Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sri Bala Charanam

More Skirts and Many Coloured Mandapams For Sri Bala


It seemed to me that once I finished a task set for me by Bala, the next one automatically cropped up!

Over weekend of May 16th, certain circumstances led me to take the decision to stay on in Chennai until the first week of June. Although I knew I had to go to New York to be with my daughters, there was still an intangible, unknown force holding me back in Chennai.

I fully understood that Bala had not yet approved of my plan to leave India. I was also intensely conscious that she had requested me for several more stone- studded skirts.

Since I was postponing my departure, I decided to purchase the required colored stones and leave them in India pending my arrival closer to Navarathri when I could use them to bedeck the skirts.
Partly by way of an exploratory trip, I descended into the bowels of Mint Street once more hunting for stones. As Swarovski crystals are very expensive, I decided to look out for “cheaper”, colored glass and acrylic stones.

Finally, on Monday May 18th, after hours of searching, I found a shop that seemed to possess an abundant stock of various types of beads, sequins and stones.

There were stones in glittering shades of pink, blue , green, red, gold, orange etc. I was bewildered by the rich assortment and was at a loss what colors to pick . I need not have worried . Bala made this choice extremely simple. Within a few minutes, I had selected about 15 different colors. Now came the difficult choice I had to make. Since all of these colored stones were going to be stuck on cloth skirts or “pavadais”, I had to buy some white crystals to give a proper contrast. For example a skirt filled with pink stones would need a contrasting diamond-effect border or have some other effective design strewn all over on the body of the skirt.
Two varieties of white crystals were available and I had to select either the cheaper acrylic stones or the more expensive but more beautiful, diamond-like Swarowski crystals.
I chose the cheaper variety . In fact, I was congratulating myself for being “economical” for once, in my life!

The next day, Tuesday, May 19th I made a trip to Nemili in the late afternoon. A few Bala devotees in Chennai who had come across my website requested me to take them to see Bala and with Bala’s permission and Grace this trip came to pass.
It was also my intention to ask Ezhilmani Mama when I should return to London.

We reached the Peetam just after 5 p.m. and apart from Mama and Baby Amma, not too many people were about. After the customary introductory speech for newcomers, Ezhilmani Mama showed Deeparadhanai to Bala.

I was sitting right in front of Bala and savoured the moment by closing my eyes briefly. Almost like a whip shot I heard her voice:

“Do you think you can finish me off CHEAPLY?”

The word “cheap” was emphasised strongly.

I was totally stunned by Bala’s question and decided then and there to cast caution and budget to the winds and carry out this project to the best of my ability.

Soon after he gave prasadam to all of us, Ezhilmani Mama retired to his room and I realised I hadn’t really asked him when I could depart for London. My mind was still thinking about Bala’s question. I couldn’t even discuss this with anyone else in the Peetam since I was so embarrassed. I remembered Mama’s words everytime he welcomed a new visitor to the Peetam. He would remark how Bala is in total command in this house and would often go on to narrate the many “direct” and awkward questions she has asked him as well as visitors in the past. My favourite is the one where she has asked “ Do you think I’ve got nothing better to do than sit here and welcome all sorts of people. Let not any fool think he is coming here to see me. It is I who have taken pity and finally allowed him to visit me”. Bala has also stamped out the ego of many VIPs and wealthy people by refusing to accept their “charity”.

Numerous are the stories Mama has regaled us with. However, this was the first time I had a personal experience.

I got up from the dais slowly, as if I was suspended in a trance. Baby Amma lingered by the wooden Mandapam holding on to one of the side posts. I walked up to her and prostrated, asking her blessings so I could make beautiful coloured skirts for Bala.

Baby Amma responded “ Don’t think you can make skirts only for Bala. You will have to make one for her Mother, Sri Raja Rajeshwari as well. I think ten skirts each should suffice. Oh, and we do need a smaller one for Bala for the chariot procession
( Thaer Ula)”.

I smiled inwardly. Bala was certainly having fun with me! Not only did she tell me off for even “thinking” I could use “cheap” stones but now, she had doubled the quantity of skirts that were needed.

I promised myself that I would complete this project, witness the happiness in Baby Amma’s face when she saw these skirts and then depart. I sincerely prayed to Bala and left the Peetam that day with a mixture of both elation and apprehension that this task should be completed to Bala’s satisfaction.

The following day saw me back again in the heart of Chennai’s crowded streets purchasing more stones. This time, I purchased a sizeable amount of sparkling diamond-like Swarovski crystals as well.

On Thursday, May 21st, I had promised to take my aunt to Nemili. A friend also joined and three of us reached Nemili around 4.30 p.m. I had taken with me samples of the various stones I’d purchased in order to place them at Bala’s feet and get her blessings.

Once again, there were hardly any other visitors and I was able to converse freely with the family members regarding the specific manner in which I had to make these tiny skirts for Bala. Mohan gave me a few skirt samples for both Bala and her Mother as well as a tiny skirt for Bala’s outing in her Chariot.

Finally, when I was about to take leave, Mohan came to me with a big cardboard carton. Inside this was a plastic Mandapam, (decorative miniature hall-like accessory), an exact replica of Sri Bala’s mandapam in the Peetam. Apparently, these mandapams fashioned out of plastic were not available anymore and Mohan wondered if I could try and scout in the back alleys of Chennai Town for a few more in different colours. The eagerness and interest that all family members, particularly Baby Amma, showed with regard to beautifying Bala and making her the Grand cynosure of all eyes at the Peetam , moved me to tears.

I promised them I would do my very best . Just as Mohan handed over the plastic model of Bala’s Mandapam to me, a loud rumble of thunder could be heard. As we walked out to the car, I could see that the hitherto blue skies were now completely overcast. Spectacular flashes of Lightning lit up the dark grey cloud blanket. We hurriedly got into the car just as the Heavens opened. Baby Amma and Mohan saw us off with the parting words “ Don’t think this is a normal occurrence. Nothing connected to Bala is either simple or straightforward. Don’t think it’s an easy matter to walk in and take her skirts and Mandapam”.

I already knew in my heart that what just happened was momentuous. This was no ordinary event. Taking Bala’s permission to make her Mandapams in different colors or fashion stone studded skirts for her to wear, was a great boon indeed which she had condescended to bestow on me!

On May 22nd, ( appropriately, since it was Bala’s number), I began the process of getting these skirts done. I summoned a few tailors and carefully explained the precise manner in which each skirt had to be done. At the same time, I was able to contact a few more artisans who would be able to fix stones onto these skirts in a creative manner. We decided to start work after the week end and I gave them a deadline of ten days for the whole project.
At the time of writing this, I still have no idea if Bala will bless me by completing this project successfully!

On the same day, I took the plastic replica of Bala’s mandapam and returned to the crowded shops hoping to find a few more of the same style. For three hours I searched in the tiny shops, traversing through several narrow streets. However, I wasn’t able to find a single Mandapam that matched the one Mohan had given me.
Finally, with a heavy heart, I decided to decorate just the one, sample mandapam and returned to the stone- shop to purchase slightly bigger stones for use on this plastic mandir.

There was a huge crowd inside this tiny shop and service was slow. I was already tired after hunting for the Mandapam in dusty alleys and a further wait of one hour in this tiny shop was too much for me to physically endure. My driver who had accompanied me was also tired and weary. I told Bala in my mind “ Oh Bala, you are really trying me too hard. This is the final time I’m going to come to the Town area of Chennai shopping for You”.

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind when I was startled by a sharp, splintering sound. The plastic Mandapam that my driver was holding in his hands had been subject to a small accident! Accidentally my driver had exerted pressure on the front portion and the front pillar snapped in two.

This was the last straw. I simply got up and we both left the shop. On the journey back I remained silent. I tried not to think of anything, even Bala. However, one thing was sure. I could not possibly repair this mandapam and then decorate it and return it to the Peetam. Although we could glue the broken pieces, I wasn’t ready to give Bala a broken Mandapam.

Returning home, I had a bath, lit the lamp in my Puja room and sat in front of Bala. I apologised to her for those words spoken out of tiredness and sought her help.

That night, my mind was uneasy and I did not sleep well at all.

The following morning, I went down and took a look at the Mandapam. We had glued together the broken parts effectively and once I painted it in a different color, I was sure the crack would never be seen.
In any case, my driver called Mohan since he too felt guilty at having broken this precious Mandapam. Since the Nemili family were on pilgrimage the phone connection wasn’t clear but from the brief conversation with Mohan, it appeared that we could fix this mandapam, redecorate it and bring it in to Nemili.

Despite these assurances, I wasn’t satisfied. Then, something strange happened.

My driver lifted the cardboard box housing the plastic mandapam and I saw something written underneath the box. Why, here was the telephone number and address in Mumbai of the company that manufactured these decorative accessories.

What utter fools we had been, wasting time searching for this when I could have justed lifted the phone and dialled this number.

Without further hesitation, I did just that. One little snag, though. I do not know Hindi and the voice at the other end knew neither English or Tamil. Somehow, I made the man understand I wanted a plastic Mandapam and asked him if there were any sales agents in Chennai.
I was given a name and phone number.

Within a few minutes, I was talking in Tamil to a man who used to be a wholesale distributor for this particular type of Mandapam in Chennai.
However, my elation soon subsided when he reiterated that he had no stock left. Just one left, he said and that was in his Puja room. No, he could not part with this at any cost.

I was totally dejected now and appealed sincerely to Bala.
For a few moments the man remained silent. Then he said “ You come to my house. After I see you, I can place an order with my friend in Mumbai. I’ll check and see if he has any Mandirs of this type left for sale”.
He gave me his address.

He lived in ( you might have guessed) in the same, crowded, Town area of Chennai that I had by now become very familiar with.
Once more that morning I embarked on another outing hoping and praying to Bala that I would be successful in locating or ordering her special mandapams.

Within half an hour we located the contact’s house. An old man opened the door and I could see instantly that the focal point of his tiny flat was an orange, plastic Mandapam, an exact replica of the one in Bala’s Peetam.

After a few minutes discussion with him, and a few phone calls later, I have placed an order for twelve mandapams to be couriered to me in Chennai from the warehouse in Mumbai. I have given this man Bala’s sacred photo and Prasadam and at the time of writing, am still waiting for the packages to arrive. He has promised me I should get them by Tuesday, May 26th.

The outcome, however, rests ONLY with Bala.

Similarly, while I have engaged a few tailors and craft persons to create lovely skirts for Bala, no progress has taken place so far. I can only sincerely pray that Bala will soon curtail her games and grant all her devotees the thrill of seeing her gorgeously bedecked in shining, dazzling and shimmering creations.

A tiny voice in my mind keeps reminding me “ You can never play games and hope to win where Bala is concerned. Play with her and lose gracefully. She will then clasp you to her heart with boundless love”

May 25th, 2009.


June 3rd, 2009.

Whatever I thought was impossible has been accomplished through Bala’s boundless grace. All I do know is I really wanted to create beautiful skirts for Bala so Baby Amma’s dream would come true. So, within a short period of exactly thirteen days
( from May 22nd until June 3rd), I have been able to design and make sixteen sets of beautiful stone studded skirts for both Bala and her mother, Raja Rajeshwari. In addition, I have made a very tiny skirt embellished only with sparkling rhinestones for this precious child- deity to use whenever she sits gleefully on her swing or inside her chariot!

Furthermore, ten beautiful Mandapams , in different glowing colors have been painted and decorated with twinkling stones to house both Bala and her glimmering dresses.

I am poised to make a trip to Nemili tomorrow carrying this precious load for the little child’s approval!

However, the past couple of weeks haven’t been without either heartache or problems. Although I had the help of a couple of tailors, the progress was extremely slow to begin with. The craftsmen responsible for sticking the stones did not come in every day as initially agreed upon. Also, there was a lot of stress and tension regarding the arrival of the plastic Mandapams. Although I had pre paid for them to be couriered to Chennai from Mumbai, they did not arrive for nearly a week. Even when they did come in, I found to my horror that only five of the twelve I’d ordered were intact. The rest had suffered in transit and there were broken pillars and domes in all the Mandapams.

Nevertheless, I did not give up hope. Painstakingly and lovingly, I repaired the cracked pieces, spray painted them in various bright colors and have decorated them to the best of my ability. Similarly, the small crew of helpers have toiled away diligently creating a dazzling array of lovely, glittering stone skirts for dear Bala.

What remains to be seen is if Bala and her family really give their seal of approval!


June 4th, 2009.

On the evening of June 3rd, all of those many- colored mandapams for Sri Bala had been packed into large cardboard boxes. The glittering skirts were put away carefully into colour- coded brocade bags made with left over fragments of fabric.

It was 7 pm and I lit the lamp in my puja room and was about to listen to Bala’s songs. The first song I played was a “Thank You” or “Nanri Paadal” composed by Baba.G in 2008. This song is a sincere expression of gratitude to Bala for all the miracles she causes to happen in our lives. I thanked her for enabling me to carry out this most recent skirt- making project.

The song had hardly ended when the phone rang. My sister in law was on the line. She said “ Both your brother and I are planning a sudden trip to Shirdi tomorrow. We have made excellent arrangements to have a few uninterrupted moments in front of Sri Sai. Would you like to accompany us?”

I was stunned!

I had been longing to make this pilgrimage for many years now, especially since I had finished my portrait of Shirdi Baba in 2005. However, every single time, there appeared to be obstacles. Now, just as I was poised to go into Nemili on a Thursday carrying Bala’s skirts, comes this request!

However, I did not hesitate for a single second. I replied “ Thank you so much for inviting me. Hard as it is to turn down such a magnificent opportunity, I am committed to go to Nemili tomorrow. In fact, I’ve informed all the little grand children of Ezhilmani that I am bringing in new skirts for Bala. So, they will be disappointed if I don’t show up”.

After I put the phone down I realised this was no ordinary occurrence. Why, this was just one more of Bala’s little “tests” to see whom I would choose.

This time, there was no mistake. I had straight away ticked the correct answer; “B” for “Bala”.

So, in the afternoon of June 4th, we set off to see Bala once more in her powerful abode in Nemili. Our car followed a slow moving vehicle carrying a very valuable burden! Our departure got slightly delayed since I insisted on making a detour to get fresh flowers for Bala!

It was just past 5 .30 p.m. when we reached Bala’s house and I was surprised to see Sri Ezhilmani Mama himself waiting outside in the front porch. He told me he had been awaiting my arrival for the past one hour.

We carried in the boxes one by one into the Peetam. I kept apologising to Mama for making him wait to perform the Deeparadhanai since I wanted to unpack all the boxes myself and place the Mandapams and skirts right in front of Bala.

It took a good half-hour to get this small exhibit laid out to my satisfaction in front of Bala’s tiny Peetam.
By this time all the children of the house, a few relatives, Mohan, Baba.g, Baby Amma and Murali had gathered around to witness the “arrival of these new dresses for their precious child-resident”.

My heart was filled with joy as I looked at Baby Amma’s beaming face. Carefully she inspected each dress and was overjoyed at the colourful display. The children competed with each other to pick their favourite colour. Ezhilmani Mama, said he liked the “baby” pink color the best and then proceeded to show Deeparadhanai.

I can’t think of a happier moment in my life!

I was tired yet completely fulfilled that this task had been carried through to Bala’s satisfaction.

A small regret remained that two mandapams ( out of the twelve ) I’d ordered had broken completely. However, Bala soon saw to it that even this little unhappiness vanished.

Observing the successful transformation of those simple, nondescript plastic mandapams into bejewelled, colourful thrones, Mohan brought in two older Mandapams from his room and asked me to re paint and decorate these as well!

Finally, just before I left Bala’s house I received Bala’s command or “uthiravu” for my departure back to London. She has asked me to leave Chennai on June 10th and has said I will return during September to witness Navarathri at her Peetam.

Baba.G took me aside and said “ I received this information just as a flash while going to tell Mohan to come down and look at the skirts you brought. Bala has told me She really loves you. However, she is extremely possessive and will not let you out of her sight. That is why she will not let you visit any other temple, or do anything for anyone else except her”.

I pray that Bala will always be with me!

Ezhilmani Mama has said I am a part of his family and we will visit Shirdi together taking Bala also with us, one day.

Meanwhile, I am all set to depart to London after visiting Nemili for a final time tomorrow to celebrate Sri Baba.G’s 42nd birthday.

With Sri Bala’s blessings, I shall put up all these writings on my website tomorrow along with only those photos of my paintings She consents to making public.

She has already turned down the request to make public her coloured, jewelled skirts. “ These photos will be taken at the Peetam officially and sent to devotees” is her Arul Vakku to Baba.G.

My next project will be completing the nine divine pictures Bala has commanded me to draw to illustrate her Navarathna Malai ( Song of Nine gems).

Sri Bala Charanam.

Sri Bala Thunai.

June 7th, 2009.

Sri Baba.G

More Skirts And One More Painting


While this new request for additional skirts from Bala did not really surprise me, I thought I had sufficient time to carry out this task. After all,Navarathri wasn’t until September. I had enough time to carefully plan and carry out this project of stitching more stone-studded skirts in various hues.

I was, of course completely wrong in making assumptions about anything, especially where Bala is concerned.

I have said at the outset that this trip to India has been filled with many unbelievable events. These are continuing to happen even as I’m typing up this incident.

I have forgotten to mention another interesting episode that happened earlier. On that auspicious ,Friday ( May 1st), when Renuka first called me from Australia and told me that Bala had asked me to bring in a new skirt for her, there was yet another surprising revelation.
I put down the phone after my initial conversation and went ahead with planning the skirt.
Within 20 minutes, the phone rang again. It was Renuka once more. She said “ Uma, I was in my kitchen just now making prasadam, when Puttaparthi Sai materialised in front of my eyes. He says you had planned to see him in Puttaparthi but did not make the trip. He wanted me to tell you that Bala and he are the same. He is waiting for you in Puttaparthi to give his blessings”.

Wow! Absolutely no one was aware I was even “thinking” of visiting Puttaparthi and then cancelled it because Bhagawan might have gone to Kodaikanal. I was completely at a loss for words. Later, I felt this was a calling for me to visit Puttaparthi after all!

However, Swami had just gone to Kodi on April 23rd. I wasn’t sure how long he would remain there. I made some enquiries on Monday, May 4th and found out that Bhagawan had left just that moment from Kodi back to Puttaparthi. My informant did not know how long he would stay in Prashanti Nilayam and said if I left Chennai on Tuesday morning, I might be lucky to get an evening darshan. I knew this was no mere coincidence. After all, Sai had mentioned to Renuka he was waiting in Puttaparthi to see me. Furthermore, his departure from Kodaikanal at the precise moment I called seemed to be nothing short of extraordinary.

So, I embarked on a two day trip to Puttaparthi. I left Chennai early on Tuesday, May 5th and reached Puttaparthi by lunch time. The trip took 7 hours and for most of the travel time, I was watching videos of Sri Ezhilmani’s Bheema Ratha Shanthi function ( 71st birthday) and various other DVds I had purchased in Nemili. My thoughts were concentrated only on Bala and her family,

We reached the hotel in Puttaparthi by 2 p.m. and I was informed that I should get to Prashanti Nilayam by 2.30 p.m. if I wanted to join the queue to see Bhagawan during the evening darshan at 5 p.m.

It was an extremely hot day and by the time I took my place in the queue , there was already a long line extending out of the main prayer hall. I sat on the hot stone steps for a few hours waiting to go inside . There was a further wait in another seating area for an hour before I could actually sit inside the vast, airless and hot prayer hall. All around me people sat patiently waiting for Bhagawan to make his appearance.

I had not eaten lunch since I had dashed almost immediately to Prashanti Nilayam. It was hot and stuffy inside the hall and I was hemmed in by people on all sides. I closed my eyes and saw Bala, Sri Ezhilmani Mama and Baby Amma. I held on to this vision for a long time. It seemed they were there whenever I closed my eyes.

Finally, at 5 p.m. a car drew up at the entrance and Sri Sai made his appearance.
The adulation of this vast crowd was extremely touching to behold. To the background music of melodious Bhajans, Swami was wheeled along slowly in his wheel chair. He appeared quite frail and his eyes were completely devoid of any expression. There was neither a smile nor a frown on his face as he slowly moved in his wheel chair through the aisles. People who were fortunate to sit in the front rows were in ecstasy and kissed the ground he tread. I was sitting seven rows behind and although I did get a good glimpse of him, I was quite disappointed that Sai had not turned in my direction.
For a full one hour we listened to Bhajans. Sai was conversing with some people as he sat on the dais. At the end, he departed in a special car and left the grand hall.
The crowd started to disperse and I got up rather painfully from my cramped sitting position.

The hotel I retired to that night, Sai Renaissance, was of extremely poor quality. The food was inedible and I went to sleep feeling totally let down by the entire experience. I had felt absolutely no positive vibes from Bhagawan at all. Perhaps, I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep, I have not been fortunate to recognise his greatness! Somewhere, in my mind’s eye, I could see Bala smiling. I held on to that tightly.

I returned from Puttaparthi the next day and decided to visit Nemili the following day since it was a Thursday. Renuka had called me several times and requested me to take a photo of Sri Bala in her stone skirt. I promised I would take in my camera and e- mail the photos.

So, on May 7th, I set off to Nemili in the afternoon, reaching there by 4.30 p.m. I took a few photographs of Sri Bala in her new skirt and then requested Mohan to take a few close-ups since he is an expert photographer. By this time, it was past 5 p.m. and Baba.G who normally observes a Mouna Vratham ( vow of silence) on Thursdays, walked in. I asked him if I could take a photo of him too, so I could do a portrait for his 42nd birthday, coming up on June 13th.
Sri Baba.G was happy to pose for me. So, there we were right in front of Bala with Sri Baba.G placing his hands in the precise manner Bala had instructed him to do so for this special photo. I requested Mohan to take a few shots with my camera and while he was doing so, I prayed fervently to Bala that I should be capable of doing this portrait.

There was a special reason why I had this urge to complete Baba.g’s portrait. On two occasions previously, I had attempted to draw him but failed. The first time, the painting did not turn out well at all and Bala asked me to put it aside and concentrate on portraying Sri Ezhilmani and his wife. The second time when I intended to depict Baba.g, Bala told me to instead draw nine images of herself on various animal mounts. So, this was my third opportunity. I felt if Bala gave the green signal, I shouldn’t have a problem.

I started work on this painting the very next day. It had been my intention to do this as a pencil sketch similar to the portrait of the “divine couple”. However, Bala had other plans.
I was to make this painting as “unique” as possible and when I went to purchase charcoal pencils, the well informed sales person in the art store suggested I use a combination of light and dark brown pencils to gain a natural effect. Since I confessed I had no knowledge how to work with these pencils or blend in the colors, he gave me a book with special instructions. I thanked him and left. Needless to say, this book was never used.

For this painting too, or rather, especially for this painting, Bala was completely in command.

Although I’m not an artist, and not at all experienced in drawing portraits especially using these particular type of charcoal pencils, this life-like portrait of Baba.G was made possible only through Bala’s divine grace.

I actually finished the drawing very quickly, within a few days. Bala insisted I draw a slight “glow” around Baba.G’s right hand placed on his heart. There is no doubt at all that both the eyes and hands are the two most important facets of this drawing. Bala has made sure I emphasised both these features . Nevertheless, it was while drawing Baba.G’s face that Bala taught me an important fact within a split second.

It happened this way. I was working on Baba.G’s face late at night. It was close to 10.30 p.m. and I was trying to get his chin just right. Working at close quarters with his face, something started to happen in front of my eyes. The cheek line and jaw line appeared to look more gaunt and for a few seconds, I had the distinct feeling I was drawing the face of Shirdi Sai Baba. It was as if Bala was telling me “ There’s absolutely no difference between this Guru and the most revered Sai of Shirdi.

I suspended work that night and went to bed. The next morning, when I came down to take a look at the painting all I could see was Baba.G as his normal self, right hand on his heart with his deep eyes looking intensely and directly at me. Although I heaved a huge sigh of relief the memory of those few seconds last night when Baba.G had given me a vision of Shirdi Sai Baba is unforgettable indeed.

The painting of Baba.G turned out better than I expected. Perhaps Bala wanted this done perfectly since it was a birthday gift to her favourite son. In any case , she made me change the background color three times until it was the perfect shade of blue. Similarly, the border around the painting also changed hues several times until I chose red. Finally, Bala made me fill in the azure blue , sky-like background with a myriad of tiny gold dots. “ These are my child’s blessings raining down from the skies to alleviate the suffering of everyone who comes to him and places trust in him”.

Baba.G’s portrait was framed and completed on Thursday, May 14th, exactly one week to date from the time I took his photograph. I took it with me to Nemili and offered it to Bala for her approval before handing it over to Baba.G . He was amazed his portrait had come about within such a short space of time.
It was an extremely happy moment to witness this portrait also take its place alongside the wall in Bala’s very own home. As Baby Amma remarked “ Only now, this Peetam is looking really full. All these paintings give a sense of richness to this dais”.

Could I ask for a better compliment from Bala?

Arpudha Bala

Arpudha Bala


Sri Bala Charanam.




This is how Sri Baba.G called my painting when I brought in to Sri Bala Peetam on May 3rd, 2009.
You may well wonder how this painting came into existence. The story is equally astounding and aptly fits the title to this latest piece of art work that adorns the house of Sri Bala at Nemili.

On Monday, April 27th, around 11 a.m. in the morning, I received a phone call from Baba.G. I was surprised since he very rarely calls me. I normally speak to him at least once a week on Thursdays, that too very briefly to obtain his blessings . So, I answered the call , feeling a bit puzzled . The following message was relayed by Baba.G to me :

He said “ I just finished my morning parayanam and immediately felt a growing sense of bewilderment. I could sense the presence of Bala and hear her message very clearly. She has asked you to paint an image of her as a young girl coming towards her devotees with both hands outstretched as if to illustrate a few lines from one of my songs. The lines from this song are :

Nambiye unnai kai pidithaale
Nambikkai athu Vanthidume
Antha Nambikkai Athu Vanthaal Pothum
Vazhvil Nalangallum Vanthidume!

Holding on to your hands, believing You and Trusting You
Complete Faith will soon arrive
When that complete conviction arrives
It is enough
To ensure the arrival of all welfare and prosperity
In our lives!

“So”, he continued “ since you are coming to do Paadha Puja for my parents this week, Sunday, you will bring in this painting”.

That was the end of our conversation. I merely mumbled a few words of consent and put down the phone. It is important to note that Baba.G did not “request” me to do this painting. He simply made a statement “ You will bring this painting when you visit Nemili on Sunday”.

However, I knew for sure at that time it was an impossible task to finish this kind of a divine painting within a few days. As it is, this project had been assigned by none other than Sri Bala herself. That thought alone was sufficient to create an enormous amount of tension. How could I ever hope to finish a painting to illustrate a few random lines from her song to Her satisfaction?

I decided, I wouldn’t be up to this task. No, definitely not, maybe, some day I could finish this. Not under pressure, that too within a few days. This was how my mind raced!

Moroever, on the previous day, I had spent four hours perfecting my pencil sketch of Sri Ezhilmani and his wife so I could frame it and hand it over to them on May 3rd. Surely, I reasoned to myself, this is a sufficient gift for the Padha Puja. I’ll do Bala’s painting later on when I’m more relaxed and without a deadline hanging over my head.

Thus, Monday went by with no thought of doing the painting. I allowed the next day also to slide by justifying my inaction with regard to this task.

On Wednesday, May 29th, I woke up in the morning filled with a fresh burst of energy. Without knowing what I was doing, I started to clean out the drawers in my daughter’s unused room. These were filled with magazines , scraps of paper, pencils, medicines, etc and I had been meaning to give a good spring cleaning to this chest of drawers for a long time.

Methodically, I started my task. Right in bottom of the fourth drawer, was a rolled up tube of unused , chart paper. I took this out carefully and unrolled it. Looking at it brought back memories of the last painting I had done for Bala but never turned in, the previous year ( April 13th, 2008).

Suddenly, I could hear Bala’s voice very clearly.

“ You will start my painting today. You will take exactly three days to complete it and one day to frame it. Within four days this task will be over”.

I have never questioned Bala’s voice before and wasn’t going to start now. It was as though She was in complete charge of my actions. It appeared as if on both Monday and Tuesday, She had been watching my reaction to her commands voiced through Baba.G. When she observed my ineffectiveness, She had decided to fill me with sufficient energy to carry through the job she intended to complete anyway!

It was made crystal clear that “I” did not really possess any artistic inclinations. “I” was merely being used by Bala to achieve whatever ends she wanted.

I spread out the sheet of paper on my dining table and started work immediately. I worked steadily for an hour or so listening to the CD “ Bala Dharisanam” containing Bala Andhadhi and Virutham. Bala’s face was slowly taking shape and soon, much to my amazement, I completed the entire drawing. In fact, I was going to improve upon the initial sketch of her eyes when Bala actually stopped me and said that it was fine and I should not do further work or improvement. Only her two hands remained to be completed.

I took a short break and went to the nearby art shop to purchase paints. Bala had already instructed me to use green for her skirt and blouse. I was to give red color as a relief for the border and draw a halo around her head, also in red.
She told me to use Gold for the background. These directives always come in a flash, rather suddenly. That is to say the ideas or concepts come into my mind when I’m thinking intensely about how to execute the project at hand.

I purchased all the paints and returned to resume work on my image. I had to yet complete the most important part of this painting, the hands. I had absolutely no clue in what posture these should be drawn. I stood in front of the mirror and stretched out my hands straight in front of me. No, that did not look right! I appealed to Bala. It is the truth when I write that Bala came into my thoughts and gave precise instructions as to how the hands should be positioned.

The right hand was meant to be gently curved against the body with the palm cupped and extended, as if to clasp the devotees’ hands, while the left hand should point to the ground both as a protective gesture as well as to emphasise the truth that surrendering at Bala’s feet alone, with complete conviction, is sufficient to help us overcome all problems in life.

This message appeared within a fraction of a second as I stood looking at my hands in the mirror. Quickly, I sketched the image of my own hands and finished the painting.

By Wednesday evening, I had begun to paint Sri Bala and on Thursday morning, I had very nearly completed the painting. She looked regal and grand and seemed ready to step out of the picture in order to grasp the hands of those who placed complete faith in her.

Only the Halo was left and I started to paint this. It was at this juncture that I was taught another divine lesson!

Completely forgetting Bala’s choice of red as the color, I painted the halo in glowing hues of yellow and orange. It is important to mention at this point that I had become emboldened by what I considered as “my” success in finishing this painting.

Happily, listening all the while to Bala’s songs, I finished this circle of light around her head and went on to complete the golden background. I then stepped back for a final view.

While Bala’s image seemed perfect, the halo simply wasn’t right. While I was staring at the portrait, Bala started to speak:

“ I want diamonds in my crown, glittering necklaces, bangles and anklets. Oh, and for my hands I need a full diamond glove-like Kavacham like the one my brother, Tirupathi Balaji has”.

I sat down in amazement. At the art store, in addition to paints, I had purchased a number of brush/felt pens in various colors thinking I could use them to create the effect of gems in her crown and bangles. I thought this technique might be quicker and more effective than the laborious process of sticking Swarovski crystals.

As if she knew my intentions and because she didn’t agree with my plan, Bala was giving me precise commands.
Well, there was nothing else to do but to purchase these glittering stones. I realised that Bala was literally keeping me so busy that I had no thought for anything or anyone except her!!

I returned within the hour with my precious bundle of stones and started work on Bala’s crown.

On Friday morning the portrait was finished, jewels had been fixed and diamond glove-like hands had been fashioned. Only the halo was bothering me.

I decided to visit Kapaleeswarar temple that evening by way of taking a break from the painting. Meanwhile Subramani , the carpenter who normally frames all Bala’s paintings had been summoned and he promised to provide a suitable frame for the painting on Saturday.

I entered Karpagambal’s Sannidhi and went straight to the main sanctum. Not too many people were about . I sat in front of this great Mother of the Universe and pleaded with her so I could receive her grace to perfect Bala’s painting. “ I don’t want any money or wealth in my life” I told her with tears in my eyes, “ something is not just right with Bala’s painting, please give me an idea to fix it so everyone looking at it will get immediate relief from all their worries”.
Even as I looked at this beautiful Goddess, the huge flower garland placed around her neck slipped and fell to one side. The priest took it and gave it to me. Overjoyed, I hurried home knowing in my heart that everything would be fine.

It was just after 6.30 p.m. when I got back. I called Sri Baba.G and after receiving his blessings told him that the painting was over except I wasn’t too happy about certain features. His response was “ You are not doing this painting to show off your talent. You are doing it for Bala. Just bring in the painting on Sunday even if you think its not perfect”.

I sat down once more and started work on the halo. Bala told me very loudly and clearly “ I told you to use red. You just forgot and got carried away thinking you are an artist”.

Quickly, I finished the halo and outlined the red circle with a bit of gold, just as Bala directed.

When I say Bala “directed”, I mean just that. She tells me how to draw every line and takes care to warn me if I’m overdoing anything. In particular, I felt her eyes were not “alive”.
Bala made me work on this detail until I got it exactly right.

You might wonder if Bala is giving such precise commands, why do I feel the painting isn’t perfect; or indeed why should I lack the confidence and run to temples and seek help!

I have thought about this aspect too. However, sometimes, I don’t get a response from Bala and I feel She herself makes me undergo various mental states and undertake various pilgrimages. The trip to see Karpagambal or Raja Rajeshwari, her mother and plead with her to get the portrait perfect is nothing but Bala teaching me that “I” am incapable of any action unless infused by divine energy. It is a lesson to remove all ego and impress upon me that when Bala has indeed filled my heart there should remain no more room for doubts!

‘Arpudha” ( Amazing ) Bala was finally finished and Bala’s eyes shone like twinkling jewels. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and thanked her most sincerely.

Later, after giving the painting to the Peetam I was ecstatic to hear Baby Amma remark that she felt Bala’s eyes were following her wherever she stood in the hall. I’ve read only great artists have that capacity to portray eyes that are so life-like. In this case, it was Bala who gave me detailed directions on how to get that effect!

I very nearly forgot to mention another interesting incident that occurred on Friday just as I was putting finishing touches to the painting .
About 10 a.m. in the morning the phone rang and I answered it, The caller was Renuka Karunakaran, a Bala devotee living in Sydney, Australia.

I was surprised to hear from Renuka since I had not informed her I was in Chennai, neither had I given her my phone number.
In fact, I barely knew Renuka. She had e- mailed me a few months ago while I was in London having read a few of my writings on the website. Since she wanted to chat with me , I had given her my London phone number and had spoken to her a couple of times.

So, I was extremely surprised to hear her voice that morning in Chennai. It turned out that Renuka had called London and my husband had given her my cell number in Chennai.

What Renuka had to say was most astonishing . She said “ I just finished my prayers today and Bala materialised in front of me in a dazzling ray of light. I am often able to witness several deities through a luminous veil of light. However, today, Bala has a message for you. She asked me to call Uma Shiv Kumar and and inform her to bring in a skirt ( pavadai) for her (Bala)”.

“So”, continued Renuka “I called your home in London and your husband mentioned you were in Chennai. At my request he has given me your cell number”.

I was totally stunned. Here I was in the middle of finishing a painting for Bala that she asked me to do through Baba.G and now a second request has come in through a devotee in Australia!!

I spoke to Renuka for a while filling her in all the details of my recent experiences with Bala. It appeared that Renuka was often blessed with supernatural visions of Puttaparthi Sai Baba as well as Sri Bala.

We chatted for a bit and I took down her number promising to stay in touch.

My mind was whirling with thoughts. How was I going to make a skirt for Bala? Was I supposed to bring it in on Sunday? That meant I had only one full day left. Did I have any sample skirt to give to the tailor? Oh Bala, I beseeched, what kind of skirt do you want me to bring you? You know I will do anthing for you. Why didn’t you ask me yourself?

Two answers flashed instantly.

First one “ I want a skirt studded with diamonds. Bring it on Sunday”.
Second “ I am having fun playing with you”.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I went to my puja room. There, behind the photo of Bala was a tiny green skirt that Ezhilmani Mama had once given me at the Peetam. I had completely forgotten I did have a sample!

I called my tailor and within a few minutes he arrived. Quickly, I gave him the sample skirt and told him to make a circular, stiff skirt so I could stick stones. He said he knew a friend who was good at fixing stones on fabric. I asked him to bring his friend in the evening and dashed off to the shop to purchase more stones.

I normally buy Swarovski crystals and other colored, glass stones from a wholesale supplier located in the “town” area of Chennai. This is an extremely congested area and rows of tiny shops compete for space in narrow, congested, dirty alleys. While I don’t relish trawling through these dusty, hot streets, the very thought that Bala had requested me to bring in a new skirt was enough to make me float on air.
With a happy heart I set off to Mint Street, located in the bustling heart of Chennai.

However, I had forgotten that it was May 1st, Labor day. Upon arrival, most shops had their shutters down and I was totally disappointed. It looked like I had to return the following day. More precious time was being wasted!

There was nothing more to be done. In the evening I visited Kapaleeshwarar temple as I’ve already mentioned and was happy that at least the painting was done.

The following day, Saturday, May 2nd, I made a trip once more to pick up the diamond/ Swarowski stones. Although I wanted to use some coloured stones for relief, in the skirt, no other colour was available except for a few hundred dark blue stones. So, I purchased these and returned home.

It was midday by the time both the tailor and his friend appeared.
I gave precise instructions on how these stones had to be positioned on the skirt. The person who was in charge of sticking the stones remarked that he would fix them onto the cloth by applying low heat from an iron. Although this is a tedious process, he did promise the skirt would be ready that night.

Heaving a sigh of relief, I turned my attention to getting the painting framed.
However, Subramani, the person who normally frames all my paintings was extremely busy in his shop and it turned out he could only come by my house late in the evening.

So, it was close to 10 p.m. on Saturday by the time Bala’s new painting was framed and ready.

A phone call to the stone-fixing guy revealed that the work was far from being finished. However, he was optimistic. “ I’ll certainly finish the skirt by midnight and drop it off at your house” he said.

I was tired and since we had planned an early start the next day, decided to retire for the night. I prayed to Bala “ This skirt is the one you wanted me to bring. I’ve done my best. The rest is up to you. If it is ready I’ll get it for you tomorrow”.

The next morning I woke up , had a shower, got dressed and was down by 6 a.m.. When I opened the front door to get the newspaper, I noticed a little parcel on the front porch. It was the skirt!!

Apparently , the person in charge of sticking stones had worked through the night and finished it only at 5 a.m. He had just dropped it off leaving a note saying he would take payment only if I was satisfied!

Bala’s first stone -studded skirt glittered like real diamonds in the morning sun! Thousands of white crystals had been interspersed with blue stones to create a fan-like skirt for this lovely child deity. So beautifully had she finished all the tasks she had set for us to do!

I wrapped the skirt carefully with a clean, white sheet and after loading the painting into the car, we set off towards Nemili.

It was barely 8.45 a.m. when I reached Sri Bala Peetam. The Abhishekam was yet to take place. I was greeted by Sri Baba.G who was seated in the front porch.

Now, I must mention at this point that none of the family members in Nemili had any idea I was bringing in a new skirt for Bala. I quickly filled in Baba.G with all the details regarding Bala’s request for the skirt and showed it to him.
At that moment, the painting was taken out of the car and two helpers were carrying it inside. Baba.G took one look and said in amazement “ I thought you would do a small-sized painting. Instead you have completed a huge, 3 feet painting and decorated it with stones as well!! This is truly Bala’s miracle”.

So, that is the story of how Bala created another painting for the Peetam. Baba.G called it by many names: Arpudha, Aacharya, etc to indicate the fact that all of Bala’s actions and games are indeed most astonishing and amazing!!

Along with this painting of Bala, I had also framed and taken into the Peetam that day, the pencil sketch of Sri Ezhilmani and Baby Amma as well as a collage of all the thirteen auspicious images Bala had made me draw in London.

It was a very proud moment when all these paintings were exhibited to the gathered crowd. I sat in the front row relishing every moment of Sri Bala’s Abhishekam and sang all her songs with great joy. Then, the curtain was closed so Bala could be decorated. There was another reason why I was very happy that day. Both the abhishekam and puja for Bala was being performed by Sri Ezhilmani’s second son, Mohan.
I felt Bala was making this day extra special for him as I’m informed by Baby Amma that Bala jumps from her Peetam in delight if her special son is performing puja and decorating her!!

Another interesting fact was that May 3rd coincided with Bala’s birth-star Pooram. Certainly a new skirt came in on this auspicious day!

For a long time the curtain remained closed. I wondered if they would use the new skirt I brought in. I was anxious that the size should be perfect for the tiny idol of Bala. As it turned out, I need not have worried at all.
With a flourish, the curtain was drawn and a loud, audible gasp arose as we beheld Bala dazzling in her new “diamond” skirt.
Even as I’m writing this today, shivers go down my spine when I think of that very moment when Mohan stood up to lovingly show Maha Deeparadhanai to little Bala!

At that precise moment when the flame of the lamps were enhancing the brilliance of her skirt, Bala whispered in my ear “ Now, that was just a trial run. You will bring many more stone studded skirts for me to wear during Navarathri”.

What a perfect ending to an amazing, incredible day!!!

My Divine Experiences with Sri Bala


MAY 20th, 2009.



Over the course of the past month a lot of astonishing experiences have occurred in my life and it was only after receiving the blessings of Sri Ezhilmani yesterday, that I commenced to write this blog. I shall summarize below the many events that preceded my recent trip to Chennai before going on to describe the countless “Leelas” ( Divine games) enacted by this mischievous Child Goddess , the life-force of the village of Nemili!


After publishing the pencil sketch of Sri Ezhilmani and his wife on my website in March 2009, I was immediately directed by Bala to portray her in nine distinct images. These drawings, she told me almost in the flash of a second, were to illustrate the song “ Bala Navarathna Malai” written by Sri Baba.G some years ago.

As usual Bala’s instructions were very clear, simple and precise. “ Draw nine images of me projecting my form on top of various animals . These paintings will definitely help those who are suffering from the malefic effects of the Nava Grahas ( nine planets). Don’t worry, she said ( I could see her smiling in my mind), you will know which animal to pick out for each picture”.

Without any hesitation and following my usual prayers to Sri Bala, I started work on the first drawing. “Vahanas” or animal demi-gods are generally depicted in Hindu mythology as being closely associated with specific deities. However, I was at a complete loss regarding the manner in which to depict Sri Bala for each respective verse of “Bala’s song-garland of nine gems” ( Nava Rathna Malai).

I need not have worried. The moment my pencil touched the paper gently, I simply “knew” in my mind the particular animal associated with each verse. Within three days, I had completed six images in the form of pencil sketches and started work on the seventh one.

The date was March 30th, 2009. Following my customary prayers, I arranged a clean sheet of paper on my table and picked up a pencil. I closed my eyes and meditated on Bala asking her to give me a suggestion. By now, I had depicted her alongside horses, astride an elephant, seated majestically on a swan and smiling happily behind peacock feathers spread out like a fan. Even a fierce eagle looked blissful when Bala was perched on top of him and a ferocious lion’s gaze seemed tinged with love the minute I drew Bala half-hidden in his mane!

“ How shall I depict you this time, Bala?” I asked her repeatedly that morning and got no response. However, I did get the unmistakable impression or the persistent thought that I had to draw a bull or “Nandi”, the sacred mount of Lord Shiva.

Without delay, I set about this task and for the next three hours I toiled away trying to draw a bull. I was listening to Bala’s songs all the time and my mind was totally concentrated on this child goddess. However, it seemed I could not draw well at all that day. My “nandi” certainly did not resemble a divine bull and consequently every pencil stroke had to be erased until the sheet of drawing paper developed a large hole where the bull’s head should have been positioned.

Sighing, I got up and approached the little photo of Bala propped up in my puja cupboard. I kept looking at her for a long time asking her to give me a direction. Finally, my legs got tired and just as I was going to throw the crumpled up drawing paper away in the bin, I got a lightening suggestion.

Very simply, the voice (in my mind) said “ Place me on top of Kamadhenu
(a celestial cow).

Overjoyed, I sat down at my table. Another fresh sheet of paper was taken out and within half an hour I had completed the entire picture. Bala grinned at me mischievously perched on the shoulders of this divine, wish-fulfilling and boon-bestowing divine creature, as if to say “ I was merely playing with you today”.

I went to sleep that night , jubilant and happy as if I had won a big lottery!!

During this period , I was still in London and had no thought about either visiting or making a trip to India. Little did I know how dramatically things would change the very next day!

On March 31st, I emphasise this date because it adds up to Four which is Bala’s number, a sequence of events took place within the span of ten minutes which resulted in my booking a flight from London to Chennai. While the reasons for this sudden travel plan aren’t too important, the dramatic manner in which the proceedings took place left me completely stunned.

I called Sri Bala Peetam after booking my flight. It was no surprise for me that I was only able to get a seat on the flight departing London on April 4th, arriving in Chennai at 4 a.m. on April 5th, Sunday.

It seemed to me that Bala was reiterating the fact that my trip down to Chennai at this particular juncture was for a purpose! Sri Ezhilmani was delighted to hear that I would be in Chennai on that particular day since it coincided with the monthly Parayanam ( group prayer) at Sri Bala Peetam. He told me to come directly to the Peetam after a couple of hours rest following my journey.

Just as I was going to conclude my conversation with Sri Ezhilmani, I remarked about the pretentious manner in which Bala had made me draw her seated on top of Kamadhenu instead of Nandi. His reply took me completely by surprise. He said “ Of course, what else do you expect? Bala hates to sit on a bull. Nandi is Shiva’s mount and Ambal will never sit on him by herself. Now, you place her on top of a Kamadhenu and she will sit there happily”.

These were his exact words!

I marvelled at the manner in which Sri Bala orchestrates events in people’s lives and in my case, even a small drawing for her has to be “just right”. Ignorant as I am of the correct protocol with respect to religious art, she certainly saw to it that even inadvertently I did not commit a mistake. I thanked her with all my heart.
Since I had a few days left, I hurried on and finished the remaining three pencil drawings of Bala for the Navarathna Malai song.

These pencil sketches are still awaiting my return to London so I can paint them in the lovely, vibrant colors that Bala loves , embellish them and later write about their significance in detail before publishing them on my website ( or rather, “Bala’s” site on which she wants me to write!).


I arrived in Chennai on Sunday, April 5th. The flight was right on time and I carried only hand- luggage since it was my plan to exit the airport quickly without waiting endlessly for the baggage to arrive. I intended to take a few hours rest at home and then proceed directly to Nemili. My thoughts were constantly focused on Bala and I was impatient that morning.

I reached my house in Chennai within half an hour and went inside. Since I travel frequently between London and Chennai, I usually keep all important keys pertaining to my Chennai house in a small room which is locked. I generally take only the key for this room when I travel. So, I hurried to the locked door of this room which contained the keys to all other rooms and wardrobes in my house. I turned the key in the lock, still thinking happily ahead about my impending visit to see Bala when disaster struck! The key refused to turn inside the lock and simply would not budge!

By now it was just coming up to 4.45 a.m and the driver who had dropped me off at home had disappeared to take some rest and return in a few hours’ time. I tried gently fiddling about with the lock but since the key had not been used for over 6 months, it simply could not rotate inside the lock to make it spring open.

Finally at 5 a.m. I summoned my driver and requested him to find a locksmith to open the door. This was a Sunday and I knew the chances of finding an expert locksmith at this early hour was close to impossible. I was still dressed in my travel clothes and could not possibly visit Nemili clad in casual trousers!

Nevertheless, I realised there was no point in getting upset. I sat down and calmly started reciting Sri Bala Kavacham. Within a few minutes the door bell rang and I opened the door to find my driver accompanied by a sleepy lad!

To this day, I’m not really sure if this young boy was a locksmith. But I wasn’t going to ask any questions that day. Armed with a small wire and knife, this chap worked for an hour trying to “pick” the lock and open the door. Finally, we decided that the only option was to destroy the lock completely. This process took another 45 minutes. Finally, the lock was completely bashed in and I was able to access those all important keys for my wardrobe and other bedrooms.

I had no sleep on the long flight, endured a two hour ordeal to get my keys back, but I was exhilarated I would still be in time to make it for the monthly puja at Sri Bala Peetam!! This was all that really mattered to me .

Thus began my trip to Chennai in April, 2009. I had no idea why Sri Bala had summoned me this time nor did I know clearly how long I would remain in India . While the minor irritations that cropped up on March 31st demanding my presence in Chennai were dealt with expediently, and probably could have been carried out without my being physically present , I was absolutely certain that this was not the main reason for my visit this time.

However, I did get a clue when I attended the Tamil New Year’s day Puja at Nemili.
I came in rather early to Sri Bala Peetam on April 14th because I wanted to witness the Abhishekam. However, by the time I arrived, at 9 a.m. this ritual had already concluded. Nevertheless, since I had arrived relatively early, I was able to sit right in front of Sri Bala and for the next few hours got totally immersed in her songs. At the end of the parayanam that day, there was a “Thaer utsavam”. Little Bala was taken out for a ride in her tiny chariot drawn by elephants. For the very first time in my life, I saw Bala real close as she came by in front of where I was seated. She was standing majestically on a golden lotus, dressed in her shining diamond Kavacham ( stiff armour-like skirt).

I thought of the thirteen auspicious images Bala made me draw. One of them is the chariot with tiny Bala sitting inside and another portrait is the one where she is wearing her “kavacham”, standing on a golden lotus!! The latter is my personal favourite because Bala “winked” at me when this painting was done and said “I love you”.

It seemed to me that my drawing had somehow come to life, or perhaps it was life imitating art?
All I know was I sat there totally mesmerised by this stupendous darshan Sri Bala was giving me!!

Over the course of the next few days it was slowly beginning to dawn on me that the main purpose of this entire trip had to do with cultivating total faith in Sri Bala. All of us can be totally devoted to Sri Bala. Yet how many can honestly claim that they have placed their entire, whole hearted belief in her? It is but natural to visit soothsayers, consult astrologers or Naadi Josiers because there is always a constant temptation to take a quick peek into the future. Despite the fact that many of us go to Bala Peetam regularly, I feel that a lot of devotees , myself included , have to travel a long path interspersed with many distractions before coming to finally surrender at Sri Bala’s feet.

Right from the start, this April sojourn in Chennai seemed to be filled with a lot of little “tests” Bala was casting in my direction.

First of all I got pre occupied with a couple of Naadi Josiers who proclaimed they could forecast my future based on reading a few palm leaves. However, after spending two whole days sitting inside an airless room while the Naadi asked me endless questions, I came away with the distinct impression that he was merely gathering relevant information from me by asking a series of leading questions and feeding me back with the answers. In addition, although a few palm leaves were produced and declared to be ones that had the names of my parents and husband written on them, the tamil characters appeared too vague for me to draw a definitive conclusion.
I had to conclude this entire palaver was a money making scam.

All the while, I could feel that Bala was setting me little traps and although I was able to foresee them, I could not prevent myself from falling into them. It was as though I “had” to try out various paths, find them unsatisfactory and then come to Bala.

I thought to myself I’ve been on this road before. I have visited many temples because of Bala’s grace, yet returned to her every time. Why is she still intent on testing me and more importantly, why am I allowing myself to get sidetracked ?”

It was only a few days ago I realised even though I had allowed myself to become totally engrossed with Bala, there still remained certain deeply embedded personality traits and fears that she had to remove from the roots so I could accept her completely, totally and without a shred of doubt.

The experiences I underwent over the last month has underlined extremely clearly in my mind the following fact:

(These are Bala’s very own words she is asking me to write at this momentJ

“ It is very difficult to know Me, understand Me or experience Me. Just because you keep my photo in your Puja room you don’t automatically become my devotee. This is a house where I have come to take rest. It IS NOT a temple. It is a normal house filled with laughter at times, quarrels, bickering and fighting at times, sorrow on certain occasions and immense joy on certain days. The life of the inmates in this household mirrors the lives in various households across this village, nation and the world. Yet, the BIGGEST difference is that I am present here in two forms .

One form is that of a small child. In this manner, I am able to teach a lot of things to a lot of people regardless of age, because everyone loves a child. The second, most important form I take inside this house is in my Viswaroopam ( omnipotent) form. In this appearance, I come to reside in the hearts of all those who love me totally. Only these people can hope to “experience” Me and witness the games I play in their lives.

If you come to me with complete belief in your heart, I am there to hold your hand, guide you and help you cross difficult situations. You will have to accept only whatever I allow to happen in your life. You think something in your life is a “problem”. I don’t see it that way. I look at your entire future and know that certain outcomes are not good for you even though you have your heart set on it. You remain in ignorance. I know everything. Don’t come to see me if you think I’m just another “alternative” cure or palliative for your troubles. For this, go to astrologers or soothsayers. If you come to me with true love, I will never let you go out of my sight”.

The above message has been inserted in my narrative at the express wish of Sri Bala.

I continue with the reasons for my distractions.

Second, there was an occasion where a website contact requested me to find out if a Kali Upasakar I was acquainted with could cure her autistic child. Although I had written several prayer letters on behalf of this child to Sri Bala and Sri Baba.G, I could nevertheless not overcome the temptation to try and obtain results through an alternative route.

I called up Kali Mama and requested him to see a photo of this child so he might be able to suggest a remedy. To my surprise he said he wasn’t too sure about his abilities just then as he hadn’t increased his powers through tapas ( concentrated , tantric meditation). Instead he told me “ I’m sure you are more than capable of helping this child through your own prayers. Ask the mother to pray as well. Just keep focused on your Ishta (favourite) deity at all times”.

I could have laughed! Favourite deity indeed. I had left Bala somewhere along the way and strayed completely off the path!

During the period April 17th until April 23rd, I took a short trip covering Trichy, Kodaikanal, Madurai, Ooty, Mysore and Bangalore.
On the first day of my trip, I visited a few temples in the vicinity of Trichy. Since I had started this little pilgrimage after obtaining blessings from Ezhilmani and his wife, I was fortunate to obtain splendid darshans in the temples of Samayapuram, Tiruvaanaikaaval, Sri Rangam and Vayalur.

While I had visited most of these temples on previous occasions, I’d never been to Vayalur before. This ancient Murugan temple is extremely sacred as it’s here that the poet Arunagirinathar was blessed by the Lord and initiated to compose the Tirupugazh hymns. The word “Vayal” means “field” in Tamil and the village where this temple is located is surrounded by lush, green paddy fields.

After an overnight stay in Trichy, I proceeded to the hill station of Kodaikanal, largely motivated by the fact that all the family members from Nemili had planned to take a break at this place for a day. I caught up with them in the evening in a little park by the lake. The little children , all embodiments of precious Bala, were playing on the swings, slides and the see saws. The entire family was relaxed and cheerful and I was able to spend some unforgettable moments with this unique family!

Carrying on my journey, I stopped over in the temple town of Madurai. Of course, the first stop was at the famous Meenakshi Amman koil. The Mahaa Kumbabhishekam ( sanctification) had taken place barely ten days ago and the temple was heaving with people jostling with each other to get a glimpse of this powerful Queen of all Goddesses! I took one look at the long queues and placed a mental application to Bala.

To my utter surprise, one of the security guards managing the crowd proved quite amenable and allowed me to jump the long line , so I was able to stand right in front of the main sanctum for an uninterrupted five minutes. Thanking Bala most sincerely, I stood in front of this lovely goddess with beautiful eyes and beseeched her mercy and grace.

The famous Murugan temple at Tirupuramkundram was my next stop and here too, there was a massive crowd straining to catch a glimpse of Lord Muruga as he stands next to his divine bride, Deivayanai. However, help was at hand in the form of a friendly priest who secured a wonderful and peaceful darshan for me.

I was fortunate to visit three further temples in the surrounding area. The first visit that afternoon was to PillayarPatti to obtain the blessings of this most powerful Lord who removes all our obstacles. In the quiet and stillness of this huge temple, I was able to sit at the doorstep of this great Elephant-God seated in massive golden splendour!

I revisited the nearby temple of Vairavanpatti to pay respects to Lord Shiva in the form of Kala Bhairavar and admired once again the most marvellous sculptures adorning the sanctum, before heading off to Sivaganga district and the famous Shiva temple at Kaalaiyar.

Numerous legends abound about this temple that boasts three distinct shrines for Lord Shiva. This is a temple built and defended by kings of the Sangam period who died heroically in a battle with the invading British troops. Restored and later maintained by the rulers of Sivaganga district this Shivastalam is famous as a pariharastalam, or temple where prayers and rituals are carried out for atonement of sins from a previous birth. In particular, it is widely believed that those who have not been fortunate to get married or have marital problems should visit this temple to reverse their destiny!

My pilgrimage culminated with a trip to the cool hills of Ooty where, for a couple of days, I enjoyed the stunning scenery and the pleasant weather.

On my return journey which took in the Mudumalai forest reserve, Mysore and Bangalore, I toyed with the idea of making a detour to Puttaparthi to pay respects to his Holiness Satya Sai Baba. However, upon enquiry at the hotel in Bangalore, I understood that he “might” have departed to Kodaikanal. However, the hotel staff were not extremely sure about this information. I decided to return to Chennai directly from Bangalore as I did not wish to take a chance and drive all the way to Puttaparthi and then get disappointed if I did not receive darshan of Baba.
After all, I reasoned to myself, Bala’s songs say that there is no difference between Baba and her. So, I decided instead to stop by Nemili on the way back from Bangalore to Chennai.

It was around 11.30 a.m. when I reached Bala Peetam that day on my return journey to Chennai. There weren’t too many people about and I was able to have a relaxed and peaceful darshan of little Bala. As I was about to take leave, Baba.G came up to me and said “ You are doing Padha Puja ( worship of the feet) for my parents on May 3rd”.

Just like that! I was totally taken aback. While doing the painting of the “divine couple” sitting in my tiny flat in London, I had fervently wished that one day I should pay my most sincere respects to Sri Ezhilmani and Baby Amma. Here was the opportunity Bala had provided! Overjoyed, I left Nemili that day convinced that regardless of however many temples I might visit on pilgrimage, the feeling of contentment is never as complete as it is when I’m seated in front of Bala!