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AHALYA

Translated from the original Malayalam by Thara Ravindran

The Malayalam version of this poem won the Kerala Kavi Samajam (Poets Association of Kerala) Award in 1995.  

The story of Ahalya as told in the Raamaayana                                              

Sage Gautama lived with his beautiful wife Ahalya,
who was the first woman created by Brahma.
One day, Indra, the god of heaven,   crowed like
a cockerel near the aashrama. Thinking it was time
for his ritual bath and prayer, Gautama went to the
holy Ganges nearby. During the sage’s absence
from the aashrama, Indra entered it disguised as
Gautama. Ahalya was not deceived by the
impersonation, but vain of her beauty, she lost
her judgment and yielded to his desire.
Gautama returned immediately after this incident,
having finished his ablutions in the holy Ganges.
Pretence was hopeless before that all-seeing wisdom.
Looking at his wife, Gautama cursed,
"You shall stay here turned into a rock unseen by
anyone. After a long time, Dasaratha’s son will pass
this way and you will be freed from my curse when
he sets foot on you. Then you will recover your lost
virtue and get back your own beauty."

 

With shattered dreams
like drooping lotus petals
stood Ahalya
before sage Gautama
like a withered petal
of an exotic flower –
her trembling heart
heavy, laden with sins.

The god from heaven
nestled by celestials
crowed somewhere
around the hermitage
in the guise of a cockerel.

Alone you approached me,
having seen the sage
leave for his dip
in the cool waters
of the holy Ganges.

When in a sweet, lazy slumber
you embraced me and left
comes the sage before me
knowing all;
I trembled.

Here I lay in the valley
where saints,
the seekers of eternal truth,
once wandered,
turned into a stone
in this woods
by Gautama’s wrath;

Neither dusk nor dawn noticed.
My deliverance at long last came
from the raging sage:
Freed thou shall be
by prince Rama,
Dasaratha’s son,
he shall come this way
from Ayodhya,
Viswamitra by his side.

Awaiting, listening
for your footsteps
treading on distant land,
for eons I lay
in this woods
holding my breath.

Roses bloomed around here
withered and were gone;
So were the sweet memories
fading like dreams.

Yet to this day, O prince!
I lay in wait for your arrival
a lamp alit
in the sanctum of my heart.

When at last your feet tread
on this cold stone
will I resurrect – me, Ahalya ,
and seek a new life.

Stealing a sight, savouring,
the hermit shall sing:
Glory to thee!
We shall meet again.

Haven’t I seen them all,
these saffron-clad ones?
Haven’t I heard the resonance
of their brows
like arrows from bows?

You stand before me
with the unsatiable hunger
filling your eyes – of lust,
fingers running through
your graying beard ;
And I shall ask myself:
Do I want this life again?

No, take this life back please,
this wretched life,
meant to please them
with its warmth and cold.
A stone shall I remain forever
relishing in my sweet slumber.

 

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