Taking the form of sage Gautama, King of gods Indra approached the sage’s wife Ahalya. Unsuspecting of the shameful deception being perpetrated, she yielded. Without ascertaining Ahalya’s innocence, a furious Gautama cursed her.
“Fie on you, Ahalya! Your vanity led you into committing such a grave sin. May you lose the form you are so proud of and subsist only on air. Surviving in such a manner for ages to come, may you become invisible to the world, meriting no more importance than an ordiry rock”.
Torn with pain, Ahalya cried out, “Without inquiring into the truth, you have cursed me. And you have not even the consideration to specify when I shall be free from it. Tell me, when will the curse be lifted and how?”
Somewhat contrite, Gautama told her she would be redeemed by the dust from Lord Vishnu’s feet when he set foot in the ashrama.” Forsaking her famed beauty, Ahalya vanished from the eyes of the world.
Sage Gautama left his hermitage. Long and far he wandered, trying to settle down and get into his daily rituals. He struggled to bring his mind under control, but to no avail. Peace of mind had left him.
As the sage thought deeply over what was troubling him, realization sank in. Without proper enquiry, he had cursed his wife, who in turn had stoically accepted her punishment. Ahalya was a great ascetic herself, so her fate must have brought on a curse upon him as well.
Gautama then resolved to propitiate Lord Shiva, for he divined that only by seeing the taraja dance would he find salvation. He headed towards Chidambaram. There he heard an ethereal voice saying, “I shall be pleased to give you darshan of my Tandava dance in Trisulapura.”
As he drew near Trisulapura, Gautama’s mind began to clear. There he stayed, doing severe pence. At last, Lord Shiva was pleased and gave him darshan of his taraja dance in the month of Dhanus when the Ardra star was predomint. The sage’s mind was filly at rest.
Thousands of years passed. And then deliverance came for Ahalya. Lord Vishnu descended on Earth in Rama avatar. One day, Rama, Lakshma and sage Vishwamitra came visiting the forsaken hermitage. Purified by the dust of Rama’s feet, Ahalya was redeemed. The story of her pence would reverberate in the succeeding ages.
In the discourses that followed, many asked whether this was at all a story of infidelity. Did Ahalya really turn into stone? And the sages explained that Indra, after all, represents our five indriyan or senses. So when the senses took control of Ahalya, her spiritual powers waned.
Advised by her husband, the great sage Gautama, Ahalya allowed her mind to grow inert as a stone. Thereby all the indriyas are kept inside for a purpose — a materialistic mind always reacts, while a stable mind watches. A seeker who has all senses under control, can see how the mind plays tricks in making its owner believe all that it wants.
Having done this pence for long, Ahalya was ready to glimpse the Supreme Godhead. At Sri Rama’s darshan, her mind at last regained its awareness of the Self.