Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chapter 10


Next, I embarked on a set of Ganapathi paintings. Once again, the thought processes that led me to choose this particular deity cannot really be explained well on paper. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this diary, as soon as I finish one painting, my mind is directed firmly towards another one. I would not be able to sketch or paint anything else. I set about depicting Mahaa Ganapathi with ten hands, seated on a pedestal. I did two almost similar images, and then went on to do three more representations of Pillayar. One was his form as a happy dancer, the second as Heramba Ganapathi, astride a lion and the third was his form as Ucchista Ganapathi. In this last painting, the deity is portrayed with his female consort who represents the acting principle, seated on a lotus, holding in his hands among other symbols, a veena. The importance of arts and culture as well as relationships is highlighted by this image.

It was during this stage that I became intrigued by the symbolism of the Ganapathi image. I did a lot of research on both the iconography of Pillayar as well as his representations in religious art. I discovered that the Mudgala purana cites 32 forms or images of this deity,
each representing an esoteric principle. Naturally, I wanted to try and portray them in a series of paintings. However, try as I might, these pictures did not materialise and instead, I had to wait for a few months more. This is because what I did paint immediately after these five portraits of Ganapathi was a very large portrait of Karumariamman.

The reason for going back to this shakthi painting was that I had many visions around this time that highlighted worship of this particular Goddess. I remember in particular one specific vision. I was in a very old temple. It felt like a Shiva temple. I say “felt”, because this was just an intuition, as all my thoughts are these days. I also felt it was a temple where ancestors might be propitiated, because it was my father who took me to this temple in my dream. Another curious incident here is the the appearance of my father for the first time in a powerful dream. I remember feeling very happy he was back. I told him to come home with me and see the rest of his family. However, he seemed interested in taking me directly to this very old, huge, beautiful temple, in the district of Coimbatore. He seemed very concerned for some reason about my eldest brother. However, we reached the temple and I went inside. Having noted that it was a Shiva temple, I
walked further into the inner sanctum and found the dark grey stone image of Karumarriamman. I also sensed the presence of my sister by my side. I found myself reciting the Narayani stuti from the Devi Mahatmyam. “ Sarva Mangala Mangalye”, as I felt myself drawing closer and closer to this image. I was up very close, and found her eyes to be alive, and realised I was evaporating inside her!

I remember coming out of that trance whilst still being part of the dream and my father gave specific instructions to my sister in order to get her daughter married.
The next day I relayed these instructions to my sister and told her to go the Karumariamman temple near Madras. Even though I told her
this, I do feel that the temple I had visited in my dreams is not that of the Thiruverkaddu location. Perhaps one day I will visit this sacred spot of my dreams!

Soon after this dream, there was came another where I was standing near the Moola Sthambam of a temple. The priest came and gave me an envelope containing prasaadam. The envelope was addressed to my father, and it was sent by Shri Shanthananda Swamigal. I opened it and saw inside there was some vibhuthi and a little pot of Ganges water. I had the strong feeling that Swamigal was sending a message to my eldest brother. Later still, I had another premonition. This was a dream where I foresaw my eldest brother hurt very badly in a car accident. I woke up in sweat, at 3 a.m. on a Friday morning, unable to sleep anymore because of this terrible dream. Silently
asking Devi why she had caused such an unpleasant nightmare, I immediately got up, had a bath and started reciting the Devi Mahatmyam. I was crying as I recited these powerful verses, beseeching the Goddess not to harm any member of my family. I followed
this up with the Lalitha Sahasranamam and then felt slightly better. Some months later, I found out from a chat with my sister-in-law that my brother had been advised by an astrologer to be very careful while undertaking car journeys!

So, why was I able to foretell some events? Or have strong intuitions about people? I knew at this stage that my meditation had been progressing very well. My levels of concentration had improved dramatically. Very often I could feel the kundalini energy rise from the base of my spine and tingle its way through right up to the crown of my head. There, right at the top of my head, I would get strange sensations, as if a million ants were crawling across it. Sometimes, this energy would flow over my forehead, down my nose. I would feel my ears go hot and then blocked up. The wonderful lotus in the centre of my eyebrows would sometimes dissolve into circles of light. I felt very
reluctant to come out of this meditation!

Obviously, I realised more centres of energy or chakras were being opened up in my body. This would explain the visions and dreams.
Nevertheless, the most important point to consider was that I had to completely ignore or be totally indifferent to these small powers or siddhis.

I listened to Paramartha’s talks on Uddhava Gita and realised that my mind should guard against being distracted from its eventual goal.
He would often say that anything that can be seen as an object while meditating—and this includes, visions, flashing lights and sounds - are really distractions from realising the true identity of the individual, or the true nature of Atma. He always exhorted his students to delve within their own minds instead and seek their true nature.The meditation he suggested was awareness meditation, where the mind is
stilled and thoughts are erased, but the meditator is aware of pure conciousness shining through.

So, I turned now to the teachings of Ramana Maharishi. I read all his books, devoured all his teachings, compared him Aadi Shankara and found that he taught essentially the same principles as written in the Viveka chudamani. My whole life seemed to be an extension of this spiritual quest. I spent hours and hours every day trawling through various advaita sites on the internet, learning and growing mentally all the time.

The painting of Karumariamman was done in April 2004. This was during a particularly difficult period, when there seemed to be a lot of family problems afflicting us. I needed the peace and sanctuary of my painting. One morning, when I finished the painting, I remember standing back to both admire Devi as well as to fall at her feet in gratitude for allowing me to paint her. The sun’s rays fell directly on the picture, and the fire behind the image was almost alive, glowing brightly. However, even this could not outshine the countenance of this Devi. She seemed very real , and for a few minutes her presence pervaded the entire room.

Soon after this episode, I was pointed in the direction of Lord Muruga. In the early hours of a Friday morning, as I was half- asleep, lying in bed, I found myself being pulled by an extremely strong force. I felt my body was an iron filing that was being drawn to a very powerful magnet. With a jolt, my head was turned around to face the opposite corner of the bedroom. Here I saw there was incense, a basket of flowers and other paraphernalia, as if a puja was in progress. There was another strong vibration inside my body, and then I saw the feet of a deity.

There was no doubt in my mind this was Lord Muruga. I could see his feet, and the Vel he carried in his hand. I found myself travelling or rather wafting upwards and I quickly woke up. I pondered about this dream for a while the next day. It seemed so natural, not
at all like many of the dreams I had experienced in the past. In other words, I seemed to be in the waking state while this happened.

I decided to draw a huge portrait of Murugan as he is in Tiruchendur. I do not know why Tiruchendur was important, but that was my intuition. However, there was a small problem here. I have never visited this temple and had no clue whether the main deity is portrayed as standing alone, or with his consorts on either side of him. I did some research on the Internet, but there were two representations: one as standing alone and another which mentioned that both his wives are also present. So, I had to decide for myself. Whilst I had seen the actual deity in my dream as standing alone, with his Vel, I thought it might be more interesting to portray him along with his two consorts.

I started the painting with the usual prayers to Pillayar and Guru. However, I found that when it came to drawing the main pedestal, along with two smaller pedestals on either side, the two smaller pedestals came out crooked all the time. Nevertheless, I
continued. I erased the crooked lines and started drawing the crowns and then the faces of Valli and Deivayanai. Not surprisingly, these did not come out satisfactorily either. I saw to my amazement that the rough sketches I managed to do looked really awful! This picture was a far cry from the others I had executed in the past.

One morning, after several futile attempts, I got up from my work table and decided to meditate and get divine advice. After a short while, I felt I had to recite the Murugan Sahasranamam. This I did and at the end of an hour, just as I was finishing the last nama and beseeching Muruga to give me a signal, I heard the phone ring.

The person at the other end was a distant relative who lived near Manchester. She was calling me to talk about the Murugan temple there. As if in answer to my prayer, she said “You know, the Murugan temple here is modelled along the lines of the one in Tiruchendur.
The deity here stands alone, and while one hand rests on his hip, the other one holds a Vel.” I thanked this person whole heartedly, and said she had called me just as I was seeking an answer. It was far too coincidental that the phone call had come just as I had requested help!

I went back to my painting and started afresh. Within a few days, I had completed the entire work. The Lord stands in solitary splendour dispensing justice signified by the Dhanda, holding the Vel that exhorts our minds to engage in one-pointed concentration of the Lord in order to gain liberation. The eyes of this Lord seem to say “I am here to teach you what you don’t know. Reach my feet and gain eternal wisdom”. At his feet stand the cock , peacock and snake. All these are symbols of various negative qualities such as arrogance, ego and evil habits.While this painting was progressing, I was chanting all the kavachams for Muruga, along with Thirumurugattrupadai, the Kandar Anubhuti as well as the Murugan Sahasranamam. However, the poetry, language, style and symbolism of the Thirumurugattrupadai appealed to me greatly.

Nakkirar, a poet who lived thousands of years ago in the Pandyan empire composed this great work. The poem was believed to have been written while the poet was held captive by Asuras in a cave. In it, he beseeches the help of the Lord. Embodying sheer bhakthi,
these verses not only describe Murugan’s various abodes ( six abodes)and his exploits while subduing demons and Asuras, but also highlight the path of pure devotion or bhakthi as the first step in the spiritual sojourn to ultimately reach true self- realisation.
The completion of the portrait on Lord Muruga saw me more firmly established in my spritual quest.

I was finally able to start painting the thirty- two divine forms of Lord Ganapathi.
Almost miraculously, soon after I completed the work on the Murugan painting, I was able to find those elusive images of Pillayar that provided me with a rough guide to base my paintings on. I came across website devoted to Hinduism and a book titled “Loving Ganesha” published by the monks at a Shaivaite monastery in Kauai, Hawaii.
I based my paintings and the explanations on the material I found in this book.

Every day for the next two months I toiled away at my paintings. Each day would start with prayers for Ganapathi and my Guru followed by a meditation on what this genial pot-bellied figure really signifies, according to our scriptures. Ganapathi or Gajanana as he is variously called is universally known as the elephant-faced god.

However, this image is purely symbolic. In Sanskrit, the word GA indicates GATI, the final goal towards which the entire creation naturally evolves, whether
knowingly or unknowingly. The word JA refers to janma, birth or origin. Therefore the word GAJA stands for God or that supreme divine power from whom worlds have originated, by whom it is sustained and towards whom they are progressing, in order to be ultimately dissolved in Him.

In meditating on the form of Ganapathi, we observe creation in its two fold manifestation as both the macrocosm and microcosm. Each is the replica of the other. The elephant head reflects the vastness, Brahmanda, or bigness, while the human body stands for the jeeva or microcosm. The two combined form the one complete unit that is the Lord Gajanana. The Chandogya Upanishad establishes the Mahavakya “ Tat Tvam Asi”, or That Thou Art. In other words, you, the apparently limited individual are in essence the cosmic Truth, the Absolute.

The elephant symbolises Brahman; the human body stands for jeeva, and thus the single image reflects their oneness or identity.

Lord Vinayaka also represents the Pranava AUM which is the symbol of the supreme self. In the Mandukya upanishad an extensive explanation is given about the significance of this. AUM or Om, as we pronounce it stands for the entire universe permeated by Brahman and therefore Brahman itself.

There are three sounds associated with this word .The letter A represents the sounds with which the mouth opens to speak any word. U refers to the sound that allows the tongue all positions from the palate to the lips. M is the vocal movement one makes to close the lips. Therefore the sound AUM stands for every sound man can produce between the extremes of A amd M together with the middle stage U. In terms of its esoteric significance, the syllable A refers to the wakefulness state that an
individual might experience through the medium of his gross body and senses and mind. U refers to the state of dream-sleep in which mental experiences are available, but there is no input from either sense organs or intellect. Also, these two above mentioned states
conflict with each other - because in a dream you can experience hunger even though you have eaten dinner before bed time.

The syllable M refers to the state of deep sleep, where there are no experiences and the mind is also inactive completely. However, there is the presence of Awareness. After the sleep is over you know you have been sleeping!

In deep sleep the Atman which is always present has been witness to the sleep of the body and it is “this” that brings back memory. Atman is also present beyond the three states of experience. There is a fourth state called Turiya which is the total silence that ensues after continous chanting of OM. Here conciousness alone is present; nothing else needs to be cognised. During OM chanting we are advised to meditate on the common substratum of all the three states of experience and during the silence, merge in the conciousness that alone is ATMAN ,that is BRAHMAN. Om is therefore repeated at the beginning and conclusion of all auspicious rituals and slokas to remind us that we emanate from Brahman and dissolve into him. The very essence of the creation or SAT is Brahman. Aum is Brahman and nothing can be done without uttering it. This explains the practise of invoking Lord Ganesh, who symbolises the OMKARA before
undertaking any project. He removes all obstacles in the path of the spiritual aspirant.

In my own experience, it was not until my paintings of the various forms of Ganapathi had been completed that I was able to consolidate the information I had been exposed to over the past few years. While I had absorbed many of the vedantic teachings exposed by various Swamijis and Maharishis, read a lot of interesting material, and undergone a lot of self analysis, there still seemed to be a small stumbling block, or rather, the fear that when I did contact this Ultimate Reality, or conciousness, as it is termed, I would lose “myself”.

I remember reading an interesting comparison. A baby is crying in an isolated spot. The baby might be crying because it is frightened “not” by the presence of anything outside it but instead by the “absence” of anything! Similarly, a lot of us want to be tourists, even to God, because of the attachment to our material form, name and shape! We want to understand the Ultimate Truth, but from the safety of our home, sitting on the sofa, reading about it. We do not want to go to a place from which there can be no return! Therefore, if we understand “Conciousness” or Ultimate existence as that conciousness that knows things but itself cannot be known, we do get scared.

However, any object that we “know” immediately becomes a finite object limited by space and is subject to deterioration over time. Whereas the ultimate Truth, or Atman or Brahman, or pure conciousness simply “is”. The very “isness” is Brahman.
Ultimate reality is therefore not spatially or temporarily far away. It is only a logical distance.

It is a mere shift of perception to view everything outside you, around you and within you as made of the same “ root stuff”. It is a cognitive change that can lead to the
transformation of our entire life.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Chapter 9


It was now the summer of 2003. With Varalakshmi Nombu and the auspicious Adi festivals for Durga coming up, I decided to paint a portrait of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. I realised that even if I did not have space to hang pictures in my flat anymore, I simply could not stop painting .

During this time, I had several dreams in which The Mahaa Perivaa of Kanchi, blessed
my paintings.
I remember vividly one particular dream. I am standing in the midst of a huge crowd eagerly anticipating the darshan of this famous sage Of Kanchi. I remember clutching a few of the black and white portraits of Ambal in my hands. The crowd is restless and somehow, I am pushed in front and stumble , falling down with my paintings scattered on the ground just as Maha Perivaa comes out of his room. An assistant picks up the drawings that have fallen at his feet. Acharya looks up and silently gestures as if asking “Who has done these paintings?” The assistant points towards me and indicates that they belong to me. Maha Periva directs his gaze towards me slowly and asks “ Did you do these paintings”. I nod my head, speechlessly. “ As long as you have power in your hands you will always draw Ambal’s pictures”—this is what the Mahaa Perivaa said, looking at me intently. I can still remember those large, luminous eyes and the power of the glance.

Back in the real world, I fervently prayed to Swamigal because I wanted him to bless my paintings. He was after all, the only spiritual preceptor whose grace I had from childhood and I often felt sad I had been unable to meet him before he attained Samadhi. The thought uppermost in my mind was that somehow, at least on an astral plane, he should approve my paintings.

As if in answer to my prayer, a visiting Swamiji from Madras did arrive on the auspicious day of Aadi Perukku and bless my paintings. He was called
Swami Omkarananda and was visiting London to try and raise funds for his ashram. An acquaintance of mine, who was also spiritual, and who knew that I was doing paintings of religious deities, brought this Swamiji over, at very short notice. I must say I
was extremely happy to provide bhiksha for this sanyasi, because, in my mind, I considered him to be a messenger sent to me by Shantananda Swamigal.

(It is also interesting to note that several years later, Sri Omkarananda Swamigal assented to take up leadership of the Peetam at Pudukkottai Sri Bhuvaneswari Temple. He became the Peetathipathi following Sri Santhananda Swamigal).

The painting of Mahaa Lakshmi came out beautifully. I had portrayed the goddess seated inside a large silver Khalasam, decorated with flowers and jewels. The Khalasa itself was placed on a raised pedestal decorated with palm trees and large glossy mango leaves. The scene portrayed here was reminiscent of any home where Varalakshmi Nombu might be celebrated.
The presence of the Goddess is invoked inside the Silver pot, her blessings are sought , and prayers recited for the increased wealth and prosperity of the householder.

During the month of September 2003, I embarked on a painting of Goddess Saraswathi. This was the last painting I embellished with sparkling jewels. The finished painting was truly lovely. Saraswathi, is seated in a slyvan glade, holding her bejewelled veena,
while swans nestle at her feet and a peacock struts by proudly in front of her. As the very embodiment of wisdom, I prayed to this deity that I should never waver from my spiritual path, but instead have the opportunity to be guided by a guru towards the goal of moksha or liberation.

For some time now, I had been thinking about the purpose of my paintings. I knew already I had no control over my mind when strong visions or dreams sent thought patterns or suggestions, neither could I control the motor action of my hands when
painting deities where concerned. However, this all consuming hobby was producing a kind of strain and stress for other members of my family. Perhaps they might have been happier if I had put this “talent” of mine for commercial use. We were going
through a great deal of financial problems and even buying paints and other accessories were proving to be too expensive.
So, I stopped using the relatively more expensive rhinestones to decorate my paintings. I decided to use paints instead . These were small adaptations, but the main question I found unanswerable was “ what is the purpose of these paintings. I am not being of any
help to anyone—what is the use of all these lovely paintings, when there is no place to hang them anywhere, and I’m just going to stash them away in a corner?” I wanted to desperately find some use for these paintings—however, even at the time of writing
I do not know what prompted me to keep this diary of my spiritual journey, or indeed why I paint these images of Gods and Goddesses!

During the autumn of 2003, several curious incidents took place. However, I must relate something else that occurred earlier in that same year. Sometime in January or February of 2003 I had experienced a strange dream. I found myself seated in a large
room , where hundreds of people were assembled. There was music and bhajans, and many people were sitting cross-legged on the ground, doing meditation. Somehow, I found myself in the middle of this crowd. I was in meditation and in that dark ,
fathomless void, I saw a figure in white. This was a very dark-skinned woman dressed all in white. Her eyes were closed, but she was telling me “ chant my mantra, chant my mantra”—then, she disappeared.

When I woke up, my initial thought was to persevere with the mantra that my Guru had given me many years ago. Somewhere, over the past few years, I had not really found too much time to sit for long stretches of time in meditation, like I used to before the interest in painting started.
Therefore, I tried to fit in an hour or so of meditation and mental japa chanting , slowly increasing the time spent on it, during the early months of the year.

Now, one day in September 2003, a newsletter slid through my letter- box. This was a pamphlet that proclaimed “ A very famous Amma, Matha Amritanandamayi” was to grace London with her presence. The venue for this event and the dates in November
were mentioned. I turned over the first page of the pamphlet and stood rooted to the spot. There was the photograph of the smiling face of a dark-skinned woman clad in a white saree. I felt as if I had been struck by a powerful blow to the head!

It was the face of the woman in my dream.

I related this incident to my sister who was visiting London at that time. She informed me that Amma, or the “ hugging saint”, as she was called was indeed a world renowned figure. She had founded many useful institutions—a hospital, schools, provided
houses for destitute, etc. The list of good deeds and activities this diminutive lady was involved in and the extent of worldwide interest and support she had generated, seemed remarkable. My interest was aroused and I found her website on the internet and
read up all the information I could lay my hands on. I read all about her impoverished background, the tensions within her family, her love for nature and humanity , the growing spark of divinity that one day engulfed her, and transformed her into a saint, and
how, over the past 20 years she has been helping people by just hugging them and erasing all their cares and worries!

I decided to meet her when she visited London. I relayed this news to my two daughters and was taken aback by their negative reaction. In their eyes, I was “ mad” to place faith on a person whose past history might well have been doctored. In their opinion
“Amma” was a fake, a con artist, a person who was clever in capitalising on the sufferings of humanity. I remember feeling very sad after this discussion, but perhaps, also an element of doubt remained in my mind as well.

That very same night, I had a totally unforgettable dream. I was in Sydney, Australia, and somehow mixed up with a group of people who were waiting to have an
audience with Amma.!

I remember every detail of this dream very clearly. I was in a large room filled with a lot of people. All of us were waiting expectantly for the arrival of “AMMA”. Then, after a while, someone remarked that her car was pulling up, and all of us stopped talking and
waited in silence for this holy person to arrive. She came in, dressed in a simple white saree and sat down in the middle of the room.

Somehow, it was me who was called on first for her embrace. She hugged me for a very long time. I felt I was disappearing inside her, and was transported to another realm, where the only sensation I perceived was bliss, absence of fear and sheer joy!

Amma was continuing to hug me “ You are a very good mother”, she was telling me. “ I know you have a lot of problems, financial problems—ask me what you want”. I found myself replying “ Amma, I don’t need anything except for Moksha or liberation. I know
my family has money problems but that will be solved some day, or perhaps never. I don’t really care about that. You asked me what I really want. I want Moksha, and while I’m still alive, I want to be able to draw pictures of Devi, until my last breath goes. Also, I want to be an instrument of help for humanity”.

Amma laughed and said “ She wants a job” , turning around to face the rest of the assembled crowd. “Maybe we can give her a job in New York”. She was still hugging me, and now I saw her in her Devi Bhava. She was wearing a beautiful necklace of
Navarathnam. I commented on it, and she said “ Look, you are also wearing the same necklace”.” I will always be with you, I know who you are, and I know your father too”.

Then she let me go. I found myself leaving the hall reluctantly. Outside the room was a small landing, with steps leading downstairs. As I passed by , a painting hanging on one of the walls caught my attention. It was the black and white photograph of
Bhuvaneswari that is at present in the small puja room ,near the kitchen in my mother’s house.

I found it extremely difficult to wake up from this dream. Once again, it appeared that my physical body had been temporarily devoid of any life. I found myself getting up slowly, as sensation first came back into my legs, then hands, and then a heavy sensation in
my heart. The minute I woke up, I remember looking at my hands. They were red in colour, as if someone had splashed kumkumam on them. My first thought that Friday
( Pournami), was “Amma wants me to write a book”. I ran into the next room and
woke up my husband—I was quite excited and deliriously happy. I informed him and my children, later, that Amma, as large as life had come in my dreams. So, they were all mistaken about her! The reaction from my children was predictable. They felt that as I
had been reading about her and stories associated with her for the past few days, I was bound to get these mental projections. I did not say anything to them. However, only I knew the particular experience and the feeling of bliss that I had in that loving

I continued with my prayers as usual, that Friday. The following week, on a Saturday, about one day before Amma was scheduled to visit London, I had another vision of her. This time ,we were travelling together in a car, and she said to me “ You did not really
believe in me at first, did you?” I could not reply. We got off at a temple, somewhere along the journey. Then I saw Amma serving prasadam to everyone. It was lime-rice, and she was cheerfully giving this to all the people who queued in front of her. When I went
along, she said “ let the children get the food first, then I will give you”. Behind her I saw the figure of the Ashta Dhasha Bhuja Mahalakshmi, ( of Salem, Skandashramam temple). I woke up convinced that Amma was indeed an aspect of Durga, or Kali, or
Shakthi. Of this there was no doubt in my mind.

On Monday, my eldest daughter accompanied me to the venue in North London where Amma was scheduled to give audience. We reached there by 10 a.m. in the morning, when the function was slated to start. However, we found that the auditorium was already
heaving with people. Amma was leading the crowd through guided meditation and outside, there was a mad scramble to get tokens in order to be “hugged”. I looked in dismay at the number written on my token—It was 1000!

There was no alternative option but to wait for our turn to come up. The hours went by slowly. There was an endless stream of people shuffling along slowly toward the raised dais where this holy lady was sitting. With great patience, she hugged each
person for a minute, whispered something in their ears, and gave them some prasadam. Assistants lifted up each person by the shoulders when their turn was over. Many were visibly overcome and emotional, and tissues were provided so they could wipe
away tears of elation and joy.

Behind Amma, on the stage of this large auditorium, there were some Sanyasis singing bhajans. Above them was a large screen on which Amma’s recent visits to the U.S, and some news reports about her in the media were being relayed. All around the sides
of the auditorium, there were stalls set up selling books on Amma, her message to the world, etc. All proceeds were of course meant to benefit her various charitable activities.

We must have been standing in the queue for nearly 4 hours, and only 500 people had finished their darshan. I was getting worried that I might never get the chance to be blessed that day. So, I went up to one of the helpers who was in charge of
managing the flow of people surging towards Amma. I said I had to leave in an hour’s time since I had to get back home before my younger daughter returned from school. Could he perhaps consider me jumping the queue, in the interest of time?
He said he would try, but then largely ignored me. I waited for another half-hour and persisted. I spoke to the helper about my dream, and how Amma had given me a beautiful hug. “I don’t want to go home without her blessing”, I said. By now, I was tired
from standing and waiting, and quite emotional, because this wait could prove to be futile.

Sensing my emotions, this assistant thought for a minute and then said “Come with me”. He took me and my daughter right up to Amma, and allowed me to have my
hug! However, it was my daughter that Amma hugged first. Only then did she give me a short hug, and repeated the process by
hugging us both together. During this time she whispered something almost inaudible in malayalam (even though I had reminded the assistant near her I spoke Tamil). The words sounded like “MODU Modu”. But I cannot be sure. When she hugged me I did
feel all my cares and worries slip away. My daughter said she felt a strange tingling inside her when she was hugged, but I didn’t really experience that.

Somehow, I felt a curious sense of dissatisfaction as we left Amma’s presence that day. Perhaps I was put off by the excessive commercialisation of this whole hugging process. I do not really know. We returned home, tired but strangely uplifted. That was in
November 2003. I returned to my routine of prayers, meditation and paintings.

As if on divine cue, I had another vision sometime that month. This time, I found myself walking in a very remote, mountainous place. It was very cold and I could see snow capped mountains around me. I found myself walking down a path leading towards
what seemed like a temple formed out of ice. However, just as I reached the doorway of the temple I was aware of a torrent of water gushing forth from somewhere. I seemed to have lost sight of the temple. I tried to peer through the misty fog in front of me. I
had a burning desire to see the deity. Suddenly, the fog lifted, the waters parted from near my feet and I saw the mighty Lord Shiva, seated in his yogic pose, in the inner sanctum of this ice cave.

The statue seemed to be fashioned from white marble. I stared at this sight in great awe, but it vanished almost instantaneously. The next day, I decided to do a painting of the holy couple, Shiva and Parvathi.

However, before I got around to doing this, I was destined to do another portrait of Lord Venkatachalapathi. Now, the earlier painting of Balaji was greatly admired by my sister, and when I came to know she and her husband were migrating to New Zealand, I decided to give them this painting as a parting gift.

However, even though my intentions were sincere and I wished the Lord of Tirumala to bless them in their new house, I felt desolated by the loss of this painting. It was as if my very soul had been taken away. In anguish, I remember praying to Vishnu the
day his portrait left my house. “ I want you here again, in form and spirit”, I prayed. “Please allow me to paint you, one more time.”

This time, the painting was executed twice its original size - nearly five feet in height. Within two weeks, I finished it. My husband, who normally was rather indifferent to this hobby of mine, surprisingly insisted that I get expensive Swarovski crystals to embellish
the picture with. So, with great enthusiasm, and loving care, I decorated the mighty Lord, with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. He seemed to be covered from head to feet with sparkling gems. We framed this picture and, to the chanting of Vishnu Sahasranamam, hung it on the very same spot as the previous picture.

It was only after this project that I undertook the painting of Shiva and Parvathi. At this time, I would chant the powerful vedic hyms of Rudram, namakam and chamakam, understanding the significance of these beautiful slokas. There were also numerous
other slokas on Lord Shiva that were available on audio cassettes and, very often, I would go into a deep trance just listening to them. These slokas had an enormously calming effect on the mind.

The first of these traditional Shiva Parvathi paintings was followed by a vibrant portrait of the mighty Lord, performing his dance or Thandavam. Among all the paintings I have been blessed to do, this cosmic dance of Lord Shiva is the one I absolutely enjoyed! I
wanted to capture in this portrait the sense of energy, action and movement, as the Lord is dancing. Here, the dance is purely symbolic of the rhythmic movements of the universe. Every planet and atom moves in a well orchestrated rhythm directed by the
unseen, formless, intelligent principle that is Shiva.

The lord is pictured as holding in his hands the udukai or drum ,which is a symbol of the sound of creation; the flames represent his destructive power when the act of involution of the universe takes place. The lower right hand of the Lord is raised in the
Abhaya gesture to protect his devotees, while the lower left hand points to his raised foot. This instructs the devotees to take refuge or surrender completely at the feet of the Lord. Lying prostrate at the feet of the Lord is the little demon who symbolises Ahamkara
or ego as well as all the evil qualities one has to overcome in order to achieve oneness with the Lord.

The third painting in the Shiva series was that of Ardhanareeswara. This mixture of the Shiva and Shakthi principle seemed a fitting conclusion to the series on Shiva.It should be remembered here that all forms of Gods (i.e. Saguna Deities), in Hinduism, just
provide a basis for the worshipper to come to grips with the incomprehensible Supreme. It is very difficult to imagine a formless, unseen, unmoving principle as the substratum of this entire universe. Hence, Lord Shiva is represented as the first of all beings
and the root of all elements. (Aadi Shiva). He is existent always, unaffected by time and space, and therefore eternal (Sadhaa Shiva). He has inherent in him both male and female aspects, since this mixture is essential for creation. Thus, like a ground-nut
pod contains within itself two peanuts, God is not just a HE, but, as the Ardhanareeswara figure conveys, God is male as well as female, including the neuter.

This formless God is Paraa Shiva. The male and female parts are associated in him just like a person and the actions of that person are inseparably linked. So, is the Lord and Maya.They are one, just like ice and water. One becomes the other. The female
aspect represents the active energy that is blessed by the presence of conciousness, pure and absolute, with no attributes, which is Shiva. The Atma is Purusha or Shiva, in this context, while the body is Sakthi, Maya or Prakriti, the root stuff that makes up the
creation (at the microcosm as well as macrocosm level). After I finished this picture of Shiva and Parvathi in the androgynous form, I felt the whole process had cleansed my mind of various misconceptions and I was ready to evolve and move further along the
spiritual path.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Chapter 8


I think the period of serious painting started in November 2002.

Barely a few days after I had completed my portrait of Meenakshi Amman, I had another vision.
I was at Tirupathi again, witnessing the grandeur of the great Lord of Tirumala. I was in the inner sanctum of this very sacred abode with my mother seated next to me. The screen in front of the main deity had been drawn because the priests were finishing the flower alankaram to the Lord. My mother and I were seated amidst a crush of people, waiting quite eagerly for the screen to be pulled aside with the customary swift flourish.

However, when the screen was finally drawn open, what I saw was not the Lord Venkatachalapathi but instead a very beautiful, golden statue of Pillayar.
This was no ordinary Pillayar. He was glowing with a rare luminescence , and appeared to be standing.

A strong mental suggestion made me tell my mother in my dream “ Amma, Pillayar has asked me to paint him as a Heramba pillayar, with five heads!”

I awoke to a lovely Friday morning, and started to plan my new painting. However, almost immediately, I encountered a problem. I did not have a clue how to portray this elephant- headed God with five heads! I had to see a small photograph to copy
from. As it turned out, a family member was visiting London just then and I was able to get a photo sent, very quickly. I stared at this small coloured photo of the Great Lord of all obstacles and remember thinking to myself “ Surely, I will not be able to finish this
painting, this photograph seems too difficult for me to copy. Perhaps I have become too ambitious with my art projects.” I had a feeling of utter despondence and the certainty that I would not be able to do full justice to the representation of the lord in this form.

So, I decided to meditate on Pillayar , while listening to the audio cassette called “Ganapathy Homam”. After all, one should perform this homam before under taking any work. While I did not fully understand the detailed ritualistic aspects of this vedic chanting, one large chunk of poetry right at the beginning of the tape appealed to me immediately. This was the Atharvana Upanishad’s praise of Lord
Ganapathi. Here he is hailed as the primary Lord of all Ganas, the main creator, the “essence” of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and as the embodiment of the vedantic truth “Tat Tvam Asi”. I sat in contemplation of this mighty Lord who creates obstacles in order to teach us lessons in life as well as removes the very same impediments when fortitude and true devotion is shown. I fervently prayed that Heramba Ganapathi—the destroyer of all weaknesses should guide my inner spirit and provide me with sufficient skill to finish this painting.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I was able to finish my initial sketch , and soon afterwards, the whole painting came to a beautiful conclusion. I adorned Heramba Ganapathi’s five crowns with sparkling gems , gave him brightly coloured robes and strewed red flowers at his feet.

The next painting I undertook was to portray Lord Vishnu as the Great Lord of Tirumala. Again, I spent a lot of time meditating on the Vishnu Sahasranama and Suprabatham, before embarking on this task. I approached this project with great diffidence since I thought there was a greater level of difficulty involved in portraying this particular image. However, to my enormous surprise, I found that of all
the paintings I have been privileged to execute thus far, this was by far, the easiest! However, Lord Venkateswara was also the most expensive to embellish with coloured rhinestones!

Next, came a painting of Goddess Durga with eighteen hands, the slayer of the demon- buffalo, Mahishasura. I wanted to reproduce in this figure, the exact image of the deity as she stands in the temple at Skandashramam in Salem. ( the temple established by
With her eighteen hands bristling with various weapons, this goddess protects her devotees fiercely, freeing them from all the strong bonds that attach them to samsara. She reminds us of the need to acquire mind and sense control, and the importance of
leading a dharmic life- style. During the painting of this image, I was constantly reciting hymns in praise of Ugra Prathyangira ( a ferocious aspect of Kali), as well as Shoolini Durga. Images of these two aspects of Kali have been enshrined by Swamigal in a newly
built temple complex near Madras.

While I was working on this painting, there were several upheavals in my personal life. However, every time I came across a hurdle, surprisingly enough, I found the strength to jump over it or tolerate it. By the time I finished this painting, while all the misfortunes that befell me hadn’t entirely disappeared, I felt I had been left , mentally, unscathed!

I suppose, at a subconscious level, I was trying to bring into my small flat, the power and presence exuded by these various deities at their very famous abodes, be it Tirupathi , Madurai, or Skandasramam.
Living thousands of miles away in England, I could not really undertake a pilgrimage of these famous temples. Instead, by constant meditation on each particular deity I made them come alive, so to speak, through the medium of art. Therefore, it
was a natural progression for me to want to paint the picture of Lord Muruga next, for it is this second son of Durga or Parvathi, who faces her directly in the temple at Salem. However, before I started work on this, I experienced several strange visions.

It was during this time that I had been researching the iconography and art of Lord Muruga. I avidly read all information I could lay my hands on that pertained to his six abodes (ARUPADAI VEEDU), and analysed several ancient slokas like the Thiru Murugattrupadai and Kandar Anuboothi trying to grasp the underlying vedantic truth couched beneath some of the best Tamil literature of the Sangam period.

One night, I experienced a strange vision. I was travelling in a car along with a great sage—I did not really who he was at that time ( later discovered him to be the very likeness of Kripananda Variar—a great Murugan devotee and saint). In any case, we had been travelling for a while and the car stopped at an unknown destination. I got out and the sage guided me towards a stone house. I did get the feeling I was not in India, but perhaps somewhere in the U.S.
As I was walking up the gravel pathway towards the house, I could hear the singing of bhajans—all on Lord Muruga. I stopped just outside the front steps and this kind- looking saint looked at me and said “ I know you very well; you don’t have to tell me anything about yourself, or your husband or whatever your personal problems are. You will only come to see me along with your husband. Not before then”. Then he looked at me very intently. It was a mesmerising gaze that seemed to draw me completely out of my body. It seemed to me that I was going into a void, as if pulled along without my volition.

However, the experience wasn’t frightening at all. There was a feeling of utter, indescribable bliss. The last thing I remembered of that dream was this man’s eyes—They were unblinking and reminded me, at the time, of a peacock’s eye. I was awakened from this dream by an unusual force. It was the light coming from a star
outside my bedroom window. For a long time, this bright star remained in the sky, and for some reason I felt comforted. It was as if someone was watching over me.

The next day, I started work on a painting of Muruga with his two consorts- Valli and Deivayanai. These two wives of Skanda really represent Iccha sakthi- the power of the will, and kriya shakthi- the power of action. Therefore an aspirant on the path for spiritual
growth, should bring his mind, senses and actions under control, in order to reach the goal of “identity with Brahman”. In other words, the individual jeeva will attain jnana or wisdom ( represented by the Vel or spear) by adopting a strenuous path of self- enquiry.

This Wisdom, which is the clear understanding of the Mahavakya “ AHAM BRAHMA ASMI, OR TAT TVAM ASI” will effect a perceptual change leading
further to a fundamental transformation of the individual. He will then perceive the pure consciousness shining forth , and reflected in every sentient or non- sentient being in the universe. In other words, once a person realises the identity and similarity of the underlying divine force that energises and activates every particle of matter in this universe, his attitude towards the whole world changes.

Selfishness and materialistic pursuits are replaced by sharing and love. Actions that are dictated by a thoughtless, wavering mind, are instead guided by a firm, reasoning intellect. There is an enhancement of knowledge and a growing respect for every part of this universe that is inextricably linked with each other; a respect for nature, animals, people of different races and creeds, in fact a whole shift of vision from narrow, self- centeredness to an all embracing love of humanity and nature in all its varied aspects.

While the Skanda purana dwells at length on interesting stories about the birth of Karthikeya and his courage and valour in vanquishing demons like Surapadma and Tarakesa, the esoteric meaning is always to remind each individual to overcome his own demons- i.e. negative qualities, ahamkara ( ego) and ignorance, all of which veil his true nature, and prevent him from realising the essential identity of jiva atma and Brahmatma.

By the time I finished the painting of Lord Muruga, I felt as if Skanda, the great Guru, himself had helped me by providing further impetus on my spiritual quest. In fact, on the very day I finished this painting, I felt a strong mental suggestion to propitiate my own Guru ( Shri Shanthananda Swamigal). I immediately took out a small sheet of paper and started to sketch , using the photograph I had taken of the Swamigal in Salem, as a guide.

While drawing this image, I was chanting the Guru stotram and willed him mentally, to project his image on the paper. Within about thirty minutes, I had finished. I did not have to erase even one line of my initial sketch. It was as though a divine force guided my hand .

I framed this pencil sketch, on that same day and placed it next to the Murugan picture. In this manner, my paintings continued to progress. I was producing one picture each month. It seemed that no sooner had I finished one, strong mental suggestions or visions
encouraged me to paint another deity. My mind seemed to be guided by an “inner voice”—and I had no control over this part of my thoughts or subsequent actions.

Before starting each new painting, I would continually feel diffident, as each picture presented newer and more difficult challenges. I would work for six to seven hours a day, stooped over the dining table in my little flat—yet, I didn’t feel tired or develop a stiff back, as my family continually warned me. Instead, the whole process was energising and I found my mind was able to concentrate more easily as
time went by. The act of painting was like entering “Samadhi”. During this period of intense concentration, only the deity I was painting, really mattered. Nothing else--- no other thought could, or would be allowed to disturb me.

Soon after the completion of the Murugan painting, I was urged to attempt a portrait of Hanuman. I dutifully prayed to Lord Ganesha first, and then meditated on Lord Anjaneya, reciting the Hanuman chalisa. However, this painting did not progress very well at all. I spent several days, trying to draw the Lord’s face, but try as hard as I could, I simply could not draw even one small portion of the crown on top of his head. So, one day, after my customary prayers and several hours of frustration, I decided to give up drawing this painting.
I left the house and went out for a long walk. However, all my thoughts were on the Lord, and mentally, I was beseeching him to give me the power so I could portray him.

After several hours I returned and went straight to my unfinished painting. This time, I did not even attempt to continue with the crown or his face. Instead, I drew a border all around the edge of the paper, and started to write “Hare Rama”. I have to this day, no idea why I started writing these words. My thoughts were guided by some unseen force. During this time, I also meditated on slokas specific for Rama. After this was done, I fervently prayed to Rama, and took up my pencil to start work on Hanuman’s face, for the last time.

In less than a hour’s time, I had finished the face of Hanuman, and his crown. Later that day, I was able to complete the entire picture and the painting was finished to perfection on Hanuman Jayanthi day in 2003.

Almost immediately on the completion of Anjaneya’s painting, I had a spectacular vision of him in my dream—He seemed enormous, his head seemed to be gigantic and his eyes so luminous. I felt I was a tiny speck floating in the vastness that was the Lord. Soon after this, and just in time for Rama Navami, I finished a portrait of Lord Rama, along with Sita, Lakshmana and Anjaneya. I was chanting
the Vishnu Sahasranamas and slokas on Rama, during this period. Seetha, proved to be very difficult to portray in this picture, and to date, I am still unhappy with this painting , for a reason that has remained at a subconscious level. It is my intention to do another
portrait of the “ Rama Pattabhishekam , when I get the divine suggestion to do so.

During the weeks following the completion of Lord Rama’s painting, I had several dreams that seemed to give me the suggestion that I should concentrate on the worship of Devi. It appeared to me that Shri Shanthananda Swamigal wanted me to bring the Goddess Bhuvaneswari into my house. So, I requested my mother in Madras to send me a photograph of the presiding deity in our family puja room. This was the picture of Goddess Bhuvaneswari, enshrined by Swamigal himself in 1956. My mother complied with my request immediately and my sister who was visiting London, brought me the photograph.

I decided to do this painting on a really large scale, about double the size of the pictures I had been doing so far. Through the grace of my Guru and the goddess herself, I finished my pencil sketch in exactly one week, and the whole painting was finished in another week’s time. I decorated this picture with many- coloured rhinestones and the effect was spectacular. The face of the goddess exudes great serenity her eyes are smiling and gentle. “ Give me your sorrows and troubles. I’ll take care of you, while you go through life”, she seems to say to whomsoever looks at the painting!

I felt a sense of great relief and calm in the weeks that followed the completion of my Bhuvaneswari painting. During this time I had been reciting many Devi slokas , in particular, the Lalitha Sahasranama. One night, I had a strange dream, where I seemed to be chanting verses from a book that was titled “ Devi Mahatmyam”. Then, there was another dream where Swamigal asked me to do a painting of the goddess Chandika and the Sapta Matrus, or seven mothers who came to the aid of Devi in fighting the demons or Asuras.

Now, I was not very well acquainted with the Devi Mahatmyam at this juncture in my spiritual growth. However, I knew my mother chanted the seven hundred slokas in praise of the goddess, every day. I went on the internet and searched numerous sites that
enabled me to get both the text of this powerful Saptha Sathi slokas, as well as their meaning and esoteric significance. However, I still found it difficult to find pictures of the seven goddesses that Swamigal wanted me to portray. I decided to meditate on my Guru and Devi, and spent a few days reciting the verses of the Devi Mahatmyam. At first I found it very difficult to mouth the Sanskrit words, but I proceeded very slowly, looking up the meaning of each word, so I could understand both the story as well as the underlying significance.

One day, after my usual prayers, I happened to look up a site on the internet devoted to Sakthi worship. In this, I did find a few pictures of the various forms of the Devi in the Devi Mahatmyam. My prayers had been answered and I started work on the new painting. Again, this painting was executed on a large canvas. The central figure of Devi Mahishasuramardini was surrounded by six shakthis. There was Brahma’s energy or sakthi, represented by Brahmi, seated on a lovely swan; Vaishnavi (Vishnu’s power) astride an eagle; Indrani, regally seated on an elephant, Kaumari (female power-aspect of Muruga) flying in on a peacock, Maheswari (Shiva’s consort) enthroned on her mount- the Nandi; and finally, Varahi (another aspect of Vishnu), also, reflecting the power of the Lord of Death ,Yama, seated on her throne.

By the time I finished this painting, I had mastered the pronunciation of the 700 slokas of the Devi Mahatmyam!

Shortly after this painting was completed, I had another dream in which I was blessed to get the vision of the famous Pillayar at Pallipattu. The first thought on waking up was “ I have to paint this Pillayar with his gold Kavacham”. Again, some visiting relative
happened to bring me a small photograph of this deity , so I could use it for inspiration for my painting. I had the urge to portray this deity on a very massive scale. I had to stick together several large sheets of drawing card, and the painting when finished measured nearly 5 feet in height! To the chanting of Ganapathi mantras, homan and other slokas, this painting was finally executed.

I managed to decorate it with a lot of crystals and stones, and it took a massive effort on the part of my whole family to frame it. The problem then arose as to where to hang this huge painting.

I must relate a curious incident at this juncture. Until this point in time, the very first painting I had done in 2002, the Karumariamman portrait, had been hanging over the mantelpiece. After the incident with the shattered glass, I have previously recounted, my husband did not wish to touch this painting, let alone remove it!

Now, however, we needed the space above the mantelpiece for my Pillayar painting, as it was exactly right for the massive size I had done. We were also running out of adequate wall space in our flat to hang any more of my paintings. So, I had to make the decision to
remove the smaller, painting of Karumarriamman to make space for the Pillayar, and told my husband to bring it down from above the mantelpiece, so we could hang it in what was the last available side- wall in the dining- area.

My husband refused to comply. “ I will not touch that painting, until that Amman gives a sign asking to be moved”, he said. I didn’t reply, but instead thought to myself—“ how is this ever going to happen—how will she gives us a sign.”?

So, there we were one Sunday afternoon, with the Pillayar painting completely framed and waiting to go up on the wall, expecting a miracle to happen!

Something did happen.
My husband went around to the side of the Karumarriamman portrait and in that little gap between the frame and the wall, he saw something amazing. The strings that were supporting the back of the frame so it could be hung on the two nails on the wall, were completely broken and dangling on the two sides! How was that painting suspended on the wall when the strings were broken?

It could have crashed down from the wall at any time. We do not really know when this happened.

However, my husband who normally is very sceptical, remarked “ There, she has given the sign to be taken down”! Quickly, we removed this very special painting of Amman and installed her in what was, in our flat, the very last remaining wall –place—above the piano, in the dining room. Later, we put up the Pillayar picture above the mantelpiece. Here he sits, facing the other large portrait of his mother, Goddess
Bhuvaneswari on the opposite wall of this reception room.