Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chapter 4


My painting of Lord Vigneswara was completed. I moved on to another deity. At this time I used to recite Lalitha Sahasranama( thousand holy names of the Goddess) every day and I wanted to focus on Shakthi in various forms. I began a drawing of Durga. Again, I started these drawings by offering prayers to Pillayar, Guru and then the specific deity in question . Shri Santhanada Swamigal had composed a kavacham on Durga.

I made a habit of listening to this along with my other prayers. I continued to listen to Swami Paramarthanada’s pearls of wisdom as well. In this manner, I managed to finish sketches of Bhuvaneswari, and Kamakshi Amman. Later, I did a few sketches of Lord
Muruga, Shiva and Vishnu. These pencil sketches were embellished with black ink, so they would look more effective. I shall call these my first set of gross paintings. There were three sets of these black and white paintings in total, always dealing with the
same set of deities.

The reason for this classification is rather curious. I carried on for nearly three years with this type of art work. It was always a portrayal of Devi in many forms, followed sometimes by Vishnu and Murugan. When I had completed my very first set of paintings, I gave a few away to family members hoping they would bring the recipients good luck. However, as I had not maintained copies, I set out to draw some of these images all over again. This second set, it seemed to me, turned out slightly better than my first attempt. I remember that my portrayal of Durga in the first set had been a little crude and the face lacked a serene and calm countenance. In the second set of Devi paintings, the eyes were more lively and benevolent and this seemed to transform the
image from just a crude drawing on paper to one which seemed to have more life!

Again, I remember giving away a few of these pictures, but this time I managed to retain photocopies of the original. During the evolution of these drawings, I continued with both prayers and philosophical lectures side by side. Although this was a period in my
life when there were a lot of turbulences, I felt that I could handle them without depending or leaning on other people for help. I was still relying on God as the last resort, for any unexpected curves life could toss at me. This was still, very much a major dependence and, despite all the lectures of Paramartha, one more hurdle I could not jump over just yet.

As if to reflect this inner uncertainty of mind, my art work took on a different nature as well. After the completion of the second set of God paintings, I began to explore an alternative medium of painting. At that time my eldest daughter wanted me to come up with some ideas of craft objects to sell at her school’s Christmas fair. So, I put aside my God paintings for a while and came up with the idea of creating photo frames using glass paints. I made quite a number of these photo frames in different sizes decorated in
an array of dazzling floral patterns. These proved to be quite popular and from there I moved on to creating a few floral wall hangings using the same floral motifs. In fact, my children insisted I should hang a few of these on the bare walls of our flat.

Although I did as they suggested, I felt a small voice inside me protesting- “ Put up some pictures of Gods, instead”. I considered this for a moment and then let it go. My children’s desires were more important. Curiously enough, these floral paintings did not
rest on the walls too long. I simply gave them away to a family member who happened to admire them. Even at this time I did not realise the significance of “that little voice”.

I think the true awakening of my inner consciousness, in the light of restrospection, occurred when I was involved in drawing the third set of paintings. After my episode of dabbling with different types of glass paints and floral patterns, I somehow got the urge to draw another set of Devi paintings. My intention at this point was merely a technical one - I wanted to improve my drawing skills.

Somehow, as always, my art had to reflect the on going process of self inquiry and self cleansing as well. Thus, I began the third and final set of Devi paintings. I worked on a series of five images over a period of a couple of months in the first quarter of 2002.I
had by now exhausted all the audio cassettes on Vedanta my mother had periodically sent me so far, and had already listened to the Upanishads several times.

In fact, I knew exactly what Paramartha would say next at any pause, or the particular joke he would make so we could understand a concept easily! I returned to my prayers and paintings. And subconsciously, I returned to my dependence on Swamigal. My mother would meet him quite often and he would always inquire how I was. For my part I would always ask my mother to seek his blessings on my behalf. So, it continued—with art reflecting my spiritual soul searching.

It was also during this period that I started having my visions. One day in the autumn of 2001, I had a very strange dream. I was at Tirupathi witnessing the splendour of the Lord as prayers were said and flowers were being offered.

I can recall this dream very vividly, because I could even smell the fragrance of incense and camphor that swirled about me. The priests were chanting Vishnu Sahasranama and my mouth was moving in unison reciting these thousand holy names of that supreme Lord.

The Lord, bedecked in garlands of many hued flowers, seemed to stay in my dream for a long time - as if he was giving me a private audience. I woke up in a daze. It was early in the morning on a Friday. Looking back now, almost all such dreams have occurred
early in the morning of a Friday, many, on full moon days.

Prior to this incident, I had always slept quite soundly, and except for some fanciful and rather illogical dreams, my dreaming state had been very ordinary- not unlike that of any other average person. I must however admit that during the summer of 2001, I visited
Tirupathi temple along with my sister. Somehow the darshan we received that day was not very fulfilling to me. First of all, we had to
stand in the dharma darshan queue for what seemed like ages, and when we reached the main sanctum, we were told that no particular puja was going on just then. We could only get a very distant glimpse of the sacred idol. I have had better darshans
before, and although I was happy to see the Lord, albeit from a distance, in my opinion, it was only second best.

Later, we descended the sacred hills and made our way to Tiruchaanur to visit the Alamelu Thaayar temple. Here, we found we did not get a glimpse of the main deity
at all as there was a massive crowd. There was a puja being conducted outside using the Utsava Murthi. I barely managed to get a sight of the Devi here because even as we hurried to get a view, the priests pulled a curtain in front of the idol. On the whole, I felt
very sad and, in a way, let down by my gods. “I only came to see you and seek your blessings- why didn’t you grant me even that simple pleasure? Haven’t I been praying to you all these years, with single-minded concentration? Is this how you reward me?” All
these questions were running through my mind. Anyway, nothing more could be done and my sister and I returned home.

Back in London after that summer visit, I had this beautiful vision of the Lord. I remember excitedly calling my mother on the phone and telling her all about it. I continued all my prayers with renewed vigour. Things were fairly normal for a while until the next curious dream incident.

This occurred later that year. This dream was very unusual because I felt as if I had already died. At least, my physical body was no longer relevant. Instead, I felt as if I was being pulled upwards by a very powerful magnet. This is indeed the exact sensation I felt at the time (funnily enough, corroborated by a visiting Swamiji over a year later). I felt propelled upwards into this huge glowing and shining globe of light, and felt myself leaving the body from right at the top centre of my head.

There are very few such incidents that I can now recall with accuracy. This was one of them and the very force of that pull was the lasting impression I had of this dream. I told my mother about this as well. She thought that since I did a lot of prayers it might not be too surprising to get such a dream. However, only I knew that despite what anyone might say or comment, these were not your ordinary dreams reflecting the subconscious wishes or desires. I can honestly assure you that at no time had I wished to leave this body
voluntarily or otherwise!

It was only after these powerful dreams that I renewed my paintings of Devi. Over a few months in the early part of 2002 I managed to draw five of them—Durga, Bhuvaneswari, Mahalakshmi, RajaRajeswari and Maangaadu Kamakshi Amman.

At this time, I was going through a rough patch in my personal life and my main intention in drawing these figures was not only to gain mental strength, but also to appeal to Devi, whom I considered to be a Mother, as a last resort to help me and my family. This third set of paintings was more beautiful in my opinion than the previous attempts. The faces of my Devis appeared truly serene and calm.

However, over the next few months, the problems I encountered seem to only grow in size and my patience was to be sorely tested.

In a very radical move, I decided to completely stop all my prayers. I was not disheartened that my prayers had yielded no fruits - because at no point had I set up a bargain with God.

I just decided to stop the prayers and concentrate on Vedanta instead.

Listening to thought provoking lectures replaced meditation and japa. I returned to Paramartha’s tapes. Unconsciously, my mind was firmly established in bridging that gap between dvaita and advaita. I was now more concerned with every minute detail of how
I interacted with the world around me in an effort to overcome my negative qualities. This period of introspection had been going on for quite some time, but seemed to have somehow now gained momentum.

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