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Ahalyaa – The Mahabhaga part – 1

Analyzing the incident through a different lens

The Background

In the Hindu Cultural Heritage, the importance of women in general and the chaste women in particular is placed at the highest level. It has been a custom to recite the names of the chestiest five (Panchakanyas), during every holy ritual. It is believed that, the chanting of the names of these Panchakanyas dispel any possible impact of negativity during holy rituals. Most the traditional families have made it a habit to recite these names as a routine every day.

The unique status attained by these chestiest women was because of their inner strength and will to withstand and overcome the unimaginable; The hardships, sacrifices, social abuses, mental agony and trauma they faced during their life time.

They exhibited great tolerance ; At the same time adhered to the ideals worth emulating under very trying circumstances making them eternal to be recalled and remembered as the ideal women, even today!!
But!! Can we really understand ordeal that these illustrious chaste women underwent? To be regarded as the ideal ones!? Can we imagine ourselves in that situation even for a moment? If we can and only when we actually get ourselves into such characters (we become such characters) – And perceive such a situation, – We can really experience the state of mind, feelings, dilemma, despair etc of such women.

With this background, my subject for this article and the main character is Ahalye the mahabhaga, the first of the Five Panchakanyas.

Oh!!! Ahalye!!!!, I wonder are there any hearts that doesn’t beat or eyes that won’t shed tears for Ahalye!?;

If we opine with a blunt NO! we are not disturbed, then we are the most inert stone than that cursed Mahabhaga Ahalye.
Well, how much are we, the present generation, aware about this Ahalye? the wife of a sage.
Why did she get the curse? Was she at fault? Ahalye was relegated to a lonely life in the hermitage where she would remain unseen and invisible.

What kind of a curse it was!!?- A curse transforming her to be an innate inert object not befitting liberation from the curse or for self-emancipation; the act was at an inappropriate time and the seducer was the deity of the heavens in disguise as Gautama -Ahalye’s husband.

Her fault was the act of co-operation at an inappropriate time. Was Ahalya’s act, an act of transgression or was it a case of individual transcendence? I have made a sincere effort to analyse, in the perspective of the Vedas and Purnanas, the circumstances which led to Ahalye incurring the curse.

Before we dwell on this, let us know the background of Ahalye, these details in no way complement to her story but it is worth noting.

Lineage of Ahalye

Her father was Mudgala Maharishi. She had a brother too, named Divodasa. She was married to the sage Gautama, she had a son too named Shatananda. Of course, none of these details do complement to this discussion on Ahalye.

The proof of the saving grace of God
Ahalye, one of the panchakanyas
Illustration by Radhika Krishna

Important to note is that it is Ramayana where she is mentioned initially (and later in the Mahabharata too). In Balakanda of Ramayana, on the way to Janaka’s court, while passing through the ruined ashram of the Sage Gautama, Rama enquires about the place and the sage Vishwamitra narrates Ahalya’s story and advises Rama to liberate from her curse. Rama enters the hermitage and with the nudge of Rama’s divine feet, Ahalye who was invisible to the world was freed from her curse and emerged back into her divine form.

The Story and the reasoning unfolds

Now please be attentive!!! The curse in itself is not an important issue of consideration; What is noteworthy to be considered here is- An innate process (natural phenomenon) that took place at a time when it was not supposed to. Was it an act of crime to incur such a curse and if so, of the two persons involved who is really condemnable for the action?

According to the generally popular story, “the celestial heaven deity Indra was infatuated with the beauty of Ahalye and desired a union with her. He played a trickery and impersonated as Gautama to enter the Ashram in sage Gautama’s absence and forced Ahalye to seduction. She complied with Indra’s desire but Sage Gautama caught them unaware and cursed them both. Ahalye was relegated to a lonely life in the hermitage where she would remain unseen and invisible.

Now let’s look at it from the perspective of Vedas to understand the depiction of Devas [Gods and Goddesses] – their main features, unique powers and specialities as described in the scriptures.

They are Iccharupis- the ones who can take any form they wish for- This was described in a similar instance of impersonation in the Nala Damayanti’s story – when Damayanti was in love with the King Nala and was to select him in the SWAYAMVARA (self-selection of the bride groom ceremony from amongst the ones present-sometimes the winner groom in an organised competition shall grace the bride)) got confused and puzzled at a line of five people all looking alike Nala.

Features of Devas

Though she knew the specialities of the Devas, she failed to make out who was real Nala. She then prayed to the Devas to present themselves in their true form and help her find her real choice as she truly loved him. At this point the powers ,specialities ,and unique features of the Devas get explained thus:

  • Devas can transform into any form at their will.
  • They don’t sweat like normal humans.
  • They do not blink like normal people.
  • The garlands that wear, never desiccates.
  • Their feet never touch the ground.
  • They are never affected by hunger, thirst, and anxiety

Hence, knowing their uniqueness, we can apply those special points here as well since the uniqueness and nature of the Devas cannot be different though the time and space may change; Isn’t it?

While Damayanti who knew the uniqueness of Devas but still failed to identify them, with her composure and wisdom won the Devas to help her identify her real Nala. Thus she proved a winner and also managed to escape the displeasure of the Devas.

But! In contrast our Ahalye? Failed in her wisdom! Or … she proved just an innocent wife of a Sage! She stumbled in identifying the change in her husband’s abnormal behaviour and demand at an inappropriate time. Despite the doubt arising in her mind as to the genuineness of the person before her, she failed to use her tact but gave in.

Did Indra really came in disguise? Read Part – 2 https://prideofbharath.in/ahalyaa-the-mahabhaga-part-2/

Illustration by : Radhika Krishna
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