The story of Ahalya is narrated to Sri Ram and Lakshman by Sage Vishwamitra as they pass through the forest towards Mithila. Eons before Sri Ram, the great Sage Gautam and his wife Ahalya, lived in the forest and practiced rigorous austerities. Once, in the absence of Gautam rishi, Indra disguises himself in the rishi’s form, and entices Ahalya. He proclaims his desire to seek union with her. In spite of recognising his true identity, Ahalya sets her heart upon him in her eagerness to embrace the ruler of gods.
With her inner self gratified through her union with Indra, she asks him to leave before the sage arrives. Just as Indra is departing, the Sage enters the cottage drenched in holy water, blazing like fire, carrying fuel and blades of Kusha grass for his sacred rites. Indra stands with his head lowered on meeting the man endowed with tremendous spiritual powers because of his intense penance. Seeing Indra in disguise and guilty of misconduct, the sage shakes with anger and curses Indra, thereby emasculating him. Rishi Gautam then turns towards Ahalya and curses her to live for a thousand years without food or water, living on air alone and lying in ashes, full of remorse. She is to remain in the hermitage unperceived by all beings just like a stone, getting redemption only when Sri Ram’s gaze falls upon her.
As he listens to the story, Sri Ram’s eyes fall on the desolate grove where Ahalya remains inert. His grace restores her original form. She then washes Sri Ram’s feet and serves the brothers selflessly. Pleased with her service, the Lord blesses her and the heavens rejoice. Ahalya then joins her husband and he gladly accepts her.
Unrighteous indulgence leads to a stone-like existence. Even if one has lived life in inertia and tamas for a long time, it can be overcome through noble and selfless deeds of love and service to those around us and indeed through a life of piety and prayer.
A cave remains in darkness for years on end but the moment a match is struck the same cave is filled with light. Similarly, a single glance from Lord Ram brought back Ahalya’s pristine glory. The instance a seeker makes a firm resolve to attain knowledge; his ignorance is automatically shunned away.