Also known as Maha Sati Anasuya, she is the Goddess of Chastity and Hospitality. ‘Maha’ means great and ‘Sati’ means virtuous woman, so her name implies a great virtuous woman, fully dedicated to the husband. The concept of ‘sati’ is the power of women. Legends have it that even the Gods submit to Satis. Anusuya, Kausiki, Savitri and Sita are notable Satis. Their life is one of Satitva. The Agni Purana declares that women who commit ‘sahagamana’ goes to heaven. Sahagamana means joint departure. The practice of Sati is traced to the Puranas where Lord Siva’s wife, Sati, enters agni in her father, Dakha’s yajnakunda. In the Mahabaratha, Madri enters the funeral pyre of husband Pandu, leaving her children in Kunti’s custody.
But there are many ways to heaven; indeed Medhatti pronounced that Sati is suicide and is against the Shastras, the Hindu code of conduct. During the muslim invasion, many virtues women entered the funeral pyre voluntary to end their life. This was to avoid rape and ill-treatment by soldiers in the absence of their husband. They did this to protect their satitva but that regretfully the practice became a social evil of throwing women into the pyre of the husband. Sati ritual was banned by law in 1829 but there are one or two instances being reported. The ritual is hardly a part of the Hindu way of life notwithstanding the history behind it.
Anusuya was the wife of Maharishi Arti; one of the Sapta Rishis being Vasistha, Bharadvaja, Jamadagni, Gautama, Arti, Visvamitra, and Agastya. Arti, Brahma’s manasa putra, was among the main seers to propound the Fifth Mandala of the RigVeda, sacred thread and the Pranava OM.
Anusuya is the daughter of Kardama Prajapati and Devahooti. She was well established in Pativrata Dharma. ‘Pati means husband and ‘Vrata’ means vow. Pativratas are those who have taken vows, even if it means risking life, to devote their life faithfully to their husbands. The husbands are worshipped and served with all their heart, mind and soul. Goddess Anusuya served Arti with intense devotion. She did severe tapas for the welfare of her husband and to beget sons equal to the Gods. Her personal endeavor of discipline undertaken to achieve a goal was not without tests and sufferings. But towards such tapas, Anusuya was second to none.
Arti and Anasuya had three sons and a daughter, Soma, Dattatreya and Durvasa and Shubhatreyi. There are various mythological accounts surrounding the births. The one most noted is the ‘Trinity Test’ in Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. Arti and Anasuya were childless. The Trinity Consorts, Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi wanted to test Anasuya’s pativrata dharma or chastity before blessing her with children. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva understood this by jnana dhristi or supernatural vision. So they appear before Anusuya as sannyasins and her and ask Nirvana Bhiksha – giving them food in a naked condition. She was in a dilemma as nakedness was the confine of a husband. But she was also duty-bound to give alms to the sannyasins, lest the Gods be upset.
As such Anusuya invoked her pativrata shakti, took refuge at Arti’s feet and sprinkled a few drops of water used for washing the husband’s feet. Water collected from patha puja of Gurus’s and husbands is called Charanamrita and it is holy water. At the instance of the sprinkling, the Trimurtis were converted into three little children. At the same time, she felt the urge of motherhood and there was accumulation of milk in her breast. ‘Maar-kattuthal’ is the Tamil word for this. Standing nude, She breast fed the three children as if her own and with motherly passion. She waited for Maharishi Arti to relate the event but he had already known what has transpired through divine vision. Upon return, Arti embraced the three children.
Now the Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi are in a fix, aren’t they? Sage Narada travels to Brahma Loka, Vaikuntha and Kailisa to inform that their husbands have been turned into little babies through Anasuya’s pavithra shakti. Big problemo! The Trinity could revert to their original status only after the Consorts asked for Pati Bhiksha – praying for the return of their Husbands. You can’t win all the time can you, so that is what the Consorts did. They appeared before Maha Sati Anasuya and asked pati biksha. She duly honored the three Goddesses and with folded hands prayed to them that her wish for children should be fulfilled. The boon was given.
Then the Trinity appeared in their true form before Maharishi Arti and Maha Sati and blessed them a child equal to the Trinity. ‘He will be known as Dattatreya’ They said – the sage avatar of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Datta is regarded as the Adi-Guru. Thereafter, the divine couple were blessed with the sage Durvasa and the Moon-god Chandra. The triplets were therefore ‘Amsas’ meaning born of divine manifestations.
SITA AND ANASUYA:
In her later years Anasuya would become a confidante to many. She had settled with her children in Sati Anusuya Ahsrama, located further upstreams the Mandakini river. Valmiki describes in the Ramayana that apparently there was no rain in Chitrakuta for a decade. There was famine affecting human, animals and birds. Anusuya performed intensive austerities and got the Mandakini river down on earth. Mandakini river led to fresh greenery. Forests and vegetation removed all sufferings on the land ruled by Ravana. The dense forests of Dandaka starts from this place.
Once Sita meets her and shares memories of Ayodhya. There were many who wanted Sita’s hand in marriage. It was supposed to be self-choice, a swayamvara. The groom was not decided before hand and was to be Sita’s choice. But King Janaka faced an issue in this area. He had found Sita in a field, so her ancestry could not be traced to ascertain her future. Janaka did not want to give her up so easily. He placed the lifting of the bow as a condition to those who came like a line of conveyer belt. The thought of marriage made him feel he was losing a fortune. Sita described the circumstances to Anusuya many years later. ‘After seeing that I had reached an age suitable for giving me away to a proper husband in marriage, my father became overcome with fear and anxiety, like a man who was about to become poor’ – Valmiki Ramayana Ayodhya Kand 118.34.
It was in this ashram that Anasuya explains to Sita the grandeur and importance of satitva – chastity and total devotion to one’s husband. She also brought great joy to Sita with her hospitality and taught her the duties of a woman and fidelity to one’s husband. Vedic culture sets the syllabus for virtuous woman. Pathni is one who leads the husband through life; dharmapathni is one who guides the husband in dharma and sahadharmacarini is one who moves with the husband on the path of dharma – righteousness and and duty. Anusuya has set the stage as a living example of such virtues.
Yogi Ananda Saraswati