Sunday, June 7, 2009

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.

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