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.