Mythology for the Millennial: Anasuya's story deserves to be told, not forgotten in the margins of myths

It all boils down to sex in the end, doesn't it? How much you want it, how much you don't want it, how you want it, where you want it, why you don't want it, it's humanity's endless question, everyone's curious about everyone else's sex lives, about what it would be like with so-and-so, even the gods were not immune to this experimenting. Which brings us to Anasuya.

Anasuya is one of the Chaste Women of Hindu mythology: a group that famously includes Ahalya (accidentally slept with Indra thinking it was her husband), Draupadi (five husbands but loyal to all of them), Kunti (impotent husband, so she slept with gods in order to give him sons) and Tara and Mandodari (both of whom married their dead husband's brothers). Anasuya stands a little apart from these women though, because she was so pious, she became kind of magical in her own right. In the Ramayana, where she makes a cameo appearance when Ram and Sita appear at her husband's ashram in the Chitrakuta forest, she gives Sita a magic ointment to make her beautiful forever — a Forest Essential as it were.

Anasuya was born to sacrifice. Her dad, Kardama, was a famous sage, said to be one of Brahma's mind babies — born out of that god's head, in a similar fashion to the Greek goddess Athena rising from Zeus. Meanwhile, the first man Manu and the first woman Satarupa were searching for a match for their daughter Devahuti, which I guess is hard to do when you are the only people on the planet?

Mythology for the Millennial: Anasuyas story deserves to be told, not forgotten in the margins of myths

Anusaya. From A Bhagavata Purana manuscript page depicting the story of Atri and Anasuya meeting the Trimurti.(Paper, late 18th century, Jaipur). Image via Wikimedia Commons

Sidebar: but I'm not sure how all those people came out of just two people, just like I'm not sure what happened with Adam and Eve in the Bible either. One day, there are only two people and they have babies, I can do the math, but... what happens after that? Where do all the other new people come from? (Is it the obvious answer? Please don't let it be the obvious answer.) You'd think all these creators would have thought about genetics and tossed another few people in there to mix up the gene pool.

Anyhow, Kardama was all for this marriage (with Devahuti) because he had really wanted Vishnu to be born to him as his son, and for that, he needed a lady — and said lady happened to be really beautiful and devout and not too high maintenance, just what you need for an ashram hang. Kardama was not so far gone that he didn't impose a condition on his marriage though: as soon as the Vishnu-son was born, Kardama would leave them all and go off and meditate. At least it was in the pre-nup.

Anasuya was born from this marriage — nine daughters before that one son — and her sisters and she were married off to various sages, going their separate ways. Anasuya's husband was the sage Atri, who is credited with writing large parts of the Rig Veda, but Anasuya's story is less academic. While her husband was writing and praying, she attracted the attention of the holy trinity: Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, and there are two versions of a story where they try to seduce her.

The first version is much gorier: they all approach her, and make bawdy remarks, she rejects them, even though she's a little afraid of saying no to the gods. For good reason too: after the rejection, they violate her anyway. She curses them all: Shiva will only be worshipped as a lingam, Brahma as a head and Vishnu as feet. Also, they have to be reborn as her sons, so she can have some power over them, I guess?

In the second version of the story: the gods' wives are driven into a jealous frenzy by that sage-troublemaker Narada, who goes on about how beautiful and virtuous she is. So they tell their husbands to go and make her break her wedding vows, which the husbands gladly do. They appear as three brahmins and ask Anasuya for a meal. Now because of the old rules about guests being gods and all of that, Anasuya had to follow all their requests, which in this case was that she had to serve them lunch in the nude. Anasuya then puts a spell on them, turning them into babies who had to be collected by their wives later, and the gods agreed to be born to her for real.

One last Anasuya story, since I have become slightly obsessed with her during my research: there was once this guy who fell in love with a prostitute, despite having a really lovely and charming wife. (Women of Ancient India! Ditch those useless men!) The prostitute dumped him after he got “leprosy” (which I think was really syphilis) and his wife took him back — more fool her. But! This ungrateful man — Kaushik, his name was — couldn't stop thinking of the prostitute and asked his wife — his wife — to help him see her again, which again, she agreed to, making me judge her a little bit. On the way there, he tripped over a sage who was impaled on a spike (tl;dr — was mistaken for a thief) and the sage cursed him, as sages do, to die before the next sunrise. The wife was so upset, she stormed the heavens so that the sun wouldn't rise, Anasuya came to the rescue, restored the sun and that Kaushik fellow making for a happy ending. Well, for almost everyone; I imagine the wife (who remains unnamed in this story) had to once again deal with her husband's philandering ways.

She stormed the heavens, she denied the gods, she brought a river down to earth, and all the while she cooked and cleaned (Please. Like Atri was going to do it himself), raised their kids and stayed in the background: I think we should all talk more about Anasuya instead of leaving her forgotten in the margins of the myths.

Read more from the 'Mythology for the Millennial' series here.

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of several books, including The One Who Swam with the Fishes: Girls of the Mahabharata. She tweets @reddymadhavan

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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2019 09:48:06 IST

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