August 1987, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday, making that one of the most spectacular aspect of the structure.
Meanwhile, the ramps were completed and underwent a successful loading test of 20,000 kg on the first ramp. In 1985 news came from AVI Netherlands that Zeiss (Germany) would be able to manufacture the crystal globe planned for the focal point of the Inner Chamber. During the same period the Italian marble quarried in 1977 from the mountains of Lasa, near Bolzano in northern Italy, and destined to grace the walls of the Inner Chamber, arrived. These pure white slabs of marble were stored underground in the amphitheatre for several years, before finally being mounted on the walls of the Chamber. An enlarged planning team was also working on the design of the inner gardens.
 
From 1988 - 1991
 
The Inner Chamber
 
Gold Discs 
 
During three years of concentrated work the Inner Chamber took shape. During 1990 the twelve columns were given a lengthy treatment to give them the perfectly white matte finish desired. The first stages of preparing the symbols - to support the crystal globe - went on simultaneously with laying of the marble on the floor. Over 1,200 of slabs of white marble were mounted, and slowly the colour of the lower reaches of the twelve-sided Chamber was changed from cement grey to dazzling white. Staircases that enter the building through each of the four pillars up to the first level were meanwhile under construction.
A new spiral staircase was begun, to connect the first level to the second, where the spiral ramps that lead to the Inner Chamber begin. Each of the four pillars required a substantial extension at the base. This had already been done for the Mahakali pillar (to the north) and in June 1990 the concrete was poured for the Maheswari pillar (to the south).
Then came 1991, the year of the crystal. It was hoisted in a wooden crate with a plexiglass top, visible to all, and on August 15th that year - Sri Aurobindo's birthday Special consultancy and support for this work was given by Paolo Tommasi who has been involved in the conception of Matrimandir and its Chamber from the very outset.
 
Three Major Works
 
A large Auroville construction group took up the three major works of producing the ferrocement elements for the outer skin, building the twelve outer petals, and tiling the existing Amphitheatre with natural red stone from Agra. 
 
The Petals
 
 
The twelve stone-clad 'petals' around the Matrimandir form an intrinsic part of the complex. This is not only so because they add to the image of the New Consciousness breaking forth from Matter, but also since they - as the main structure itself - are to be centres for 'silence and concentration' with meditation rooms built inside each of them. Once completed, each of these circular spaces will carry the name and colour of one of the 'petals' of the Mother's symbol, so that users can choose the appropriate space according to their need of the moment.
The petals are fanning from the promenade around the pond beneath the Matrimandir and extending for over forty meters, gradually descending to ground level and the inner gardens. There are twelve pathways between the petals, four of which lead directly into Matrimandir via staircases between the pillars, and eight of which lead to the pond underneath. Each petal will contain an egg-shaped meditation room corresponding in colour and vibration to qualities like sincerity, aspiration and others. Circling the big petals there are twelve smaller, mainly grass covered petals, which lead onto the inner gardens. Making the foundations of the petals started in 1992 and today the twelve petals are completed. Red Agra stone has by now covered most of them.
The first meditation room in the first petal, on the left side of the main entrance to Matrimandir,is nearly completed.
 
The Columns
 
The columns arrived at Matrimandir in the beginning of January 1990.They were 24-inch diameter, galvanised, seamless steel pipes, 8.65 mtr long, weighing 830 kg each. The painting job appeared straightforward and the first two were done completely in a couple of months. A dedicated team started putting in extra time, a few infra-red lights appeared to help the drying, and then even an electric polishing machine arrived to speed up the work. There are an average of 15 coats of paint on each column with finer and finer sanding between coats after which the final polishing was done.
 
The Gold Discs
 
 
Disc FrameStainless Steel Tubes
Disc MaterialStainless Steel Sheet
Gold Leaf28 gm of Gold per 1000 leaves
Leaf Size85x85 mm
Total Number of Discs1415
Small Convex Discs954
Large Concave Discs461
Average Diameter (Large Discs)2.3 meter
Average Diameter (Small Discs)1.5 meter

The outer skin of Matrimandir is to be totally covered by decorative, golden, concave and convex discs. Mounted onto the structure by a system of metal rods, they will have the practical function of shading the building from the strong sunlight of south-India. In August 1995 the gilding of the discs started under the guidance of a master gilder from Germany. About 461 big convex discs (2.3 m diam) and 954 small (1.4 m diam) concave discs were to be produced. Over 100 discs were made using the method of gilding which the master gilder taught the workers at Auroville, before it was discovered that this method might not be suitable. Birds and bees, attaching themselves to the gold discs forced a reconsideration of this method of gilding.

By October 1996 no doubts were left about the best solution for the golden discs. After several months of research in Asia and Europe, the method was chosen of encasing the gold leaf between two thin layers of glass, sealed at the edges, to yield something like a 4 x 4 cm gold 'tile'. It offers a solution which answers not only requirements of durability but also easy maintenance. The gold will be safe inside the glass which can be scrubbed, brushed and sprayed. Replacement of one or more of the gold tiles can also be done easily.The gold leaves are manufactured in Germany and are of a high quality (28 g of gold per 1000 leaves). About 18 kilos of gold will be required - 750,000 leaves in all, of about 85 x 85 mm and of 8 microns thick.As of December 2000, 852 golden discs have been mounted on the structure's skin.

The Crystal Globe

The crystal for the Matrimandir arrived in Auroville on 26-4-91 at 10.15 p.m. It was moved into the Matrimandir's Inner Chamber the very next day at 09.45 a.m.

The size of 70 cm diameter was marked on the original plan that Mother had drawn for the central object in the Chamber. In July 1983, the searchlight fell on the firm of Schott in Mainz, and somewhat later on Zeiss in Oberkochen, both in Germany. These firms proposed the type of crystal - optically perfect glass - with the name of Bohr Kron 7. On the 8th of June 1984, Zeiss presented the study, and gave the estimate: approx. 230,000 German Marks. On May 12 1987, Schott wrote to Zeiss that the cast has been done, and that the mould was being cooled. When two months later a visit to Zeiss was made, it appeared that this casting was the second one, - the first one having failed for unpublished reasons.

The casting at Schott's in Mainz lasted 15 hours, and was done in a special form of refractory stone, held together by seven metal bands, which was placed on top of a platform built of iron and steel. During the casting process the glass in the form was kept at a constant temperature. After 15 hours the rough casting in the form of a massive dome with a diameter of 80 to 85 cm and a weight of 1100 kg was finished, after which it was cooled down extremely slowly (to avoid tension) in an annealing furnace for a period of 5 weeks. The rough form had to be polished on two sides, in order to test the quality of the glass. Finally, at the beginning of 1991, it became clear that the process to deliver the globe could be started, and in April of the same year it reached its destination, the Chamber.

The seventy centimeter diameter 'crystal' globe, the only one of its kind, is the biggest optically perfect glass globe ever made in the world. On arrival at Madras Airport in April 1991, it was passed through customs in record time and driven straight to Auroville. The next morning it was hoisted in its packing crate up to the Inner Chamber.

Mother said that four of Sri Aurobindo's symbols - standing upright and joined together at the corners - should carry the crystal globe in Matrimandir. During the time that the symbols were being manufactured (between 1992 and 1993) the crystal was placed on top of a prototype of the four Sri Aurobindo symbols. In 1993 the prototype was replaced with the finished symbols

The Heliostat and Lens
 
 
The heliostat is controlled by a computer program, which moves a mirror across the sun's path every day. This mirror projects sunlight into a lens, that projects the single sun ray down on the crystal. To make sure that the ray strikes the crystal exactly in the centre, a photo sensor is installed in the path of the ray itself and relays the data on the ray's position to the computer, which in turn will adjust the ray to the correct position if necessary.
The heliostat, fixed on the top of Matrimandir, is a device for tracking the sun and projecting a single ray of sunlight onto the crystal globe inside the Inner Chamber. The amount of light and heat on the crystal globe was studied by French and German engineers. The present heliostat was fabricated at Matrimandir itself and its components were ready for assembly in September of 1993. Tests were carried out to satisfaction by August 1994. In May of the next year a 45 centimeter diameter lens with focal length of thirty meter (manufactured in India) was installed for focusing the sun ray in a converging beam that strikes the globe inside the chamber. The gilded symbols of Sri Aurobindo supporting the globe have a base with a small hole and a second lens, which refocuses the light beam to become visible in the lotus pool under the Matrimandir. 
This presentation was created by: 
Konduri Srisoma, Aronb G. Mazumdar