Saturday, February 4, 2006

Chapter 5


Then, one full moon day in April 2002, I had another powerful vision in the early hours of the morning. I remember every detail of this dream clearly .

It was dusk and the lamps had been lit in the precincts of this very ancient temple. I was unfamiliar with this particular temple, that is, I was not aware of what the principle deity was. In strong contrast to my earlier dream where I had been in no doubt that this was indeed the Lord in Tirupathi, I was in a quandary. The temple seemed lovely and old, very old. I recall looking at the ancient grey, stone pillars—with bevelled grooves rising majestically to support the roof. There were two such pillars on either side of
the moola stambam or central pillar. I looked beyond and saw a dark doorway leading inside the sanctum sanctorum.

I could see no light here and the interior seemed engulfed in total darkness. I felt I had to see the deity but was unsure how to proceed inside. I remember looking around. Then, I saw him – an elderly man was sitting just to the south-west of the main shrine. In front of him was a low stool on which rested a well-worn prayer book. This man was hunched over his prayers, totally absorbed in them.

Very hesitantly, I approached him, and at the sound of my footsteps, he looked up. “Evening prayers are over today” he said, “ You will have to come back tomorrow morning”. I remember feeling extremely dejected. Nevertheless, I knew temples had their regulations. Slowly, I started to walk away.

Just as I was about to circum perambulate the inner sanctum, I heard a rustling and looked up sharply. All of a sudden, I found myself in the midst of a crowd of people. There were priests carrying lamps, followed by some more carrying platters
of fruits and flowers. There were women jostling each other in the crowd, carrying in their hands the customary , small, wicker baskets with coconuts, betel leaves, and flowers for an archana.

I remember following this crowd as they proceeded on their pradakshinam of the sanctum. The only thought in my mind was that I had no wicker basket filled with either fruits or flowers. How was I going to perform an archana? Finally, we arrived in front of the doorway that had earlier been totally dark and gloomy. Now, there
was the smell of incense, lot of lights from the lamps as the priests surged ahead,and behind them some of these women. It was soon my turn to go in. However, the minute I reached the large raised step leading to the inner sanctum, all the lights totally vanished,
and the noisy crowd evaporated almost instantly. I found myself with my left foot placed firmly outside the sanctum and my right leg poised to raise itself over the holy threshold.

Then, I felt the pain. It was the kind of numbing, paralysing pain that seemed to shoot
through my entire right leg, immobilising it completely. I found I could not enter this temple, after having come so far. I was totally dejected now, because I was burning with curiosity to see the deity inside, but this deity was eluding me.

I tried to budge my right leg gently but it did not help. It was as if a dead weight had been attached to my leg. I did not wish to give up and tried again, and again. Finally, after what seemed to be a long time, and with one mighty, last effort, I managed to get my right leg over the stone step. I found myself straining my eyes in the gloom to see the deity.

Then I saw her. The one very clear, distinct impression I have is that of oil lamps burning. Not one, but many – she was in fact surrounded by what seemed to be myriads of glowing lights. There was this divine vision, surrounded by a halo of lights walking towards me. Even as she approached nearer, the lights seemed to glow brighter. I felt I was not inside my body anymore. I was running, or floating towards this holy vision, almost pulled in a straight line, or as if propelled forward without any conscious will on my part.

I was running towards her and she seemed to be running forward towards me as if to embrace me. All I can remember are shreds of fear and trepidation mixed with this
extraordinary sense of total bliss. In my dream I heard myself say, “Balambikkai is coming towards me”. I don’t know why I said this. I do not know why I felt it was Devi, as a young girl coming towards me. But this was what I remember seeing and experiencing in this very extraordinary dream.

The next thing I remember was going up a short flight of steps, somewhere on the side of the temple premises. I remember it as being on the right –hand side of the sanctum. A kind of spiral stone staircase with grey, cold, steps led up to a doorway through which
we entered a room. I say “we” because I felt that the Goddess was somehow with me, mixed up with me in a manner that I couldn’t really understand properly.

The room we entered was long and rectangular, with no windows. But there was a light of some sort coming from somewhere. My mother was at my side and the three of us together were proceeding across the room towards the far side. I noticed another door in the far right hand corner of this rather curious looking room.

Then “she” came towards me - a young girl, with her hand outstretched - I thought it was the left hand. “Look at my hand”, she said. I looked and remember being very
surprised. This hand was very old, withered and dark in complexion and on the outstretched palm there were six distinct lines.

Mentally, I could not comprehend how such a divine and glowing deity full of the exuberance of youth, could ever have such a gnarled hand like that. Also, I seem to remember thinking that no one has six lines on their palm. There are just the three distinct lines of palmistry - heart, head and that of fate or destiny. Yet, I looked again at her outstretched palm, there were indisputably six dark brown/grey lines running parallel to each other. Then, even as I was perplexed, she said emphatically “Look , you have six lines on your hand as well”.

“I don’t”, I said, “I don’t have six lines on the palm of my left hand. Look, you can see yourself”. I stretched out my hand. She took my left hand and held it open, so she could see the palm. “You do have six lines here, just like me”. I laughed and said “ I certainly don’t have six lines running across the palm of my left hand. Maybe you do, but then you are Devi, my supreme Goddess - I can’t be like you”. She was very insistent, however.

All I remember was this continual insistence on the fact that I had the six lines just like her. Even as we were talking, I found that we had come very close to the door at the far end. My mother was walking behind me , and I was being led, so it seemed at the time, by this divine vision. Just as we reached the door, she said to me, “ I will
never leave you” .

I don’t know what impulse made me say this, but I uttered the following words: “ Please, I would like to go home now, I’m feeling very, very tired.”.

The next minute, I felt an enormous pressure on my chest. It was a hard pressure, as if someone had placed a heavy weight down on me. I also felt, that I had come back to my body. I was not “ floating”, but brought down to earth. The next feeling was that I was in a deep slumber, a deep stupor that I could not awake from. I remember feeling a bit afraid, in my dream, that I might never get up!

This is not an uncommon feeling. I have experienced this feeling of not being able to awaken from a dream, not being able to move my limbs, on many occasions. I summoned all my mental strength and began to force my lips to move. Slowly, I mouthed the syllables MU- RU- GA- over and over again. I don’t know why I appealed to this particular deity. I just did this several times, over and over again, until I felt I could move my legs, then my hands and finally, with great effort, opened my eyes. It was early morning, about 4.30 a.m. on a Friday. It was Pournami or Full moon that day. I woke up in a daze and looked at my hands. No, I did not have six lines on my left
hand. I was puzzled by the dream, but one thing I was sure of doing later in the morning. I wanted to say my Lalitha Sahasranamam and as I meditated in front of my puja closet, I felt a strong suggestion that I had to draw an image of this Goddess Balambikkai.

I finished my prayers on that Friday and immediately set about drawing the image of Baalaambika, as she appeared in my dream.

Over the course of the following week, I worked continuously on this portrait. I first drew the sacred mandapam or sanctified place where idols of deities are usually placed. As was common in all the drawings I’d done so far, this was sort of a raised platform with a
few decorated steps leading up to it. All around this I drew in some lamps. Usually, it was my practice to draw two lovely standing lamps - kutthu villakkus - at the base of this sacred portal. However, in this picture my intention was to depict the deity more or less
as she had appeared in my dream. In my vision, there were lots of oil lamps and the whole scene was bright and glowing from both an inner brilliance coming from the deity as well as from the myriad of suspended lamps. This is the effect I finally managed to

By the Thursday of the following week, I had finished most of the picture except for the face. I had drawn Devi as a young girl standing on this raised platform with a string of prayer beads in one hand and the other hand turned inwards, as if in a protective
gesture, resting lightly against her thigh.

On her crown, she wore a crescent moon and her dress was not a saree but instead a kind of skirt and blouse ensemble typically worn by young girls. I was quite happy with the progression of my painting so far. I had taken greater care than usual in drawing this
image. My thoughts and prayers had as always rested on that supreme goddess Lalitha, whose thousand names I recited constantly, in waking as well as in sleep and dream state. I rose with her Holy name on my lip and went to bed thinking about my beautiful Devi. Somehow, nothing else in the world seemed to be of any importance. It was at this time that my children began to be more conscious of the amount of time I was spending immersed in prayer. Although to this day, I have never allowed my prayers to
hinder the carrying out of daily household tasks, my prayers and meditation started to bother my children greatly.

I must admit that I have never enforced religion on my children, because my mother had never done this to any of us. We naturally imbibed religion from the atmosphere around us. However, for my girls, the fact they had been born and brought up in the very
materialistic western society meant they could not easily tolerate my religious practices.

They could not appreciate my “Indian” music, or understand my prayers, if by some chance, they heard me playing my audio tapes loudly. Consequently, I listened to all my
Vedanta tapes and prayers with the help of headphones.

Normally this did not bother me. I felt that these disturbances were merely some more obstacles that I had to overcome in my spiritual quest. I did not allow the children’s attempts to distract me in my meditation affect me too much and tried as far as possible
to work on my paintings when they were at school. To this day, they have never seen my earlier sets of paintings because I had kept them all very carefully hidden in my drawing book.

This painting was different. I wanted to finish it as quickly as possible, so the children as usual made remarks that I was “at” my paintings again. In their minds, I was slowly becoming God- intoxicated.
However, regardless of all these distractions, I had made good progress on this drawing. Finally, only the eyes had to be drawn. I always reserved the drawing of the eyes to the very last.

I was very meticuluous when it came to drawing the face and in particular the eyes. The expression had to be just right. I have never considered for a single moment that it was “I”, who created these lovely pictures. I have always felt myself to be just an instrument
carrying out divine instructions. So, on this auspicious Friday, I decided to pray to Durga for her blessings before I drew in the eyes. I went into the bathroom to wash my hair with the intention of starting this Friday off on a good tone. What followed was just an
unfortunate series of events.

With absolutely no prior warning, my back froze just as I bent down to pick up a towel to dry myself after my bath. There was a searing pain that extended from the base of my spine, all along the right leg. I could not move. Luckily, the mobile phone was near my side and I just managed to call my husband for help before collapsing on the floor. Help was quite long in coming and there were further complications because I had locked the apartment door from the inside. A locksmith had to be called to try and get it open from the outside. I could hear the anxious voices of my daughter and husband from outside as they discussed the possibility of just breaking down the door.

At this point, I was lying on the ground, waves of pain racking my leg and back. I tried hard to hoist myself up, but found it impossible to shift my leg, let alone try to stand.

However, with one last attempt, I managed to first crawl, and then stumble
the few paces to the front door. I remember turning the key inside the lock and heard it open before passing out. The next thing I remember, was that I was on the bed, on my tummy with an ice pack on my back.

The doctor arrived much later that evening and I finally got some extra strong pain killers. But it was bad news. I had a lesion or tear in my disc, with the result that the projecting portion of the disc was putting pressure on a vital nerve, thus sending those shooting pains down my right leg. The next few weeks passed in a painful daze. I had to have a lot of powerful medication. In addition, I had to take a lot of bed rest. I found it very difficult to either sit or stand and could walk only very slowly and with much pain.

I did not understand why this had happened to me, particularly on the day I was going to draw the face of my Goddess. I spent most of the next few weeks in bed, recuperating and listening to my indispensable audio cassettes. I tried to find some solace in the
teachings of Paramartha and did my prayers and meditation lying in bed.

It was at this time that yet another piece of bad news came my way. My mother informed me on May 27th, that in the very early hours of that day, our beloved Swamigal had attained Samadhi. I was totally shattered by this news.

There were several selfish reasons for this.

In the weeks leading up to this event, I had asked my mother to visit Swamigal and get his blessings for my sake. Actually, my mother had mentioned that Swamigal wasn’t very well and had been admitted in hospital. She did not give me too many details, perhaps
because I had this painful back condition and she did not want to add to my worry. I told her then that I had this desire to take in all my paintings of Devi from this last, third set to Swamigal and personally get his blessings. So, the news that Swamigal had shed his
human body came as a big blow! There was nothing anyone could do except pray—and this is what I did.

My mother gave the exact time when the holy last rites were to be given on that day. I managed with great difficulty to take a shower and then went to my very neglected puja cupboard. I cleaned it a bit and then lit a lamp. I looked at my photograph of Swamigal and then couldn’t keep standing any more. This effort had been too much for me. I got back into bed and recited prayers, mentally, for the next couple of hours, thinking of no one else but him and remembering his kind face in my mind.

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