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Ahalya (Sanskrit: अहल्या Ahalyā, Tamil: Akalikai, Thai: Kala Acana, Malay: Dewi Indera) was the wife of Gautama Maharishi. The word Ahalya means without any deformation. Her story is mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana. After she is seduced by Indra through trickery (by appearing in the form of her husband), Gautama cursed her to suffer tapas (austere penance); some versions of the story say she was made invisible or was turned to stone (Refer Tulasi Das version below). She was liberated by Rama.

Creation and marriage

Brahma created Ahalya as the most beautiful woman. All the Devas wanted to marry her. Brahma decided that whoever could go around the three worlds first could marry Ahalya. Indra used all his magical powers to go around the three worlds, finally reaching Brahma to take the hand of Ahalya.

However Narada mentioned to Brahma that Gautama had in fact gone around the three worlds even before Indra. Narada explained that as part of the daily puja, Gautama went around the cow at his hermitage. On one of the days when he went around doing his puja, the cow gave birth to a calf. As per the Vedas, the cow at the time of bearing a calf is equal to three worlds, hence Ahalya must be given to Gautama and not Indra.

Curse and liberation

Rama and Lakshmana first came across the hermitage of Ahalya on their way to Mithilapuri with Sage Vishwamitra. They inquired about the hermitage to the Sage who told them about Ahalya's story. He states that Indra tricked Ahalya into sleeping with him, but was caught by Gautama. What happened after this varies in different version of Ramayana.

Gautama cursed Indra to have marks of the female sexual organ (vulva) all over body. Indra did severe penance toward Shiva. Shiva gave him the boon to convert that mark of female organ to that of eye. From that day Indra is called sahasraksha, one with thousand eyes. Gautama turned towards Ahalya and cursed her to become a stone. After this Gautama left the hermitage.

Later after several years, Rama and Lakshmana while going to Mithilapuri with Sage Vishwamitra saw this hermitage. They enquired about the hermitage to the Sage who told them about Ahalya.

Rama and Lakshmana entered the hermitage and saw the stone in the mud. Rama touched the stone with his foot. The stone changed into the beautiful Ahalya who had become pure and understood her sins, and Rama blessed Ahalya.

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AHALYA's Timeline

Ayodhya, Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, India

When Rama was sixteen, a holy sage named Vishwamitra came to Ayodhya and asked the young prince to go with him to the forest. The forest dwellers needed help to destroy the wild rakshasas who were deliberately disturbing the quiet devotions of the holy hermits. Accompanied by his devoted brother Lakshmana, Rama went with Vishwamitra. No sooner had they entered the forest than they met the accursed rakshasi Tataka. Vishwamitra told Rama to kill her, but Rama hesitated because Tataka was a woman. But, persuaded that her dreadful deeds deserved the most dire punishment, and observing that she was then charging at him in unruly wrath, Rama shot an arrow (9). It pierced her hard heart. She fell down dead. This was Rama’s first victory against the rakshasa raiders. Thereupon, Vishwamitra took Rama aside and, while Lakshmana stood by, taught him the mastery of celestial spells and wondrous weapons (11).
The great sage Vishvamitra was living in the area near the forest of Tataka and was doing penance and yajna with his disciples and was tormented by Tataka and her sons. Unable to tolerate the menace any longer, Vishvamitra approached Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya for help. He requested Dasharatha to send his eldest son, Rama to protect his yajna. Though Dasharatha was initially reluctant to send his 13-year old boy, he finally sent Rama and his younger brother Lakshmana with Vishvamitra on the advice of the royal guru Vashishtha. Vishvamitra trained them in warfare and taught them various mantras.[2][3][4]
When Vishvamitra and the princes were passing through the forest of Tataka, Tataka attacked them. Rama, aided by Lakshamana, slew her with his arrow. Vishvamitra blessed Rama, as the gods rejoiced the end of Tataka. The sage gifted him with divine weapons as a reward. Vishvamitra then began his six-day yajna, with the princes standing in guard.[2][3][4]
While the first five days passed without incidence, on the sixth day the sacrificial fire suddenly falters, indicating trouble. Maricha and his brother Subahu, with a hoard of a rakshasas, appeared from tree tops like black clouds, roaring and making lot of noise. They tried to destroy the yajna fire showering blood and flesh. Rama fired hisManavastra (human missible arrow) from his bow. The arrow stroke Maricha's chest and threw him hundred leagues away in the ocean. In another version, Maricha fled to the ocean just by hearing the sound of Rama's bow. Subahu and the other demons were killed by Rama, using various other weapons. The sacrifice was completed successfully.[1][5][6][7] Under the guidance of Vishvamitra, Rama gets wed to Sita, the adopted daughter of Janaka and the princess of Mithila.

One day, traveling North, the trio saw a miracle. A beautiful lady saint named Ahalya had been separated from her husband by a curse. She had been condemned to remain invisible and immobile in one place while her husband wandered elsewhere. The curse could only be broken by Rama. As soon as he entered the place where Ahalya stayed unseen, unmoving, the curse was lifted. As Rama and Lakshmana looked on, caught by surprise, Ahalya regained her former shape, and she began to shine with luminous beauty (13). Moments later she was reunited with the sage who was her faithful husband.