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Nov '01

The crane comes down..

Preparations for one of the most visible changes in years have been underway for the last several weeks. We are preparing to remove the crane, which has stood on top of Matrimandir for the last 21 years.

With an overall length of 30 meters and a height of approximately 6 meters the crane has served the Matrimandir exceedingly well over the last two decades.

The crane was built here in the Matrimandir workshop during 1979-80 when we were preparing for the upcoming job of lifting into place the 1100 pre-cast concrete beams, each weighing up to 400 kgs, that were to make up the spherical space-frame of Matrimandir.

The actual lifting of the crane into place

This was a major event - as it was recorded by a Matrimandir worker, Sept.13,1980:

"Today is the day of the crane. All the pieces are ready, totally ready. The two towers which fit into each other and which sit inside the top ring, the 20 mtr boom and the 10 mtr counter-weight. Also everything is ready on top: the old crane has been removed and a big pipe structure erected, sticking out 4 mtr outside and above the walls of the Chamber and meant to hoist up the towers and the boom. The work on the crane, down and around the workshop, has been the only work for months at Matrimandir. 
[ ] A lot of pipe work, fitting, grinding, painting, and then testing. About three weeks ago we tried to put 1-1/2 tons on the end of the boom, which we had fixed to the main tower, but at one ton already some of the pipes of the main tower started bending a little. That meant another week of reinforcing."

Then large teams of Aurovilians carried the four pieces down into the excavation of Matrimandir, and, one by one they were winched by hand into place high on top of the structure.

Work over the years..

  • Beams for the space frame: over the years which followed the crane lifted the beams that form the space-frame in a steady process which went on day by day until 1987. Then the concrete for the massive top cap of Matrimandir was lifted for the prolonged concreting which was completed on the significant date of 8.8.88 !

  • White marble for Chamber: the crane's attention was then turned to the Inner Chamber, for the completion of the Chamber was the next task before us. The 1140 slabs of pristine white marble that make up the twelve inner walls of the Chamber were carefully lifted up by the crane. These slabs, having come to Auroville from Italy in 1978 slept for years in the Amphitheater's underground rooms before being hoisted through the Tamil Nadu sunshine to their final station during 1989-90. o Having lifted Plaster of Paris for the ceiling and Rajasthan marble for the floor, as well as the four doors of the Inner Room - massive 6 cm slabs of white Italian marble, the crane then faced the toughest task it had ever been asked to meet: lifting the 12 huge columns that stand inside the Chamber.

  • The twelve columns: weighing in at over 800 kgs per column, each with its multiple coats of brilliant white paint and wrapped for protection in specially made mattress covers, these columns were lifted one by one over a period of several months up to the Chamber level. They were swung into a horizontal position outside the rib of the structure then moved carefully in on wheels through the Chamber door and winched gradually to their final standing positions.

  • The crystal globe: after tackling its heaviest load, the crane was entrusted to lift its most precious one: the 450 kg crystal globe for the centre of the room. After checking the steel cables of the crane and ensuring that all was OK, the crane control button was pushed on April 27th, 1991 and, holding our breath a hundred Aurovilians watched the cubical wooden box holding the priceless globe rise into the air. The trip to the Chamber level was over within a matter of minutes. The crane had done its job flawlessly once again.

  • Ferro-cement triangles: after the Chamber was completed the crane took up the job of lifting the hundreds of ferro-cement triangles that were fixed to the concrete space-frame to make up the solid outer skin of Matrimandir. That task was done during the years 1992 to 1995. Then, for a while, the crane had a little rest. It was perhaps meditating on what it had done and looking forward to it's last and most visible task - to lift into place the hundreds of golden discs that now dress the outer skin of Matrimandir.

  • The golden disks: after a few trials with different samples of discs, the definitive lifting job started in early January 1999 and still continues today. Now the disc fixation has reached to just below the equator level of Matrimandir, and that is as far down as we can go using the crane, for the subsequent rows, where the sphere curves inwards, cannot be reached by the crane without risk of damaging the golden discs above. So the career of the crane, long and illustrious, is at an end.

Time to bring it down. Scaffolding has been built up from ground level to support the long lifting arm of the crane, and arms and towers were cut into short pieces. Carefully, so as not to damage any of the golden discs below, these pieces were lowered by rope and pulley to the ground, and on Monday November 5th it was done.

This is truly the end of an era in the life of the Matrimandir construction work.

There is more than one generation of young Aurovilians who have never seen Matrimandir without its crane! For more than twenty years, school children here, when asked to make colour drawings of the finished Matrimandir, have almost always drawn the finished building with the crane still sitting on top!

Now they can see, as do we all, the shape of Matrimandir in its spherical purity. But in our hearts there will be many of us - not only the children - who will still see that crane perched high up on Matrimandir, and will remember it fondly and with gratitude.

 

These and many more 'Matrimandir kid cards'  were made by Aurovilian kiddies some 13, 14 years ago.. On Saturday mornings the children used to come, often riding their ponies, to the MM Office which was then still on the site itself. It was there that they made innumerable colourful and touching cards, many of which were sent in a thank-you letter to people in India and abroad who financially helped us building the structure. (And what joy when an extra check was sent in return.., the pride of the kids of participating in this way..!)
On the backside of the cards the kids would write their own good wishes.. One of them read: "With much love from MatriMyDear.."

 

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