My first visit to Nemili in September 2007 was certainly momentuous. It set off in motion a sequence of events that culminated in the wedding the following January. Following the wedding, I stayed on in Chennai until May 21st, 2008 and the events that took place during this period were also clearly pre destined by Bala.
The process of shifting to my house in Chennai in the autumn of 2007 seemed to be taking an undue amount of time, and was proving to be quite expensive as well. There were quite a few alterations and essential renovations that had to be carried out and electrical repair works in this house appeared unending. Just as one problem was solved, another seemed to present itself. I found myself stretched to the limit, trying to put out all the fires at the same time. On the family front, matters took a turn for the worse and it seemed as if Bala and her family were to remain the only source of strength for me.
I busied myself for a few weeks with setting up the house. Some of my family’s personal effects, used furniture and books had been shipped from London and my husband had managed to ship out all my precious paintings as well.
I had intended to give away all the paintings to the Sri Bala Peetam, especially since I had been instructed to do so a year earlier by Bala. However, most of my paintings needed to be framed and since there were more than 100 paintings, many of them in a large size, I thought I would get this done slowly after the wedding was finished.
Once again, Bala reminded me that she would be the best person to undertake all the decisions concerning Her and the Peetam.
One day, surrounded as usual by a myriad of problems relating to the house, I got an unmistakable directive from Bala. I was to bring in all the paintings to her Peetam almost immediately.
I was perplexed. How would it be possible to frame so many paintings so quickly?
Nevertheless, a friend of mine suggested we take a trip to the “Town” area, or the old city centre of Chennai. Here, it is usually possible to find a variety of tradespeople who offer their services at a more reasonable price compared to the more expensive, urban areas of the city. We walked up and down narrow alleys in these dusty, dirty areas of “Town”, searching for a person who could frame paintings.
Finally, just as I was giving up hope and becoming stifled by the heat and humidity, we found him. His name was Subramaniam and he was sitting crosslegged in a tiny corner shop working at a ferocious speed, framing photos of various Hindu deities.
My friend and I paused as we passed by his shop and asked him if he would be up to the task of framing a large number of paintings in a hurry. He was quite eager to do so, particularly as business was slow for him just then. He was also willing to come to my house and finish the project there.
I could hardly believe my luck. Or was it really that Bala wanted something to happen quickly and therefore took care of what she wanted for Her Peetam?
It took Subramani and his brother one day to visit my house and take the relevant measurements for all the paintings that needed to be framed. The next day, a team of six framers came to the house and by the end of the day all 103 paintings had been framed.
It took exactly two days for this project to be completed, from start to finish.
Even as I write this today, I can scarcely believe that this enormous task was finished so quickly and without any mishaps or accidents.
The following day was Amavasai or New Moon day. This is the auspicious start of the nine day festival of Navarathri, an event celebrated in a very grand manner at the Peetam.
It seemed obvious that Bala had finished the framing job quickly because she wanted the paintings to reach her right at the start of Navarathri.
I called Sri Bala Peetam and asked to speak with Sri Ezhilmani. It was Murali who answered the phone. He indicated that his uncle was busy doing puja, but would be happy to relay a message to him. I quickly told him that I had been commanded by Bala to bring all my paintings over to the Peetam. “Can I bring them over tomorrow?” I asked.
Murali said he would relay this information to his uncle.
Within a few moments, Sri Ezhilmani called me. I repeated my message. He replied: “You know, we really appreciate you are giving away all your paintings. However, as you might be aware, Navarathri is a very busy period for all of us here at the peetam. Also, we really don’t have much room here in the house to store so many paintings. Why don’t you bring it later, after the festive period is over? Or, you can even bring the paintings in after the hall is built in the new year?”
I agreed to his request, although I felt a bit disappointed. Placing the phone down, I closed my eyes and beseeched Bala. “ It was you who gave me the skill to draw and paint. You reminded of this and asked me to give away all my work to you. It was you who asked me to do the framing task immediately. Now that the task is over, why is Sri Ezhilmani asking me to bring them later?”
The phone rang once more. It was Sri Ezhilmani again. This time he just said, “I’ve changed my mind. Do bring over all the paintings tomorrow morning. I’ll find a place to store them.” That was it! There was no further explanation or conversation.
Subramani and his brother had arranged a large truck to transport my paintings to Nemili the following day. I requested them to come in quite early, allowing plenty of time for packing. It was late evening by now and I went into my Puja room to light the oil lamp.
All the framed paintings were neatly stacked along the walls waiting to be moved out. I sat in silence, looking at each one of them mentally reliving every single experience I had undergone while painting them. Finally, my eyes rested on the large portrait of Balaji . The Lord of Tirumala shone in splendour, adorned with all the precious jewels. This painting is one of my best works and was greatly appreciated by everyone, especially my mother.
Just then the phone rang. It was my mother . I informed her of my decision to give away all my paintings to the Bala Peetam at Nemili. She seemed slightly perturbed. However, she pleaded with me to retain at least one of my paintings, especially that of Lord Venkateswara. For a moment I was tempted to do just that. My mother insisted that my Puja room should not be swept clean and that I must keep back one large portrait.
I was unable to decide what to do. I closed my eyes and sought guidance from Bala.
“Do you want me to give you all my paintings?” I asked her. “Can I not keep just one painting for myself? Just the one of Lord Balaji?”
Like the crack of a whip, Her answer flashed through my mind.
“I especially want you to part with Lord Balaji. You should not have any attachment to your paintings because they do not belong to you anymore. Bring all your paintings to me tomorrow. In your empty Puja room, place the small photo of mine that my son, Ezhilmani has given you. I will stand in your puja room everyday, guarding this house. Don’t place pictures of any other deity in this room. Just my photo. I will surely take care of you”.
I felt a lot happier now. This was Bala’s decision and I no longer felt regret or remorse.
Early next morning, the truck arrived. However, the task of packing each individual painting took a long time. I had initially told Sri Ezhilmani that I would be at the Peetam by 9 a.m. However, by the time the packing was completed, it was twelve noon.
By the time we reached Nemili, it was close to 3 p.m. I was a worried that this timing might be inconvenient for the family at Nemili.
I was mistaken.
I had barely taken a step inside the peetam when Sri Ezhilmani himself came swiftly to the door to greet me. With a huge smile on his face, he told me that I could not really dictate what time I might come in to see Bala. “ You see, if you had arrived at 9 a.m, we would not have been ready to receive these paintings. I have been cracking the whip on all my family members since early morning today to clear some space and they have only just finished this work. You have come just in time”.
I looked on in awe as a team of volunteers marched in smartly from inside the house and formed an assembly line to quickly transport my paintings to the storage rooms.
One by one, all the deities entered Bala’s house.
I noticed that the small Karumarriamman painting , which was the first colour painting I had done after my first visit to Nemili, was indeed the first painting to be taken out of the truck by random chance.
No, there was no mistake . It was crystal clear to me that Bala was there , almost physically present , overseeing this little operation.
I moved out of the way to enable the helpers to unload the truck. Finally, I entered the Peetam and made my way to Bala’s throne room. To my surprise, I discovered that two of my paintings had been brought inside and placed along the walls on either sides of the Peetam. My painting of Ashta Lakshmis ( Eight Lakshmis) had placed on the left wall, whilst that of the Lord of Tirumala had been placed directly opposite on the right side.
In fact, it appeared that a large space had been cleared on either side to accommodate these two paintings. Even before I could ask, Sri Ezhilmani volunteered this information:
“Last night Bala gave us a command to clear the space on either side of the peetam. She said that her devotee would bring in a painting of Ashta laksmi as well as the Lord Balaji and has requested us to place them in these two particular spots”.
I was totally stunned. It was slowly dawning on me that “I” had actually been in touch with this mighty Goddess the night before!
Bala had indeed WANTED that portrait of Balaji for a particular reason.
Sri Ezhilmani continued “You see, there is no difference between Bala and Balaji. The lord resides at Tirumala in what is considered to be a Shakthi Peetam. On the back side of the main idol in Tirupathi, there is a long braid of plaited hair - proof that this is a feminine deity. More than several thousand years ago, Tirupathi has been a center of worship for both Lord Muruga as well as Bala Tirupurasundari . Only in recent times has it been used as a Vaishnavaite shrine. That is the reason Bala wanted the image of Lord Venkateswara standing just below her”.
I looked up. Yes, they had positioned my painting of Lord Balaji directly below the photocopy of my “Bala” painting I had given to the Rochester temple.
Baby Amma came up to me and narrated the story of how she had witnessed Goddess Kamakshi with a Sri Chakra below her feet in one of her dreams, and how she was sure that all deities are ultimately residing in Bala. Both Babaji and Sri Ezhilmani have written several songs bringing out the truth that all Gods love Bala as their favorite child. In fact, the peetam is filled with the presence of holy sages, Siddhas, and all the Celestial beings in the Heavens, every single day, because they love to see, admire and pay homage to Bala.
Now, as if to prove this truth in a literal manner, all my paintings of Gods, starting from the many Pillayars, Lord Shiva, Kamakshi Amman ( with a Chakra below her feet), Lakshmi, Raja Rajeshwari, Bhuvaneswari, Karumari, Lord Vishnu, the Dasha Mahaa Vidyas, to the Nitya Deities seemed to have come to their final resting place!
I left Nemili that day feeling exhilarated. Hardly a year ago, in the same Peetam, Bala had commanded me to bring all my paintings to her.
I hadn’t thought this would be possible since it involved transporting them from London to Chennai.
However, this had now taken place.
Just as I am writing this, it strikes me that if my daughter’s wedding had actually taken place in Hawaii as originally planned, I would never have come down to Chennai, set up a house here, or transported any of my personal belongings from London!