Wednesday 7 November 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 6

At Auroville (Thanjavur-Kumbakonam-Sirkazhi- Chidambaram-Cuddalore-Auroville -185km)  Part-2

Back to our cosy hotel rooms at Auroville the day's ride had been hectic thus ushering a feeling of mission accomplished,being the penultimate day of the tour its time to get nostalgic,the bonfire adds flavor to this tempo six wonderful days have passed by Day 1 Flag Off still lingering fresh in the memory as the December chillness sets in under the green canopy of this Universal Town,its time we get to know more about this place.
Sri Aurobindo retired from active participation in the Indian nationalist movement in 1910 after being acquitted in the ‘Alipore Bomb Case’ finally sought asylum in French Pondicherry. In 1926 Sri Aurobindo turned over his responsibilities to Mira Richards ‘The Mother’ who became the spiritual head of the Aurobindo Ashram. She continued Aurobindo’s stated purpose to function as an agency facilitating the evolution of humankind into ‘Supermind’, a sort of divinity on earth.She however,was not only a yogic Oracle of sorts, but also, it would seem, had a natural talent for organization. Under her aegis the Aurobindo Ashram began attracting people and funds that would promote her ‘dream’ project in her own words "a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all human beings of goodwill, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth;a place of peace, concord, harmony, where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his suffering and misery, to surmount his weakness and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the care for progress would get precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the seeking for pleasures and material enjoyments.”
In February 1968,with Government of India approval,the community of Auroville was inaugurated,soon the UNESCO following suit by endorsing this place.Its master plan strikingly empty for the moment consisted of a formal expression of Mira’s (The Mother) vision that of four arms radiating from a center marking off four zones of activity residential, cultural,international and industrial.It has been nearly 40 years since that time,what has worked as a completed project is the Matri Mandir at the canter of the plan;as well as several innovative architectural projects that are remarkable for their elegance and commitment to environmental concerns.It is time to look again at this little community in the deep south of India. By 1965 Mira (The Mother) and the Aurobindo Ashram felt sufficiently ambitious to plan the construction of a city that came to be called Auroville from the French Aurore for Dawn and Ville for City,apart from the obvious connection to Sri Aurobindo. The French architect Roger Anger became Mira’s (The Mother) chief consultant for the project.The plan for the city evolved nominally from Mira’s series of sketches for the project that varied from a central focus with radiating arms to more organically free-flowing lines enclosing spaces. Common to these was the central meditation space the Matri Mandir whose design went through a series of changes before a final concept was chosen for construction in 1971.
The Matri-Mandir in its final form consists of four massive concrete columns that support an inner circular chamber the floor being at 14m and the roof at 29m. The outer edges of the columns forms a circle in plan  and this means that the space-frame (grid of triangles) that forms the outer skin of the structure is in volume similar to a flattened globe.The outer skin is covered by a mesh of gold-encased discs; the inner chamber is lined with a skin of tinted glass.From the entrance, two helical ramps serve as entry and as access to the inner chamber,in the center of which is placed a crystal globe, illuminated by a single ray of (sun) light from the heliostat mounted on the roof.The site immediately around the Matri Mandir is landscaped in three ways: the first is an existing banyan tree on the site; the second is an urn containing soil from different countries (as a symbol to the internationalism of Auroville);and finally there are the Matri Mandir gardens and associated landscaping. but at least one powerful association is that of the primeval egg (here representing developed human consciousness) breaking free from Matter (here represented by the earth/ground). This double dialogue between a present state of being and an imagined,utopian future is what gives the Matri Mandir its unique symbolism not dissimilar from that of the Baha’i temple at Delhi.This is where the resemblance ends: though the Matri Mandir is an elegant composition as an integrated part of its landscape, and utilizes the ‘primeval egg’ symbology very well in its form.As an experimental Utopian city Auroville has also been the site of innovative experiments in architecture combining local material,ecological solutions and cost-effective techniques of construction.A few projects can be briefly illustrated here:

Bharat Nivas, or India Pavilion, consists of a Series of buildings,not all of which are completed, and is intended as a cultural center and showcase for India within the international zone of Auroville.Of these the Sri Aurobindo auditorium is complete.This 850-seat space is the largest of its kind in this region.
As its name suggest,the Atithi Guest house offers temporary accommodation for visitors and artistes,and uses a mix of local material and labor to create a series of spaces that cluster around a central focus.Visitors Center constructed in 1998 with a grant from HUDCO and the Foundation for World Education,the Visitors Center is Auroville’s chief reception and information focus for those new to the community.It combines local brick and construction with low vaults,arches and corbels to create an interlocking network of spaces that blend in with the landscape.The building emphasizes using natural and renewable energy sources for lighting and ventilation.Apart from the work cited above,the Last School by Roger Anger,Anupama Kundoo’s own residence,AndrĂ© Hababou’s Surrender Housing Community are notable landmarks.Also of relevance are Piero and Gloria’s earliest experiments in community housing built for the most part with thatch and bamboo in 1972-73.Finally,an example of collaborative participation is the Students Guest House, as part of the US Pavilion. The Design/Built program of the University of Washington,Seattle visited Auroville in 2002.A team of students and faculty,led by Sergio Palleroni,modeled this shelter inspired from the ‘outdoor room’ ambiance of a banyan tree.The Auroville experiment, started as one person’s mystic dream in 1968, is far from complete,but to its credit, Auroville has been the site of numerous innovations in architecture and building construction ferrocement technology, low cost alternatives, and reusing local material and building technique. It is home to a small but effective cottage industry that exports its products worldwide.Thus imbibing this Universal Thought of Auroville our wonderful day comes to an end with the last day of the tour Day 7 to Mahabalipuram now on the radar.

Reference: Ashish Nangia "The Auroville Experiment"

Tired looks after a wet 200 km Ride from Thanjavur  to Auroville