Many translations and interpretations of Valmiki Ramayana, try to suggest that Sage Gowthama has cursed his wife Ahalya for adultery with Indra and turned her into stone.
Later after many years, Lord Rama’s feet touched her and turned her back into human.
But the real story of Ahalya is in original Ramayan written by Valmiki, which mention her to be doing penance to purify herself until she met Rama.
After seeing his wife copulating with Indra wishfully (even after knowing that Indra came in her husband’s disguise), Gowthama cursed Indra to become infecund.
Then, he asked his wife Ahalya to purify herself by doing penance without appearing to outside world and said that she will be purified upon arrival of Rama to her place.
तथा शप्त्वा च वै शक्रम् भार्याम् अपि च शप्तवान् |
इह वर्ष सहस्राणि बहूनि निवषिस्यसि || १-४८-२९
वायु भक्षा निराहारा तप्यन्ती भस्म शायिनी |
अदृश्या सर्व भूतानाम् आश्रमे अस्मिन् वषिस्यसि || १-४८-३० (Balakanda, 48 Sarga)
Translation : On cursing Indra thus the sage cursed even his wife saying, ‘you shall tarry here for many thousands of years to come without food and consuming air alone, and unseen by all beings you shall live on in this hermitage while contritely recumbent in dust‘.
तस्य आतिथ्येन दुर्वृत्ते लोभ मोह विवर्जिता |
मत् सकाशे मुदा युक्ता स्वम् वपुः धारयिष्यसि || १-४८-३२
Translation : ‘On your welcoming of Rama, oh, ill-behaved woman, you will be divested of your greed and craze in which you lingered so far, and then you will assume your own body (self appearance) and then you can be in my proximity, rejoicingly‘. Thus, Sage Gautama cursed his wife Ahalya.
Later, Indra, who lost his testicles due to Gowthama’s curse, had them replaced by gods with those of an animal RAM, as he did this to mischief to benefit Gods by sending Gowthama to penance.
Telling this story, Viswamitra asks Rama to enter Ahalya’s hermitage.
ददर्श च महाभागाम् तपसा द्योतित प्रभाम् |
लोकैः अपि समागंय दुर्निरीक्ष्याम् सुर असुरैः || १-४९-१३
प्रयत्नात् निर्मिताम् धात्रा दिव्याम् मायामयीम् इव |
धूमेन अभिपरीत अंगीम् दीप्ताअम् अग्नि सिखाम् इव || १-४९-१४
स तुषार आवृताम् स अभ्राम् पूर्ण चन्द्र प्रभाम् इव |
मध्ये अंभसो दुराधर्षाम् दीप्ताम् सूर्य प्रभाम् इव || १-४९-१५ (Balakanda, 49 Sarga)
Translation : She whose splendour is brightened by her ascesis, at whom it is impossible to raise an eye for a stare either for gods, or for demons, or for the worldly beings on coming close to her, whom the Creator has contrived with careful contemplation as an angelic and a completely phantasmal entity, who is like the befogged and beclouded moonshine of a full moon as she is hitherto enshrouded by the dried up leaves and dust, who is like an unwatchable sunshine mirrored in and glowing from the midst of water, for she is hitherto in the midst of denounce, and whose limbs are like the tongues of a flaring fire around which fumes are cloaking, as she is hitherto practising an utmost ascesis subsisting on air alone, which ascesis alone made her like a flaring Ritual Fir, and Rama has seen such a highly glorious Ahalya.
शापस्य अन्तम् उपागंय तेषाम् दर्शनम् आगता ||
राघवौ तु ततः तस्याः पादौ जगृहतुः मुदा | १-४९-१७
Translation : On reaching the end of curse she came into the view of Raghava-s (Rama and Lakshmana), and they too gladly touched her feet in reverence.
If she was turned into a stone, how would she rise from dry leave and dust and how would Rama, Lakshmana touch her feet.
Later, Sage Gowthama came to this place and was happy to see his wife’s penance ending.
In those days, a sage is expected not to indulge in carnal affairs and even his wife too.
So, as Ahalya lost her track, she was asked to purify her mind and body by penance until she meets and hosts Rama.
Real Story of Ahalya
Only Padma Purana mentions that Ahalya became almost a stone and got back to normal life upon Rama’s feet touching her.
Saa tataH tasya raamasya paada sparshanaat mahaatmanH | abhuut suruupaa vanitaa samaakraantaa mahaa shilaa || , which means that by the touch of the feet of that great souled Rama, she was manifested into a divine damsel, getting rid of her stone (motionless) shape.
Ahalya is also mentioned in Uttara Kanda of Ramayana.
There will be an exchange of words between Indra and Brahma and here Brahma defines hala as ‘distorted shape..‘ and a halya is one with an ‘impeccable beauty..‘.
Besides the above, Indra will be usually addressed as sahasra-aksha – thousand eyed one, and behind this legend, there is another legend, saying that Gowtama’s curse to Indra is: ‘since you delighted with Divine Ahalya, who is crafted by Brahma, in carnal pleasures, let there be thousand carnally vaginal apertures on your body…‘
Then Indra is agitated for such an appearance, pleads for mercy.
Then, the curse is amended saying ‘instead of vaginal apertures, the apertures on your body will look like eyes…‘ thus Indra became sahasra aksha (1000 eyed).
But this 1000 eyes of Indra are used as his network (internet hubs) in many other instances.
So, Gowthama’s curse of 1000 apertures should be a boon in disguise.
Real Story of Ahalya in Padma Purana
Padma Purana, the second biggest of puranas also mention Ahalya’s story, but differently.
Here, Ahalya is said to have been touched by Rama’s feet and rises from her stone state to human form.
Also, Padama purana mentions that Rama Sethu built on ocean to reach Lanka, has been broken into 3 pieces on request of Vibhishana to prevent further attacks on Lanka.
Also, one instance mentions Rama to pray for Lord Siva and get his bow ‘Ajagava or ajagavaM‘, which takes any shape according to the wish of its holder.
The bow takes shape of a bridge and entire Vanarana army walks on it to reach Lanka.
Infact, Ramayana happened 11 times over multiple maha-yugas and what we read in Valmiki Ramayana has happened in Treta Yuga of 28th Maha-Yuga.
So, Rama has not broken Siva’s Bow every time to marry Sita and Vanaras did not construct brige with rocks and wood every time to reach Lanka.