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That day dawned like just any other with me getting up before the brahma muhurta and beginning the day's chores. Our ashram, because of its proximity to Mithila, used to receive a number of visitors - kings, rishis, vedic pundits and common men. RIshi Gautama was very particular that anyone entering the ashram should be courteously received and offered something to eat- before he is asked the purpose of hi s visit. As you can imagine it was not an easy task to run the ashram.
By the time the rishi was up and awake I would have made half a dozen trips to the river and back- filling the water pots and collecting firewood. During the initial days after marriage I would be scared of walking down to the river in the wee hours of the morning- since the path was infested with snakes and scorpions. Sometime later RIshi Gautama called me to him and taught me a few mantras which he said would give me protection from poisonous creatures. How he came to know of my problem I never knew, since I had kept my fears to myself. But it was just one of the many many instances where his love and concern for me came through.
Ours was marriage like no other. While, for the rest of the world, he was rishi of unmatched intellect and prowess, to me he was a loving and caring husband. He would often signal me to sit beside him during one of his late evening discourses. And I in turn had totally surrendered myself to him. He nurtured me with his love and I nourished him with my devotion. Through every gesture, he would reassure me that his protection would always be with me. And, I, through every word and action, tried to convey that my heart and soul belonged to him and no one else. This was how our lives were- before Indra and after Indra.
That Indra took the form of Rishi Gautama and entered the ashram is well known. And subsequent generations have been taught to believe that he sought company with me in bed and I obliged. I would like to ask those who believe this story- wouldn't I have sensed something was wrong just then itself? I had been married for so many years, I even had a son and never once had my husband strayed from the moral code of conduct prescribed by the scriptures. Early mornings were meant for prayers and rituals not for lovemaking. Would I have given in to my husband's desires so easily without realizing something was wrong somewhere.
But we need not go so far. What actually happened was that Indra's disguise did not even last a second. There was no place for dishonesty and deceit in Rishi Gautam's ashram. My years of service and devotion to my lord shattered Indra's disguise in no time and he stood in front of me in his real self, eyes downcast. Incensed I was that he had dared to take my revered husband's form, I was about to curse him when one of the ashram lads peeped through the window and saw Indra and me.
In my husband's absence.
Nothing could have been worse.
By the time Rishi Gautam returned to the ashram, the place was abuzz with the news that the rishi patni and the king of devas had been spotted together in the rishis' hut. I tried to explain, but my mouth was dry. I could not offer any defence. But looking into my husband's eyes, I realized I did not have to . Others may have thought me guilty- but I could see that Rishi Gautama believed me implicitly. I breathed easy.
Not surprisingly,the first thing he did was to curse Indra -which is well known- to lose his masculinity and honour. He could have cursed him something worse, but that would have robbed the rishi of all his spiritual powers.
He needed to retain some of his powers. To curse me.
He said, for the transgression I had committed, I would have to turn into a stone. I wanted to beg him to give me a chance to explain, but his flashing eyes told me to keep quiet. I obeyed. He further announced that he would be leaving the ashram and his disciples should prepare for the shifting. I was shocked. Stunned. Numbed. To be punished by own husband, when even he knew I was innocent?
When was it that the rishi actually left I don't recall, but I do have vague memories of his palm caressing my head and assuring me that as always, he had acted in my best interests. For the first time, I turned my face away.
But since then, I have understood. At that point my honour and chastity were under question. The simple fact that I had been seen in the company of a stranger when my husband was not around was enough to question the sanctity of my character. And there was no way to prove that I was innocent. And my husband knew that no amount of defence, would shut people's mouths. Till the end of my life I would have to bear insults, gossip and censure. It was at that moment that my husband took his decision. My honour would have to be protected at all costs. No matter what price he had to pay.
People say that he cursed me into a stone. For the world it seemed he was punishing me. But that was the best thing he did. By turning me into a stone he ensured that I would not be affected by the idle gossip, the condemnation and the blame. He went away from me so that people would not have a chance to say that Rishi Gautam placed wife before his dharma. By turning me into a stone, by making me incapable of emotions, he ensured that I would be able to bear the separation.
If he wanted to really abandon me, he could have just sent me away. Yet, he left me in the sanctuary of the ashram with all the powers of his tapas to protect me.
One thing that he said before leaving is etched in my mind indelibly. He said that he would find a way to restore my honour. His spiritual powers had been weakened because of the dual curses on Indra and me. He said he would now go to the distant Himalayas to perform severe tapas and if he gained any spiritual merit out of them, he would ask Lord Vishnu himself to come and redeem my honour. Because it is only when a God certifies that I was made a victim and that my character is untainted will people respect me once again.
People say that it was my through my prayers that Lord Vishnu , in the form of Rama came and rescued me- but being a stone how could I do that? It was the power of my husband's tapas that made the Lord come to me.
As if to silence the world, Rishi Gautam later on went on to write the Nyaya shastra in which he explains the importance of logical thinking, of evidence, argument, proof and judgement.
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