Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Spiritual Diary: Chapter 22

There is also another shrine for Lord Yama directly opposite the Kala Samharamurthy Sannidhi where he is shown as having been brought back to life by lord Shiva at the request of Mother earth because she could not withstand the burden of accomodating too many human beings who continued to remain alive. The lord of Death is re appointed to maintain the correct balance between life and death in the universe.

We hurried on to the sanctum of the Goddess Abirami. When I stepped inside this shrine, I did not feel anything. This was a strange feeling. The Goddess appeared uninspiring. It was hot and crowded inside and perhaps at the back of my mind there was a nagging worry that we had to return to Chennai quickly.

After all the expectations and the build up before reaching this famous temple, I felt a bit let down and disappointed. In any case, I prayed to Abirami fervently and we left the temple shortly thereafter.

Directly after this temple tour, my daughter returned to Boston and I elected to stay on in India for a few more months. It was my hope that I could visit a few more temples in the deep South during this period. Sadly, that did not happen. However, I was able to make two trips to Tirupathi as well as two repeat visits to Nemili.

The first repeat visit to Nemili took place on February 14th, 2006. I took my niece with me this time and another old college friend as well. This was the first visit for my friend. We were courteously greeted at the Peetam and the priest Ezhilmani gave his usual introductory speech that he reserves for first time vistors to Baala Peetam.

We sat for a while with our eyes closed listening to Lalitha Sahasranamam. It was truly a divine experience listening to this familiar hymn in Baala’s presence. We got up to leave and I wandered over to the little bookshop in the corner, to buy a few photos and cassettes for my niece. We requested Ezhilmani to place these purchases at Baala’s feet in order to sanctify them before we took them back. As he was doing this , my eyes wandered over to the photos that were kept on either side of Bala in the little mandapam.

There was this particularly enchanting photo of Baala seated on a lotus with a mishievous smile on her lips. I stared, somewhat mesmerised. This was the same image that would float into my mind when I sat down for meditation. Without thinking, almost impulsively , I said loudly “ I would like to do two paintings of Baala. One, seated, just like she is there in that photo; and another one standing with the book and japa mala in her hands. I would like to give this to the Peetam .”

After having said this, I felt a bit uncomfortable. After all, any offering or contribution to this peetam is at Baala’s request. Who was I to volunteer any thing, either a gift or painting?

Later, in a subdued manner, I told Ezhilmani and his nephew, Murali, ( who runs the book shop), that if Baala so wished it and I had the ability to portray her, it would be done.

Ezhilmani simply looked at me and said “ I’m sure you can do it.”. He also gave me a tiny post card sized picture of Baala seated on the lotus so I could use that for guidance.

I thanked him for that as well as his words of encouragement

On the way back, in the car, I continued to ponder over my hasty suggestion. I prayed that Baala should help me in my attempt to do her painting. I remembered my unfinished pencil portrait of Baala in a standing posture . I requested my husband in London to mail it to me and in the mean while, I started work on the painting of Baala seated on a blue lotus.

I worked steadily for one week on this painting . While drawing this image , I kept getting repeated mental suggestions that said “ Do not copy my face from any other photo or image. Draw it using your own imagination “.

Thus, within one week, the pencil portrait was finished. However, the face of Baala in this picture , as in the earlier work done in London, did not resemble that of a nine year old. Instead, the young lady seated majestically on the lotus seemed a lot older, perhaps a young woman about to get married.

As is my normal custom, I did not worry too much about the visual impact of the image. I concentrated on Baala at all times and willed her to present herself on paper. The finished image was her wish and command!

By early March, I completed this huge painting and took great care to embellish Bala with colored stones and sparkling rhinestones.

We had it framed locally and in my mind, the finished work was beautiful!

Shortly after this first work was over , I received by courier the pencil drawing of Bala I had done in London.

This second painting seemed to take no time at all to finish. With the chants from Devi Mahatmyam and Lalitha Sahasranama, Trisathi and Bala Tripurasundari Sahasranamam echoing in the air, I finally ceased work on the painting. Baala glowed with a mysterious inner light and seemed to exude peace and happiness standing on her shining lotus pedestal!

This painting too, was duly framed and one day in the third week of March, 2006, I re- visited Nemili to give the paintings to the temple. A few family members accompanied me on this trip.

Since the paintings were massive in size, a truck was hired to transport them and we set off by car.

While I was happy that I had been able to carry out the task of painting Baala, a deep sadness lingered. This had indeed been a labour of love. I had sat day and night executing the two paintings and the thought I had to part with them forever made me feel intensely dejected.

However, I consoled myself that the paintings would be capable of giving so much more happiness to a lot of other people visiting the Peetam and would indeed remain in perpetuity at the temple long after my life on this earth was over.

We reached Nemili on a Friday morning at 9 a.m. The priest and his nephew, Murali were awaiting the arrival of the paintings and helped to carry them inside. They decked the Mandap and paintings with the flowers we had brought with us and did a small puja and arathi.

It was over. Soon, it was time to leave. I was a little surprised that Ezhilmani had not overtly praised the paintings or even mentioned that they were good.

Chastising myself for even entertaining these thoughts, I departed.

However, a small portion of me remained a bit unhappy. For example, I wanted the painting to be placed right next to Baala, near the mandap. Instead, it was placed against a wall on the far side as if to denote its lack of esteem or value. All these thoughts were coursing through my mind preventing me from remaining calm and peaceful.

I earnestly prayed to Baala that she keep my work as close to her as possible.

I hoped she would pay heed to my request.

We returned via the temple town of Kancheepuram and had an opportunity to visit the famous Kamakshi Amman temple.

Just as we stepped inside the main entrance of the temple, my attention was caught by a huge portrait of Baala!

Upon enquiry, I was told this had been done by a local artist. Here Baala is depicted as a young child of perhaps 8 or 9 years. She is seated on a white lotus, her face aglow with a sweet smile.

My first thought on seeing this lovely work was that my painting was so inadequate by comparison. But then, I am not a trained artist, I reasoned to myself. However,the feeling of low esteem and inadequacy continued to plague me that day. Why did I think my painting had been so perfect when it seems to pale into insignificance compared to a master work like this one in Kanchipuram?

Sighing, I walked inside the temple to get a darshan of Raja Rajeshwari, or Kamakshi as the Great Goddess is called here.

My family members and I were in for a pleasant surprise for we walked in just as the milk abhishekam was going on.

Hardly believing our luck, we stayed on to witness the whole ceremony and prayed to the great mother for guidance and protection. It seemed to me that she was saying “ You have given my child Baala a gift today. She is so happy with it and so am I !”.

These two visits to Nemili in the early part of 2006 were indeed of great significance as revealed by later turn of events.

During the period that I was doing the Baala paintings, I also got the opportunity to visit Tirupathi twice, as well!

The first occasion was in late February 2006 . I visited Tirupathi along with my second brother and his family. I remember the sactum being extremely crowded during the early morning Suprabatham. There followed a chaotic scene of people shoving and pushing each other to have a darshan of the great Lord of Tirumala. I was swept along with other members of my family in the massive human tide and barely got a meaningful glimpse of the Lord. Sorely disappointed, and leaning against the walls of the sanctum I implored the Lord to call me back for a good Darshan.

We returned to Chennai soon after and I carried on with my painting of Baala. To my enormous surprise, hardly one week later, I had another opportunity to visit Tirupathi. This time I accompanied my elder brother who was a trustee of the Tirumala Temple.

In sharp contrast to my earlier visit our family was treated with a royal welcome and I was able to stand right near Lord Venkatachalapathi for a few whole minutes in utter silence!

The Lord had heard my request and called me back!

Soon after the Tirupathi episode and just before I left Chennai for London, I experienced a lot of mental suggestions asking me to understand more about Shirdi SAI Baba. Along with these mental impressions or thoughts, as I have no other way of describing them, I seemed to be meeting people in every day life who reinforced these messages. As a result I decided to read the Sai Sat Charitra. I purchased this huge volume at a book shop one day and spent a lot of time trying to understand the significance and gospel of Shirdi Sai Baba.

Somehow, despite my best efforts, I was not pulled strongly towards the teachings of this great Saint. Also, as Vedanta preaches, the Lord is not outside you; He is inside you, guiding you and filling you with love. It is this cognitive change that is important in shaping how we deal with people around us. Going to temples and worshipping gods is important; however more important is to practise the good values and show patience, tolerance and love to people around us. No doubt the lord of Shirdi was a truly mysterious and remarkable man. However, there have been loads of great self- realised souls in our country- Ramana Maharishi, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, etc .

I decided to focus instead on my daily prayers to Baala and on improving my concentration through meditation.

I set off to London in mid- April and then onwards to Boston to stay with my daughter who is a student there.

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