Brahma was awestruck as he looked at her for the first time. She was one of his most wondrous creations. He couldn’t help feeling a little vain. Who would have thought such a magnificent woman could be crafted?
Words were not sufficient to describe her blemish-less skin, her perfect features, her gracefully lithe figure, and her soft breasts. The crowning glory of her beauty was the bewitching smile.
“She is flawless!” He thought to himself and named her Ahalya, “the one with no ugliness.”
The gods of Devaloka were waiting with bated breath wondering who the happy recipient of this divine gift will be. Indra thought haughtily, “As the king of gods, only I deserve her! I’m sure Brahma will give her to me and no one else. Uff! She is more beautiful than my apsaras!” His loins tingled with delightful anticipation!
“If I give her to Indra or any of the other gods, then she would be reduced to doing their bidding, like the apsaras and the other courtesans. Ahalya deserves to be much more than that. The world needs to know this daughter of mine. Her name should be cast in stone for the rest of this kalpa.”
The creator had a brilliant idea. He sent her away to Gautama Maharishi. She would be safe from the vile hands of female ravagers that filled Devaloka, Brahma mused. The rishi was beyond sensual pleasures, and he would do a great job of looking after this stunning lady without being influenced by her physical beauty.
Gautama Maharishi agreed to this mission and took Ahalya to his ashram. There, she learned to cook, clean, and keep a nice, tidy home in a secure, comforting environment, even if it was in the middle of the wilderness. She was safe from the prying eyes of men who would’ve devoured her to bits; such a beautiful, untouched virgin! But the rishi had no such issues. He was happy with Ahalya’s work and she was content to cook and look after his ashram.
Brahma realized he found the best place for her permanent home. He approached the rishi and offered to give Ahalya in marriage to him. The rishi was flummoxed.
“But why marriage, Brahma? Both of us are happy in the present condition. Why complicate matters?”
“Because Indra is looking for ways to take her away for himself. He wants her to be the foremost of apsaras. It’s been so many years since I created her, and he has not yet found a way to deal with his desire for Ahalya. He will not dare to think about her once she becomes your wife.”
Brahma’s argument appealed to the sage and he agreed. Gautama Maharishi and Ahalya were married. The marriage changed everything for both of them. As a rishi, he had believed he had conquered sexual desires, and it would be easy for him to deal with a wife and the physical relationship that comes with it.
He realized he was so wrong when he touched the soft, beautiful form of Ahalya for the first time. His libido that he thought was in check was let loose and he craved her like any other man. The young maiden was very happy to return his love because she too tasted love for the first time.
Ahalya savoured the sensual pleasures her husband offered her even as she remained the docile, dutiful wife looking after his domestic needs. The couple was happy and lived contentedly in the ashram for a while.
As the days passed, discontentment subtly found its way into their lives. She wanted more from their marriage, and he found it only satisfied his physical needs. He went back to his spiritual pursuits with new fervour. Slowly the physical attraction between them reduced leaving Ahalya unhappily dissatisfied. She wished she could get her husband to be more sensually adventurous. She wished he coveted her more.
Indra was waiting for such an opportunity. His desire for Ahalya had hardly been dented. That she was now married and legally out of bounds only heightened his desire. One day, when the sage left for his ritual bath, Indra assumed his form and came to Ahalya, his eyes were filled with lust when he saw her in person. She was dressed in simple drapes that just about covered her supple bosom and body.
Ahalya was surprised at seeing her husband return so soon from his bath. “Oh! You’re back! I’m still preparing the morning me….”
Indra couldn’t even wait for her to complete the sentence. He kissed her passionately on her mouth. Ahalya was taken aback. A tiny doubt crept into her mind. Was this her husband? But the doubt last only for a fleeting second. Indra’s relentlessly lust-filled caresses all over her body brought her own desires for fulfilling intercourse to the forefront, and she pushed her inhibitions to the background.
Soon, both their desires were quenched. She sighed happily and was just about to settle down on her husband’s shoulders when the front door opened and the rishe walked. She looked in horror at the man beside her. At the sight of the rishi, Indra was compelled to show his real self.
Ahalya quavered in fear and didn’t know whether to be appalled at her own behaviour or angry with Indra’s. She was dumbfounded. “My initial doubts were valid,” she thought to herself. “My husband could never have done what this man did to my body.”
The sage was furious. “How dare you come like this, Indra?”
Indra’s face paled in fear and Ahalya thought, “He really is not as handsome as he is made out to be, especially when he is afraid to face the consequences of his actions.”
Then, the sage turned to his wife, livid rage turning his face scarlet.
‘My husband still hasn’t reached that level of sagehood where he has conquered his anger and ego.” Again, Ahalya was thinking to herself. She realized that her thoughts were going haywire because she didn’t know what to make of the situation. Who was to blame? She? Indra? Her husband? The confusions in her mind were transforming into random thoughts.
Her self-take continued, “I can see his ego is deeply wounded by the scene of me laying with another man. His anger is bound to have a horrible backlash. What should I do?”
The voice of her husband broke her from her reverie. She fell at his feet. “Please forgive me. I didn’t realize this wasn’t you, my lord.”
This pleading only enhanced the rishi’s ire. His ego took over as he thundered, “Really, my dear wife? You couldn’t make out the difference between my lovemaking and his?”
She looked down at the ground, her face filled with shame. She couldn’t meet his eyes. She deserved to be punished for what happened. And yet…
“Am I the only one to be blamed?” She asked.
“Of course, he will not go unpunished,” hollered the sage.
“And you, my lord.?.”
Spittle spluttered out of his mouth as the sage failed to find the right words to respond to his wife’s accusation. Finally, he said, “What did I do?”
“What you didn’t do is the question, isn’t it?” countered Ahalya. By now, her mind had cleared, and she was ready to embrace the full consequences of her actions, even if a major part of what happened was not her doing.
Her calm demeanour added fuel to the fire in the rishi’s mind. He was deeply conflicted between his ego and righteousness.
“Your desire for her was no less than that of Indra,” his soul spoke to his ego.
“But I didn’t ask to be married to her,” responded his ego.
“Definitely not in any obvious way. But weren’t you happy when Brahma offered her hand to you?”
His ego couldn’t face his soul when it said, “I did take only what was given to me. I didn’t take something that didn’t belong to me.”
“She is a woman filled with feelings just as you are. Shouldn’t you have asked for her approval?” countered his soul.
“That was Brahma’s job. He was her father. He should’ve asked. Not me?”
“Even if that is so, what about after the marriage? Were you the perfect husband? Didn’t you think that your overactive libido was coming in the way of your spiritual pursuit? Didn’t you hold back so much from her that her cravings could’ve been stunted? Didn’t you owe that to her?” His soul countered his ego.
“Oh! Shut up! None of what you say can be an excuse for what happened today. Both of them deserve to be punished severely.”
The sage poured out some water from his kamandalam into its right hand and threw it at his wife and said, “Since you couldn’t control yourself, you will turn into a rock forever.”
He then turned to Indra and cursed him, “Your entire body will be filled with a thousand vaginas because you coveted another man’s wife.”
Indra fell at the rishi’s feet and begged for forgiveness. Ahalya knelt in one corner of their humble hut, her hands clasped in front of her chest. Her eyes welled up with repentant tears. But she didn’t want to be forgiven. She was happy to be a stone forever.
The rishi’s anger abated when he released the curses on the two of them. Moreover, he loved Ahalya dearly and couldn’t see her in so much pain. He relented and said to Indra, “I will amend your curse. The thousand openings will not be vaginas but eyes which will be a reminder of your callous act.”
The sage then turned to Ahalya and said, “You’re right. I am partly responsible for what happened. I will repent for my actions with you. You will be absolved of your sin when a perfect, blemishless, ideal man’s feet fall on you. I will wait for that day, 1000 years from now, to be reunited with you.”
Ahalya turned to stone and remained unmoving, waiting for the day when the feet of that perfect, “without-a-single-black-spot” man would unite her with her husband.
She felt him before she saw him. Her stony heart seemed to come to life. Was it really happening? She thought happily. Has her day of redemption finally arrived?
She was scared of hoping too soon because she had experienced many disappointments in the last few years, as the 1000-year curse neared its end, as she waited for the ideal man to free her from her stony curse.
But today was different. She could feel the power of his pure being. As he came into view, she realized he was not alone. There was Sage Vishwamitra and another young man walking alongside her redeemer.
Her eyes, after a fleeting, uninterested glance at the other two, gazed with revered love at him, the one she had been waiting for, for many centuries. He was here, finally.
“Am I too far away from his path?” “Will his feet touch me?”
“I wish I could jump and put myself at his feet? What if he misses me? Who knows when he will return on this path?”
As she worried herself to death (she laughed to herself at this ironic thought), she heard Sage Vishwamitra say, “Do you know why I chose this path to go to Mithila, Rama?”
“No, sir, I do not. But whatever you tell us to do, we are ready for it,” replied Rama speaking on behalf of his younger brother, Lakshmana too.
Pointing out to a large boulder that seemed to have the shape of a kneeling woman, the wise sage said, “This is Ahalya.”
“What! This weird looking stone?” Lakshmana asked incredulously.
The sage smiled and said, “Yes, this very stone. She was cursed by her husband many years ago. She has been waiting for redemption for a thousand years.”
Then he turned to the stone and said, “The day has come, Ahalya. Prince Rama of Ayodhya, the blemishless man is here to undo Sage Gautama’s curse.” Ahalya wanted to jump with joy, her stony form preventing her from doing so. She had worried needlessly.
Sage Vishwamitra knew what he was doing. She had been watching the revered sage going about his work in these dense jungles for many years now. Occasionally he would stand next to her and look at her with interest.
A few days ago, he had come close to her and said, “I’m going to bring him. Your days of waiting are over.” That’s when she realized he had always known about her.
As promised, he brought her redeemer. The young prince’s face shone with a powerful, divine radiance. He came to her and touched her gently with his feet.
And lo and behold, she came to life. She bent low to touch his feet. But he stopped her and said, “I didn’t do anything, Mother Ahalya. I’m merely following Guru Vishwamitra’s instructions. As a wise and pure elder, you must bless us.” So saying, Rama and Lakshmana fell at Ahalya’s feet.
Just then, Sage Gautama appeared, and the couple happily left for their abode.
“My dear lord, Mother Sita is pure. You should not doubt her. She doesn’t deserve to do the Agni-Pareeksha to prove her chastity. You know this as much as we do,” pleaded Hanuman, the foremost Vanara, even as Lakshmana and the Vanara warriors stood by helplessly.
“I know it better than you, my friend. But I’m bound by societal expectations. My duty as a king to my innumerable subjects goes way above my duty as a huband to one woman. The Agni-Pareeksha will proclaim her chastity to the world, loudly and clearly. No one will dare to raise his finger against me or my family,” replied Rama.
“There are so many other ways to do that, Rama.” A female voice said from behind.
Rama turned around. “Mother Ahalya,” and bowed reverently to her.
She continued, “An entire army is at your bidding. Hanuman has seen how Sita lived in Ashoka Vana, away from all the luxuries that Ravana tried to entice her with. One word from you would stop the world in its tracks if it tried to pollute the good lady’s or your family name.”
“Maybe you’re right. But that would be my word. This test will be proof of her word.” Rama said stubbornly. With a sad yet meaningful smile on her face, Ahalya disappeared, unable to stop Rama from making his beloved, chaste wife go through the test of fire.
After the Pattabhisheka celebrations at Ayodhya, Rama and Sita were on their way to Mithila. Sita wanted to spend some time in her parents’ home. Rama came along to drop her off. He also wanted to spend some time alone with her. Could he get her to love him back the way she did before?
Alone in the carriage, Rama tried to make conversation with his beloved wife. She replied in monosyllables, the way she had since that fateful day. He loved her dearly, more than anyone else. But he also knew that their relationship will never be as warm and beautiful as it was before she was kidnapped by Ravana; more so, after the Agni Pareeksha incident.
The lady who emerged unscathed from the fire that day was not the Sita he married. She had changed. He had thought she would get over the mental and emotional pain when he explained his own helplessness in the situation. But he was wrong in some ways.
Yes, she did understand his predicament and accepted his perspective. Sita was the perfect wife, the perfect daughter-in-law, the perfect sister-in-law, the perfect queen. But her heart had turned to stone. She had lost the ability to love, not just him but anyone.
He looked out of the chariot; his eyes filled with unshed tears. That’s when he realized the surroundings were familiar. Suddenly, he saw something that he recognized instantly.
“Stop the chariot,” he said, his voice unusually loud.
He got down, walked back a few feet, and stood in front of the boulder that had disappeared when his magic touch released Ahalya from a 1000-year curse. “Why is it back?” He wondered.
“Mother Ahalya,” he whispered in an uncertain voice.
“Aah! Rama, you’ve come again,” he heard Ahalya’s voice from inside the stone.
“What happened? Why are you back here?” He asked in utter astonishment.
“Oh! I was turned back to stone as soon as Sita emerged from the fire. You forgot the most important part of my redemption? It had to be a “without-a-single-black-spot” man, Rama. So now, I’m back to waiting for another blemishless man to come along. Or, do I want to become a woman again at all?”
Brahma looked down from the heavens, tears streaming down his face, wondering if the vanity he felt when he created the flawless daughter was the reason for his current suffering. He had wanted her name cast in stone not that she become a stone herself!
Kalpa – an immensely long period that covers one length of the cosmic cycle – believed to be 4320 million human years.
Devaloka – the abode of the gods whose leader is Indra.
Apsaras – incredibly beautiful celestial nymphs adorning Devaloka.
Kamandalam – an oblong water pot carried by sages.
Vanara – belonging to the monkey clan.
Ashoka Vana – the garden where Sita was held prisoner when she was kidnapped by Ravana.
Pattabhisheka – the occasion when Rama was crowned king.
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