I was not born. I was created by Brahma, the supreme creator. I was born out of his urge for perfection, an urge to create a being so faultless that even the Gods and Rishis would not be able to resist the charm. He gave me a face as fresh as a dew drop and a body as lissome as the deer. He gave me hair as rich as silk and skin as sweet as honey. He gave me eyes as deep as the ocean and lips delicate yet full as rose petals. He named me Ahilya – the one without a blemish.
Bramha knew that he cannot trust anyone with me unless he was someone who had gained absolute control over his desire. One who had mastered his senses through the force of Tapa. One who would not be enamored by my beauty as I grew from an innocent girl to a luscious young woman. And there was only one who came to his mind – Rishi Gautam. A man who stood like a mountain amongst all wise men, a tapasvi who had won over nature itself and a sage who had conquered all follies which differentiate Gods and men.
I stayed in Rishi Gautams Ashram for a number of years, till I blossomed into a young woman and it was time for the Rishi to take me back to Bramha. Bramha was pleased with his creation when he saw me and praised the Rishi for living up to his word. By now the word had spread of me being the most beautiful girl in the three worlds. Apsaras, Devas and Kinnars competed just to have a look at me. Every suitor worth his while wanted to marry me for they knew that it was not only my beauty that was ethereal, it was also my intelligence and sanskaras which were of the highest order. Brahma threw a challenge – the one who can get around the earth faster than the others would be worthy of my hand. He also requested Rishi Gautum to consider the challenge as he thought the Rishi was most suited to be my groom.
Indra had been upset with Brahma when he had asked Rishi Gautum to take care of me. He believed that the greatest beauties were for his pleasure as apsaras and I should have been no different. The fact that I was much more beautiful and adept in fine arts than any of his apsaras had only added to his envy. The day came for the challenge and at Brahmas call all the devtas including Indra started their journey around the earth. Indra was helped by his fellow Devas and went about as fast as the wind could carry him. He arrived proudly to the starting point leaving all other Devas and Kings far behind, only to find Rishi Gautum standing there already. He was astounded when Brahma declared Rishi Gautum the winner. Rishi Gautum had gone around Kamdhenu( the cow) while she was giving birth and as per the Vedas this was equivalent to going around the earth. Indra was not pleased with the judgment but did not have the courage to question Bramha’s verdict. Brahma gave my hand to Rishi Gautum and I was married to him in a simple ceremony amidst the chanting of Mantras with the entire bramhalok as the witness. At the wedding I did see Indra. He was the God of Gods and yet looked so miserable with hatred in his eyes and revenge on his mind. I was joyful that I was going back amongst my friends in the ashram where I had spent all these years growing up. I was also proud of my fate. Not everyone got the blessing of living in Rishi Gautum’s revered company. I pledged to serve my master with my mind, body and soul.
Time flies and it did so at the Ashram. The daily routine took over – cooking, cleaning, taking care of the cows, fetching water from the river, arranging for the various Yagnas and watching the young students grow in their pursuit of knowledge. Rishi Gautum was completely committed to his life of austerity and high learning. Moments of togetherness for us were few, if any, and love was more of a duty than an emotion. Even at night I was not an object of desire to the Rishi. We would touch each other but not caress , we would kiss but not with hunger, we would match each other’s rhythm but without any wild passion, we would consummate but without carnal pleasure. Sometimes I felt guilty that I was seeking enjoyment from the sacred act of copulation meant to preserve the life force and not to spend it.
One day, while taking a bath I almost blushed looking at my own image in the river. I had discovered my womanhood in the companionship of my master. My beauty reached its fullness- in the curves around my waist and in the swell of my bosom. I felt my limbs to be firm and capable as the flesh under my skin made them more succulent. My hair was thick and long and was accentuated by curls around my face. The sense that someone was watching overwhelmed me with an unknown feeling. It was not fear. It was something amusing, something pleasant.
Pride is what we think of ourselves and vanity is what we think others think of us. On that fateful day destiny taught me a lesson – one must lose their pride for the sin of indulging in ones vanity.
It was a day like any other teeming with life in the forest. The river Ganga which flowed on the edge of the ashram blessed it with peace and serenity. The flowers swayed to the slight wind impregnated with the divine scent of smoke from the Yagnashala. The old Pipal tree was looking after the pupils who chanted verses from the Vedas in unison. The deer along with their young ones frolicked around carelessly knowing well that they are protected in this sanctuary of peace. The able Guru, Rishi Gautum, supervised the activities. He commanded respect for his knowledge and was loved for his compassion. I was filled with a sense of well being which had become second nature now. But somewhere deep down I felt anxious as if something was amiss, something was not right. I brushed the uneasiness aside and went about my daily chores. Soon I was joyful and contended again.
The day begins in the ashram early with first ray of sun prompting the chirping of birds. It ends too with the sun’s last rays as the birds come home to their nests. Sandhya, the evening prayers were performed by all inmates in the ashram and by the time the moon came up everyone retired to begin yet another day of meditation, learning and hard work. Rishi Gautam came back to our hut after having his evening bath in the river. He was wearing only his white dhoti and Janeu(sacred thread). His hair still wet touched his shoulders and a few drops of water shone like pearls in the light of the lamp. His firm frame highlighted by his taut muscles looked divine. My instinct took over and I was filled with desire. He was the Rishi or Rishis for everyone else but for me he was my husband. He looked at me with his loving eyes as I served him the simple food I had cooked. When he was half done,he said to me “ Ahilya why don’t you join me. It’s been a while since we had food together. The kheer is delicious but it won’t taste as good when it gets cold.” It was these small things that made me love my master. He was knower of the supreme truth and yet he cared for the most trivial bits if it could make someone happy. I sat beside him and we had our food relishing the taste of food and of each other’s company.
As we lay on the bed, the yearning in me grew stronger. It was always the Rishi who made the first move and it would have been incongruous if I did. I was caught in a dilemma – while my body craved for his love, my mind held me back. All I could do was to seek his attention. While he sat on the bed waiting for me I let my hair loose and took off my stole. I removed my jewelery taking time while I slyly stole glances to have a look at the Rishi. He was looking at me but I did not see longing in his eyes, just pure love. As I lay besides him he drew himself close and ran his hands through my hair. Every little touch made me dizzy with excitement. Every fragment of my body could recall the moments of our union when his body crushed mine and screams of ecstasy escaped my lips. My heart was beating fast in anticipation. The act of love was not the same for me and him. While I still sought pleasure, I knew it was a sense of duty for my husband who was beyond the bondage of sensuality. He kissed me gently on my forehead and said “I will always be indebted to Brahma for your companionship. You are a godsend to me and to this ashram. I cannot imagine a life without your love and devotion. You can ask me any favor you want anytime and I will grant it to you.” He turned his back to me and went to sleep. I could not rest. All kind of thoughts kept running through my mind. I had always thanked my stars for the privilege of being the wife of wisest and most respected man in the world. But at that moment I felt robbed of something that was rightfully mine. Tears rolled down my cheeks – the craving of my heart had overpowered the sagacity of my mind. My body ached as I stood up to tie my hair and waited for the morning to free me from the conflict.
I must have slept in my reverie. The rooster crowed signaling the break of dawn much earlier than what I thought was morning. Rishi Gautum woke up and started preparing for his bath which he took every morning at the river. I should have got up but felt a bit lazy as I was not able to sleep well in the night. The storm of desire in me had waned with only a few signs of turbulence remaining. The first rays of sun would calm them down too.
Just as I stood up and started to roll the bed, I heard footsteps near the door. I turned to check who was there when the door opened and I saw Rishi Gautum standing there. I was surprised to see him and asked :
“Dev, did you forget something ? How come you are back so early ?”
The Rishi had a smile on his face. He said “ Yes my dear I did forget something. I forgot you.”
He came closer to me and held my face in his hands “I forgot that you are the most beautiful woman in the world. I forgot about your love for me. I forgot how your body craves for mine” One of his hands was behind my neck and the other was around my waist clutching it to bring my hips forward to meet his manhood. I could feel his heavy breathing laden with an urge to consume my entire being. He pulled my neck towards his face as his lips met mine. He devoured with a hunger I had never know existed kissing me madly on my face, my nape and on my exposed shoulders. I was too bewildered for a reaction. My body gave in even as my mind raced to come to terms with what was happening. There was nothing unnatural about a man loving his wife but certainly there was something unusual. As the Rishi forced me on the half rolled bed and began to untie my clothing I resisted his moves and said “Dev, won’t we get delayed for the morning prayers? The students would be waiting for you” He didn’t pay heed to me and persisted to untie the knot of my blouse. He let my hair loose and smelled them as one would smell the sweetness of fresh flowers. He pulled away the blouse revealing my breasts .His hand glided over caressing my fullness as my eyes met his. They were full of lust, greed and indulgence. It was a face colored with the darkness of animal instinct. I had never seen my husband this way and a wave of uneasiness ran through me. I managed a whisper – You can’t be my Dev. Who are you? But when his famished lips fed on me satiating their ravenous hunger I was overpowered by a sensual ecstasy unknown to me. He started moving down and bit me softly at the curve of my waist, his hands clawing my thighs as they moved up. His lips found my navel as his cheeks brushed against my belly. In his trance like state he mumbled “ This is what I had waited for so long. It never felt so good before. No one in the three worlds can match your beauty Ahilya, not even my apsaras”
I could barely believe my ears ! My hands and feet trembled and my mind froze for a moment. When I came back I was filled with an intense feeling of hatred, deceit and guilt. Gathering myself I tried to pull away but Indra was too strong for me. He realized that his disguise had been given away so he tried to cajole me “ Ahilya I was the one who deserved you, not that Brahmin who lives in the forest and does not know the meaning of love. I can give you the best of three worlds and he does not even understand the cravings of a woman. I know how you have restrained yourself. I can set you free. You will know what it means to be living” I prayed to Goddess Shakti and with all my strength pushed Indra. He fell on his back as I rushed away and put my hands on my chest to hide my modesty. I knew I had to be strong. If I let myself sink in the sea of emotions raging within me the beast in front of me would take over. I held back my tears and challenged Indra “ I had seen lust in your eyes the day you first looked at me but I never thought that you would stoop to such a level. If you had the courage you should have challenged Brahma and not sneak in like a snake taking the form of my husband. You talk of love but you are not even worth my hatred” Indra stood up and took away his disguise. He snarled “I am the God of Gods O’ pompous one. You think you can shame me and get away with it. I will make you fall in the eyes of your husband whom you think is beyond human folly.” He pounced upon me and grabbed me, his grip pulling me forward as his lips sought mine.
Just then there was a sound near the door. It was Rishi Gautam. He was cursing “ Somdev you have conspired against me by making the sound of rooster even before it was dawn. What made you do this treacherous thing? Had it not been for mother Ganga who warmed me of what was going on I would not have been able to show my face to anyone.” The moon begged for forgiveness “ It was Indra. I could not disobey his command.” The Rishi did not yield and went on to hit the Moon “ You are very proud of your face. From now on, this spot would always be a reminder of your dark deed and you will have to live with it till eternity”
He opened the door and was aghast to see the scene inside. Indra was holding my half clothed body in his arms, his face bent over me. He was sure that Indra must have sneaked in at my behest and shuddered in anger. He raised his Kamandal and poured water in his hand while chanting a mantra. First he threw the water at Indra and roared “ You rogue ! May you not have the power to enjoy the pleasure you so desperately seek and have what you want in abundance so you can be identified with it.” Indra instantly had Yonis all over his body and was rendered impotent.
The Rishi then turned to me and thundered “ Your senses are the root cause of your desire which has born this evil. May you become a rock devoid of all senses so you can repent your sins in isolation” I begged of him that I was innocent and thought Indra to be him but he did not take back his curse. I reminded him of his statement to grant me a favor when I asked him. Bound by his words he put a condition for my deliverance – when Lord Vishnu takes the avatar of Rama and passes by the ashram, I shall be freed by the touch of his feet.
No one questioned the wisdom of Rishi Gautum who could not sift between right and wrong possessing the power Tapa which was unparalleled in the Universe. Could he not see from his omniscient eyes that I was tricked by Indra? Could Bramha my father not come to my rescue and save me from the unwarranted wrath of my husband? I was perhaps guilty of indulgence in my vanity but did it mean that I had to robbed of my Pride too ?
I waited for eons for Lord Ram to absolve me of my curse and he did set me free by lending his grace so I could touch his feet. But would I ever get back what I lost? The generations to come would always think of me as an infidel adulteress who cheated on her saintly husband. My real curse was not that I became a rock.
My real curse was that I was born a woman – produced, protected, plundered and liberated by man.