The myth of Ahalya has generated enough controversy both in the feminist world as well as against the so-called Aryan-supremacy. But can we scratch the veneer of myth and see if it has any other meaning?
According to the myth from Ramayana, Ahalya was very beautiful and also the wife of the sage Gautama. She was seduced by Indra through trickery, and was later cursed by the sage to become a stone (a woman who cannot understand the difference between her husband and another man, even in the dark, is no better than a stone!). Needless to say, Indra too was punished, but let’s leave his punishment for the time being.
The myth goes on to the period when Ram is passing by and Ahalya is redeemed by the touch of Ram’s foot, and gets united with her husband, sage Gautama.
How insulting for a woman who was not quite at fault and how chauvinistic of the man to redeem a woman by the touch of his foot! I’ll leave one paragraph for my feminist friends to fill up!!
Let us analyse this myth –
When we break-up the word Ahalyā, अहल्या, it has three components
A – hal – ya
Hal stands for ‘plough’, hal-ya stands for ‘plough-able’ and thus a-hal-ya stands for ‘un-plough able’.
A deep study of the myth can be understood as follows –
Ahalya could be a tract of land or a region which was considered to be barren. As part of Ram’s socio-economic reforms, during his passage, he could have been responsible for teaching the residents a method of cultivation, unknown to them till then. The barren (stone) land thus becomes fertile (alive woman) by stepping (touching by foot) of Rama on the land.
Again some might ask, as to why the imagery of a woman? Well the earth has always been associated with the feminine principle across all cultures, so that’s not out of place.
Needless to add here that Ram in the entire Ramayana has been seen as someone who stands for the downtrodden, like Sabari, aborigine tribes better known as the Baali’s, Sugriv’s and the Vanara’s of Ramayana, etc. The myth of Ahalya could be another such act.
Pic Courtesy - commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ahalya_rama.jpg