She heard him calling her from far off, barely audible. Finally, someone had come looking for her. She was afraid she would probably die here, trapped! But he came…as promised.
She had shut off the world for a long time now. It was time to wake up. She could finally set her eyes on him. He had no idea how long she had waited for him…and just how desperately. She tried to open her eyes. Her eyelids felt heavy as if they were weighed down by something. The effort it took to open them nearly exhausted her. But there he was, right in front of her.
“Ahalya…! Where are you?”
Her parched lips curved into a soft smile. ‘Just turn’ she thought, too tired to speak. ‘Just turn I’m right behind you’.
“Ahalya…”His voice trailed farther off. Was he leaving? ‘No no no…don’t leave. I’m right here’
Why wouldn’t he just turn, he was wasting precious time. She didn’t have much of it left. Her eyes were shutting again, her vision blurred. She seemed to be looking at him from a long tunnel. He felt tall…really tall and far. Fear and panic crept through her veins, she could hear her heart thumping loud in her ears. Why was he leaving without her? Did he not see her? She could not stay trapped here, waiting in vain. Not again. She had waited long enough.
‘No come back…please come back’ She struggled to move or make some noise to get his attention. But she couldn’t. Her body felt heavy and rigid as if it was carved out of stones. She sighed thinking about how proud her father was of her beauty and how much he loved her. If only Brahma could see her now, rotting away, her beauty that once evoked passion and envy in men and women, falling apart piece by piece.
‘Just look back, Ram. I’m right here. Broken, trapped…Just as inhuman, cold and stonehearted as they claimed I was.’
They…Oh, how she hated them! What right did they have to judge her? What right to curse only her to this fate? How she regretted that night…one small slip of self-control. If only she had kept her senses. It had not been entirely her fault. They were just as guilty of the crime. So why was she the only one rotting away in here? Initially, she had wanted to seek revenge. But Gautam and Devendra seemed eternities away now and that fateful night, eons ago.
“Ahalya Where are you? Ahalya…”
She sensed panic and hopelessness in his voice now. ‘Ram…!’ she tried to call out to him. He was standing so close to her. If only she could reach out and touch him. ‘Ram here…I’m here’ she called out trying to move again.
But she knew he could not hear her, no one ever did. Hundreds and thousands of travellers went by this road. Most of them stopped to have a look, many even worshipped her. But none heard her pleas of help. So there was no chance Ram would.
His voice broke and tears fell rapidly from his eyes. He staggered around, looking for her. She hoped that he would recognise her. She could see him walk closer…
And suddenly she felt Ram’s feet touch her. This was the moment she was waiting for all these centuries. After a very long time, she finally felt something. As Ram’s warm trembling hand rested over her cold body, she felt the enormous weight of many centuries lifting off with his touch.
A lone tear ran down her cheek. “Ram”, she whispered his name softly and this time she knew that he heard her. He heard her because he was meant to hear her. Just as he was meant to come this way for her, to break her free of her curse. He was meant to see her for who she was. For she was not a woman enshrined in a stone…She was the daughter of the creator himself, she was the most beautiful Ahalya!
PS: This is my rendition of the famous mythological story of Ahalya or Ahilya. It’s one of the many back stories of the epic Ramayana. Ahalya also happens to be the first of the five virtuous women who are worshipped.
For those who don’t know the story, Ahalya was the most beautiful daughter of Lord Bramha. She was the wife of a much older sage Gautama Maharishi. She was seduced by Lord Devendra (the King of the Gods) in disguise of her sage husband. Following this incident, she and Devendra were cursed by Gautama for infidelity.
In the earlier narratives of the story, Ahalya sees through Indra’s disguise but still accepts his advances. The later stories portray her to be gullible. While early texts describe Ahalya’s curse to undergo severe penance while remaining invisible to the world, in the popular retelling that developed over time, she is cursed to become a stone and can regain her human form after she is brushed by Rama’s foot. Lord Indra too is cursed and loses his seed (testicles).