Sampath Speaks: A Glimpse into The Avatar’s Love for Deity Decoration

Sampath was a childhood friend of The Avatar. His memoirs of Bhagavan as a child is deeply enthralling. Through Sampath, we see a rare glimpse of The Avatar before his incarnationhood went mainstream. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, even as a young boy, upon reading Sampath’s sharings and reflections, we see that there was never a time in Bhagavan’s life where such intense energy was not spilling out of him. He was not like any other enlightened being, who sought after it and after years of tapas and then achieved final fulfillment. Perhaps this is a narrative that we devotees can most relate to so we piece together the events of His life in a similar manner. In reality, however, Avatar is always Avatar. He is always the supreme consciousness and will continue to radiate that state as much as possible. 

In this way, Sampath was blessed enough to have an incredible friendship with the Avatar. They were playmates together, childhood friends and school mates.  And their ‘play’ was most often deity decoration. With tremendous amount of passion, Bhagavan tells us that, “There was a period in my life when doing deity decoration, I would just forget day and night”. 

There is no question about the authenticity of Bhagavan’s own passion for deities, having personally sculpted, shipped, decorated and maintained 3270 deities in his entire mission and continuously doing more. His passion for temple deity decoration matured into a committed, lifelong mission to revive Hinduism all over the world. 

In our adventure into the Autobiography of the Avatar, one of the most exciting parts is meeting and interview Bhagavan’s childhood friends and family. Sampath’s insights into the ways of the young Avatar are among the most drawing. He recalls Bhagavan’s immense passion for deity decoration and details many incidents where they spend hours doing what is called “alankharam” for deities. What you are about to read is only an excerpt. In this portion of the interview with Sampath, he recalls an incident at the Arunai Nayaki  Temple in their home town of Thiruvannamalai. After having gained enough experience in decoration, the young Avatar and Sampath take it upon themselves to dress Arunai Nayaki, a form of Devi Adi Shakti, a very old, tradition and relatively big temple. Sampath refers to Bhagavan Nithyananda as Swami and narrates the entire beautiful experience.  

As soon as we go in, He would first see the deity. What happened on that occasion was the day previous to the decoration day, he had a dream: exactly how that deity will be without clothing, how Her body structure would be – came in the dream. When the priest gave permission to decorate, Swami became very happy and he said, ‘We should know more about Her. We should know what Her purpose is.’

I asked what for He wants to know all this.

He said, ‘No, there is something in this deity. She is very powerful. All the temples we were doing decoration for till now were relatively new ones. This is the first ancient and powerful temple we are going to take up. We should know more about Her.’ I said alright and asked how to ask. He said he will talk to Kuppamma ayah (Maha Vibhudananda Devi) and come.

Kuppamma ayah said, “In order to kill the devil Mahishasura who represents the human ego, in the sacred chant – Devi Mahatmyam – the Mother comes to Tiruvannamalai. It is here in this temple that he was killed by Her. At that time, Arunai Nayaki Amman came as Mother’s army leader. Mahishasuran’s right hand general in the army was an evil person. His name is mentioned in the chant – Arunachala Puranam. Arunai Nayaki Amman is said to have killed him. There is also a statue of that man lying crushed beneath Her feet in the temple.”

As soon as He heard this and saw the statue of that man, He spun into action. In both our houses there was only the new version of the Arunachala Puranam.

He said, “This is the new version. It has been released only some twenty or thirty years back. We need the older version.”

He said that the older version was with Kuppamma ayah and he went and brought that book. We read page by page. Only in that book, there were two extra lines that said She was Mother’s army leader and She killed that particular evil person. In the newer version, it was just mentioned that She was in the war. But in this version, it was clear. He read it and said, ‘See, we are going to do decoration for such a great lady!’

He made me understand that if I went into the real significance of the deity and then did the decoration, the impact will be entirely different. He would say, “Generally if we go and do the decoration, we won’t know the impact of it. Now after this knowledge if we go, we will know Her power. Now you will know how powerful, how significant She is, how important She is.”

When he said all these things, I used to get gooseflesh. I used to be engulfed with the feeling: She is so powerful. She is so great. We are going to actually touch Her and do the decoration. Do we have the qualification? Do we belong to such a qualified caste? Because in those times there were rules that only certain people from certain communities can touch certain deities. When it was like that, how is it that we were going to do it for Her? When these thoughts came up, our sincerity for the job increased.

We decided we should do things in a very neat way. We decided: we should not eat or drink even water when we are doing the decoration. We should buy fresh and clean things for the decoration. We should ourselves sit and grind the sandal into paste. All these thoughts started forming within. With this inspiration when I slept, the form of the deity, how She was seated in the battlefield, how Her structure was beneath the clothing – that form appeared in my dream as well! I have never seen the deity like that ever. With the total inspiration when I went to sleep, this form appeared, the night before the decoration. When I woke up in the morning, I wondered: this form seems to be Arunai Nayaki amman’s form, but I have seen Her differently at the temple with Her usual adornment. Then I thought, because of the devotion I had towards Her, maybe She gave this kind of an appearance to me. With that mood I went for the decoration. Meanwhile He also seemed to have had different visions of Her. We met and at 9 am we entered the temple with all the things for the decoration.

We had collected nearly 400 rupees. With just 400 rupees, you will be surprised how many things we could get at that time for decoration! When we removed the clothing and saw the form, both of us got a shock. For a minute, the rise of emotions was too much. It is an unforgettable moment in our lives. Whatever we saw in the dream, the exact form was there! My devotion towards Her increased a lot. I felt we should do things with tremendous sincerity for Her and that She was really sitting there, very powerful.

For him, it was more than that. He had seen more than that. He said, “Last night, She spoke to me. I saw Her.”

He then prostrated in front of Her. Then he said, “She is really sitting here. Do things sincerely for Her. Don’t have any other thought. When you do the decoration, let your total concentration be here.”

All this can be taught only by a mature Guru. How to pray to God. How to tread the path of devotion etc. Normally at home, what we pray, it is different. But how does a real devotee pray to God? One should sincerely imagine that the deity is really there and pray with that mood. Only then will the real impact be got. At that time, this happened in us naturally itself – how to pray, how to offer puja, how to do decoration etc. That incident was a very powerful one.

We did the decoration very sincerely. We started at 9 am and finished at 6 pm without even drinking water in between. It was my first experience of that kind. After the decoration was done, even that priest was surprised. He said that even trained temple priests will not do in such a fashion. That was the first time we were doing an entire face with sandal paste. Till then we had done only for Ganesha (elephant God). And for Him, on the face there will be two tusks. However you do the sandal decoration, it will not change the look. But for Mother, you need to work well to bring out the facial features.

The priest was very pleased with our skill. He took a big plate, kept bananas, apples, sweet lime, all that had come as offering that day, asked everyone to sit, picked up some flowers, blessed us and gave it to us. Then he told us that any special decoration in the temple thereafter, we should only do.  

About the Image: The feature image is an image from the Ganesh Chathurthi that he and his friends, including Sampath had arranged. Bhagavan is on the left of the diety and Sampath is standing right next to him on the left. The Ganesha alankharam was done by them as well but that story is for a later time. 

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