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.

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