Sunday, June 7, 2009
Sri Bala Charanam.
A NEW PAINTING FOR SRI BALA PEETAM:
AACHARYA, ARPUDHA BALA
(ASTONISHING, AMAZING BALA)
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!!!