IN THE LAST column, I mentioned the sage Atri’s austerities and promised to talk about Anasuya’s austerities next. The story is being told by Suta.
“When their master immersed himself in dhyana, since there was no food, the disciples left their guru, and went far away. Anasuya, devoted to her husband, was left alone. Cheerfully, she constantly served the sage. She followed the norms and using mantras, crafted a beautiful clay image.
Mentally rendering offerings, she worshipped Shankara. She devotedly served Shankara and praised him repeatedly. She clasped her hands in salutation and circumambulated her husband and Shiva. Anasuya remained near Atri, tending to him in the proper way, but her service to Shiva surpassed Atri’s austerities. As long as the supreme sage was engaged in pranayama, the lady especially distinguished herself in her service through thoughts, words and deeds. The couple was thus engaged in their own respective activities. There was no one else near Atri. Atri was supremely immersed in dhyana and did not realise anything else. The virtuous lady, Anasuya, served her husband and Shiva.”
“As a result of his austerities and her service, devas, rishis and Ganga and other rivers were extremely pleased. All of them came there to see them. On seeing his austerities and her service, they were filled with great amazement. On witnessing their supreme and wonderful deeds, they spoke to one another. “Of the two, which is superior, austerities or service? Is it Atri’s austerities or is it Anasuya’s service?” Considering both, all of them spoke to each other again. “The service is superior. Earlier, other rishis have performed extremely difficult austerities, but no one has ever done anything like this.” They also said, “The sage is blessed. But likewise, Anasuya is also blessed. Full of great love, both of them have performed excellent austerities. Such auspicious austerities are extremely difficult to undertake. We do not know of anyone else in the three worlds who has done anything like this so far.” Praising them, they went away, with the exception of Ganga and Girisha. Ganga said, “I am delighted with the virtuous lady’s devotion to service and charmed by her adherence to dharma. I will help her and only leave thereafter.” The sage Atri’s dhyana also fixed Shiva to the spot. He remained there and did not go to Kailasa. Fifty-four years passed without any rain. As long as Atri was engaged in austerities and dhyana, Anasuya did not take any food. She did this as long as the sage performed those austerities.”
“On one occasion, Atri arose and told his beloved, “Please get me some water.” Devoted to him, the virtuous lady took up her kamandalu and ventured into a desolate region. “From where can I get water? What will I do? Where will I go? Where will I get water from?” She was then surprised to see Ganga. When she tried to follow her, the goddess Ganga, supreme among rivers, assumed a beautiful form and spoke to her. Ganga said, “O lady! I am pleased with you. Where are you going? Please tell me. You are blessed. I will truly do what you ask me to.” Hearing her words, the ascetic wife of the rishi was surprised and happy. Anasuya answered, “Who are you with eyes like the petals of lotuses? Where have you come from? Please tell me the truth.” Ganga, the supreme river, divine in form, answered. Ganga said, “O virtuous lady! On witnessing your service to your husband and your following of dharma, Shiva, the paramatman, and I are stationed near you. O one with the beautiful smile! I am Ganga and I have come here to serve you. I am under you control now. Ask for whatever you want.” When Ganga said this, the virtuous lady bowed down and stood in front of her. She said, “If you are pleased, give me some water now.” Hearing these words, Ganga replied, “Dig a pit.” Anasuya instantly dug a pit. In the form of water, Ganga entered that pit. Anasuya was surprised and took the water. For the welfare of the worlds, the sage’s wife spoke to the excellent river, divine in form. Anasuya said, “If you are pleased with me, show me your compassion and stay here. Please remain here until my husband comes here.” Hearing Anasuya’s words, Ganga was pleased and replied, “O unblemished one! Give my water to Atri.” She acted accordingly and gave the water to her husband. Delighted, the rishi drank the divine water and having drunk, rejoiced. “How wonderful! This is not the water I normally drink.” He quickly looked around him. He saw the dried trees and that the directions were harsh. The supreme rishi said, “It cannot have rained.” Hearing this, his beloved replied, “No. It has not.” He again asked, “Where have you brought the water from?” She thought about this. “If I tell him, it will establish my excellence. However, if I don’t tell him, my vow will be broken. I shall tell him such that neither of these happens.” Anasuya said, “O husband! Listen. I will tell you what has happened. Because of Shankara’s powers and your good deeds, Ganga has come here. This is her water.” Hearing these words, the sage’s mind was filled with wonder. Happily remembering Shankara in his mind, he spoke to his beloved. Atri said, “O beloved! O beautiful lady! Have you spoken the truth or is this a falsehood? I think that this is an extremely rare occurrence. Therefore, you have not spoken the truth. This is impossible for yogis who worship devas to achieve. That is the reason I am filled with this great surprise now. I will believe it only when I myself see it, not otherwise.” Hearing these words, Anasuya answered, “O lord! O great sage! If you wish to see Ganga, the supreme river, come there with me.” Saying this, the lady took her husband with her.”
When their master immersed himself in dhyana, since there was no food, the disciples left their guru, and went far away. Anasuya, devoted to her husband, was left alone. Cheerfully, she constantly served the sage
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“She remembered Shiva and quickly went to the spot where Ganga, the supreme river, was. Having gone there, she showed her husband Ganga. Ganga was herself present there in the pit, in a divine form. The rishi went and saw that the pit was full of water. Seeing that the pit was filled right up to the top, he exclaimed, “I am blessed. Is this because of my austerities, or is this because of someone else?” The sage bathed in that extremely fortunate water. Anasuya also bathed in that beautiful water. The sage and Anasuya observed the daily rites. Ganga told her, “I am returning to my own abode.” Thus addressed, the virtuous lady spoke to the excellent river again. Anasuya said, “O goddess! If you are pleased and if you wish to show me your compassion, please remain in this hermitage permanently.” The rishi also said, “O supreme river! Please stay here. O goddess! Show us your favours and grant us protection.” Hearing these words, the beautiful and excellent river, Ganga, was pleased. Ganga addressed Anasuya in the following words, “To help devas, I will remain here. But the condition is that you will have to give me one year’s worth of good merits you have acquired by worshipping Shankara and serving your husband. I am not pleased as much by donations, bathing in tirthas, sacrifices and yoga, as I am by devotion to the husband. When I see a lady who is devoted to her husband, I am pleased. I am not pleased as much by anything else. When I see a woman who is devoted to her husband, my sins are destroyed. Therefore, if you desire the welfare and benefit of the worlds, give me those good merits and I will permanently remain here.” Hearing these words, Anasuya, devoted to her husband, gave Ganga all the good merits she had accumulated in the course of a year. It is the nature of the great to ensure the welfare of others.
Witnessing Anasuya’s deed of great devotion to her husband, Mahadeva was pleased and immediately manifested himself from his parthiva lingam. Shambhu said, “O one devoted to her husband! I am pleased at your virtuous act. You are dear to me. Ask for the boon you desire the most.” The couple looked at Shambhu’s handsome form. Greatly surprised, they gazed at Hara, with his five faces. Full of great devotion, they bent down, clasped their hands and praised him. Having worshipped Shankara, who brings welfare to the worlds, they spoke, “O Devesha! If you are pleased and if the mother of the universe [Ganga] is pleased, please remain in this hermitage and bring happiness to the worlds.” Both of them remained there, with the excellent rishi. Ishvara is named Atrishvara and removes the miseries of others. Ganga also stayed in that pit. Since that day, there has always been a perennial supply of water. In a pit that is only the length of a hand, Ganga Mandakini appeared. Along with their wives, the divine rishis arrived there. All of them returned from the various tirthas they had left for. There was a supply of barley and rice. Along with the supreme rishis, people who were devoted to sacrifices performed them. Satisfied with these rites, the clouds showered down rain. There was great happiness in the world.”