Saturday, April 22, 2006

Chapters 13 and 14


The day following our visit to Amma coincided with the start of the auspicious Navarathri festival. I recited the Devi Mahatmyam every day as well as Lalitha Sahasranamam. However when I closed my eyes to meditate, instead of the familiar face of my Swamigal and Bhuvaneswari I could only see Amma.
When I sat down in yogasana to meditate, I felt it was Amma sitting down. When I closed my eyes, I felt it was Amma closing her eyes and when I faced this black void, I saw Amma, in the center of my eyebrows. She was laughing, smiling, sometimes in trance , sometimes dancing. One night, I felt the fragrance of Amma and distinctly felt her presence near me. Just for a few minutes she seemed to hold me, then she was gone.

On the ninth day of Navaratri I propitiated Saraswathi, the goddess of wisdom and asked her sincerely to help me move further along my spiritual path. The very next day, Vijayadasami (the auspicious start of all new things), I felt a very strong urge to sit down at my computer and finish the story or rather the autobiographical account I had started the previous year(2003) in November. At that time I had only written about 30 pages before moving on to execute more paintings.

In two days time I have put down on paper the rest of my story to date.

Due to a sudden turn of events I am poised to visit Madras next week and it is my intention to place this document at the feet of my Guru( his samadhi) in Salem and ask for his blessings .

I still do not comprehend why I am writing this book. The purpose remains: a mystery to me.


Today is the 30th of November, 2005. I have decided to resume the spiritual diary that stopped flowing abruptly at the end of October, last year.

No particular event, episode or person has prompted me to start writing again. However, I did write a very inspired short article on Lord SkandaGuru, today. I say “ inspired” because after my heart felt prayers for his guidance in writing a short narrative about his esoteric significance, I sat at the computer and my fingers seem to flash over the keyboard at a speed that was greater than the flow of my thoughts.

I did not really re- read or correct what I wrote. Later in the afternoon, a strange urge came over me to pick up my diary and finish writing about the momentous events of this past year.

I still do not have a very clear idea as to the purpose of mainting this chronicle of events in my life. Howevere, I would like to put down in writing a few events that have occurred during this period all of which have helped me move further along my spiritual

I visited Chennai around the period of Diwali last year. The very first outing was a train trip to Skandashramam in Salem. I requested my mother that we should spend at least half a day at the temple and that we should partake of the food that
was cooked there.

In the days preceding our visit to the temple I had a few strong visions. In one particular dream I was led into a small room at the Salem temple and here I discovered a lot of personal items that had been used by our Guru Shri Shanthananda Swamigal. I
remember vividly seeing a few objects typically used during ritual worship like small incense holders and puja accessories. I felt a strong positive aura exuding from this room, especially when I handled these items.

Before embarking on our trip I visited Swami Paramarthananda to seek his blessings. I had taken with me two small photo albums containing small prints of all the paintings I had executed to date. I also took with me a folder containing my writings thus

Swamiji is a very busy man and has many demands on his time. I did not wish to spend a lot of time explaining all the strange, wondrous visions I had experienced. Instead , I gave him a copy of my written work and requested him to read it and view it in
conjunction with my paintings. He was very happy to do so and asked me to return in ten days time.

It was during this intervening period that we visited Salem .

On our way to the Salem temple, we stopped briefly at a Karumariamman temple that had been established by Swamiji at the base of the small hillock in Skandashramam. This deity had appeared several times in my vision and it seemed appropriate to
seek her blessings before we entered the temple.

We finally made our way up the small winding road that led to the hill top temple. It was raining lightly and I felt that it was indeed a blessing from Heaven!
We were greeted upon entry by a few of Swamiji’s faithful followers or priests. I felt a pang of pain and sadness when I saw the empty seat on the Asanam or chair where our Guru generally sat in order to receive visitors. I felt I could still see his smiling face
welcoming my mother and myself!

We paid our respects to Lord Skanda and his mother Ashtaa Dhasa Buja Mahalakshmi. The priest pointed out the small Shiva linga established at the base of the Durga statue. This was right over the tomb where our beloved Guru had been interred. My
mother and I were quite overwhelmed. After all, he had been a real guide and spiritual teacher to my mother over many, many years !

We then proceeded to perform Guru Pada Puja. The priests had placed the two Padukas ( footwear) on a pedestal and to the chants of Rudram and Guru Ashtakam we remembered our preceptor and silently worshipped him in our minds.

My mother recited the mantras and I engaged myself with the task of handing her the flowers to place on those sacred slippers ( padukas).
All the while I beseeched my Guru’s guidance in my spiritual path. I also asked him mentally to indicate to me what painting I should embark on next.
Finally, the puja ended and despite the fact a lot of other family members had also accompanied us to the temple, the priest who
officiated the rites lifted the flowers placed on those holy padukas in one swift motion and gave them all to me. I remember my cousin who was seated at the back remarking “ You are lucky. He gave you all those flowers!”

I did not of course attach too much importance to this. However, as we finished this small puja, one of the trustees of the temple came up to me and said “ I understand you do a lot of religious paintings. Why don’t you do a large painting of our Swamiji”!
I was stunned by his remark. In my mind I sincerely thanked my Guru for answering my unspoken question.
Later I sat for a while in quiet meditation at the sannidhi of Durga . Before taking leave of the priests we were shown a small building just off the main temple. The trustees were expected to make this into a meditation hall. We came across a huge life-like
statue of Swamigal that hads been recently executed by a local sculptor. We postrated this figure with deep respect and circumambulated the holy spot. Just as we were leaving I spotted a room that had been locked from the outside. There was a
huge bar across the lock on the outside. I remembered this as Swamigal’s personal quarters. The priest explained that all of Swamigal’s personal belongings had been kept in this room and it was their intention to convert this room into a small museum
for visitors.

I remembered my dream. I had been inside this room already!

We returned to Chennai the next day. The rest of my stay was rather uneventful except for my second visit to Swami Paramarthananda. By this time he had finished reading my diary and I admit to being a bit nervlous before I stepped inside his room. At the back of my mind I had a real concern that he might find all my outpouring to be nothing more than piteous ramblings of a lunatic who hallucinated a lot!

I did my namaskarams to him and silently said a prayer to my Guru as well. He looked at me very kindly and said my writings were “ excellent” and he really was impressed by all those incidents I had written about. He went on to say that I should consider
putting all my writings on my own personal web site so that others could get a chance to both read them and be helped by them.

He said that all those long years I had spent all alone in my Chelsea flat doing mental japa had indeed been Tapas! And that was why I had come further along my spiritual path.
His words were like music to my ears. Here was a man I greatly respected both for his wisdom and intellect giving me so much confidence when my family members had not shown the least interest. I had been widely considered as either totally mad, or at
best fanciful. However, here was a most respected Guru giving me encouragement and real advice!
I was overjoyed and determined to carry on with my paintings.

The one small regret I had at the end of the two short weeks I spent in Chennai was that I had not carried out Swamigal’s request to have that slightly broken statue of Bhuvaneswari returned to him. I came to know that this statue was currently at the Shringeri Sharada Peetam. The Acharya here was a man I had never met or known and it was very daunting to make a visit to Shringeri for this request which might be considered completely insignificant. The Acharya, a great scholar and a most revered figure by
thousands of devotees across the whole of India might not even have time to give me an audience.So, with a small nagging feeling of guilt for not having really tried, I decided to forget about this for the time being.

Back in London during November, 2004, I embarked on a series of paintings on the great Lord Vishnu. I had intended doing a painting of Shanthananda Swamigal at first, but somehow was not able to find a photograph of him that appealed to me
sufficiently enough to copy . So, I decided to embark on the Vishnu paintings. I had always wanted to depict the ten avatars of this mighty Lord and finally got started one day after the appropriate invocations to Lord Ganesha were given.

I did a lot of research on Vaishnavite slokas during this period. There were many Gadyams or praises that had been rendered by eminent poets and scholars. In particular, I was fascinated by the works of Swami Desikan. He was a thirteenth century scholar
who had created many literary works. However, one work stood out with special significance to me. These were the Dasavatara Slokams he had composed, inspired by a visit to the great Temple at Sri Rangam and having witnessed the sculptures depicting
the various avatars.

So , I began my avatars series with the first portrayal of the Lord as a Fish ( Matsya).
It is said in our scriptures that the great Lord came down to this earth in many forms in order to combat the evil spirits or demons and to establish righteousness and Dharma. However, another way of looking at these ten avatars is from the point of view of the
modern theory of evolution.

For example, at first creatures that live solely in water i.e. fish or Matsya.
Second, those creatures that live both in the water as well as on land i.e. amphibians like the tortoise ( Koorma avatar).
Third, the animal on land, a wild boar or Varaha Avatar.
Fourth, the half-lion half-man stage between Homo Sapiens and animals i.e. NaraSimha avatar.
Fifth, the shorter stature among homosapiens as indicated by the Vamana ( dwarf) avatar.
Sixth, the rough and not too civilized human being portrayed by Parasurama or Rama with an axe.
Seventh, the perfect, civilized human as illustrated by the life of Rama.
Eighth, the one with an occupation as portrayed by Balarama with a plough.
Ninth, the superhuman who performed many miracles and feats- i.e. Krishna Avatar.
And, finally the tenth and yet to come apocalyptic Kalki avatar- a glowing depiction of a man wielding a sword, riding a white horse.

I thoroughly enjoyed completing this set of ten paintings. The whole exercise was a mind cleansing process. Whilst creating the image of each Avatar I would focus solely on the prayers for that particular deity.
The most awesome and powerful image I created was Lord Narasimha. I finished this image to the recitation of Lakshmi Narasimha stotrams and when I stood back to view the painting, I could almost visualise the fury and anger that emanated from
this great Lord.

The most enjoyable and rewarding avatar was that of Lord Krishna! I spent all my time whilst drawing this image, listening to that greatest of all prayers “ Narayaneeyam”.
Composed by a great scholar called Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathiripad, Narayaneeyam is a set of 100 cantos extolling the Lord of Guruvayoor.

The legend goes that this eminent scholar Bhattathiripad was afflicted with severe arthritis when he was very young and therefore came to this sacred temple to find relief. While he was there he was given instructions by a Malayalam poet to write some slokas
with the cryptic note ‘ Start with the fish”.
Melpathoor being the eminent scholar he was knew immediately what this message meant.
Thus began the Narayaneeyam, a shortened version of Maha Bhagavatham in praise of the birth, life and many avatars of Lord Vishnu.
It is believed that the poet composed one canto every day and on the 100th day had the full darshan of the Lord of Guruvayoor.He was cured of his illness and lived long singing the glory of the Lord.

By the time I had finished the set of ten paintings, I managed to thoroughly understand and appreciate this great work!
However, as I mentioned earlier , the painting of Lord Krishna remained my favourite work. Later, it was no coincidence to find whilst reading the commentary on Swami Desikan’s Dasavatara sloka, that the “ Ishta ( favourite) devata of this poet also was
Lord Krishna!
In fact, in the sloka praising the Krishna avatar, he says
“Naathayaiva namah padam bhavathu”
In other words “ My obeisance is ONLY for Lord Krishna”.

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