As I was preparing to come to Auroville, one of the things I was mostly looking forward to see was the Matrimandir – the impressive golden flattened sphere that extends out into twelve petals surrounded by an idyllic garden. It is often misinterpreted as a temple or some kind of religious building and since it is located at the centre of Auroville one can think that the town is built around a religious creed and that Aurovilians belong to an exclusivist sect. This is not correct and my aim here is to briefly explain what the Matrimandir is and what my perception of it is after my visit.
The Matrimandir is a place to develop a “union with the divine manifesting in a progressive human unity.” It is considered the soul of Auroville since it is located at its centre. Yet, the Matrimandir is not a temple – and more specifically it is not a temple for the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram who launched the project of Auroville in 1965. It is a place dedicated to the Universal Mother, Mother Nature – or whatever you may like to call Her. This is a concept that is well known in Hindu culture, but for Westerners (and I include myself in this category) the meaning of this building is often difficult to understand. The Matrimandir wants to be the symbol of the Universal Mother and the place where “people will not come for a regular meditation or anything of that kind; it will be a place for concentration, for trying to find one’s consciousness.” This understanding of the Matrimandir is in line with the idea that Auroville is a site of spiritual research to strive towards the living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. The Matrimandir’s construction started in the earliest years of Auroville – it required the first Aurovilians to come together and work together as a unified community.
Visiting the Matrimandir is no easily done thing. One really needs to want to visit it as there is a specific process one must follow that is quite lengthy. Now one may somewhat hastily and superficially observe that this is a sort of “ritual” or initiation which are concepts that belong to any religion. Yet, I think that all the steps are there simply to ensure that the visitor puts effort into his or her visit and actually thinks about finding his or her consciousness. I am not saying that entering the Matrimandir equals having a revelation about one’s self, but the whole experience is entrenched with powerful symbolism.
First, one sees the Matrimandir from a distance at a specific viewing point. Then, usually the following day, one is allowed to enter the Inner Chamber after viewing a short documentary and receiving additional instructions by a guide. In the Matrimandir, there are no windows and there is always a sort of clear half-light. One descends down before entering the Matrimandir and one comes up once inside it to reach the Inner Chamber. Everything is a symbol, but it is up to the individual to perceive those symbols. There are neither ornaments, nor music, nor incenses. People can sit anywhere but they must remain silent and as still as possible. Once you exit the Matrimandir, you can wander in the garden dominated by a large banyan tree, the geographic centre of Auroville.
My experience leads me to conclude that the Matrimandir wants to stimulate or facilitate inner progress of anyone wanting to enter it. Overall, I see the Matrimandir as a symbol of bringing order within oneself to establish order around oneself. As such, entering the Matrimandir is a very subjective experience and I cannot do much more but suggest you to visit it and see what it means for you!
Mia Marzotto, American University of Paris