n Hindu mythology, Ahalya (Sanskrit: अहल्या, IAST: Ahalyā) also known as Ahilya, is the wife of the sage Gautama Maharishi. Many Hindu scriptures say that she was seduced by Indra (the king of gods), cursed by her husband for infidelity, and liberated from the curse by Rama (an avatar of the god Vishnu).
Created by the god Brahma as the most beautiful woman, Ahalya was married to the much older Gautama. In the earliest full narrative, when Indra comes disguised as her husband, Ahalya sees through his disguise but nevertheless accepts his advances. Later sources often absolve her of all guilt, describing how she falls prey to Indra’s trickery. In all narratives, Ahalya and Indra are cursed by Gautama. The curse varies from text to text, but almost all versions describe Rama as the eventual agent of her liberation and redemption. Although early texts describe how Ahalya must atone by undergoing severe penance while remaining invisible to the world and how she is purified by offering Rama hospitality, in the popular retelling developed over time, Ahalya is cursed to become a stone and regains her human form after she is brushed by Rama’s foot.
Ahalya’s seduction by Indra and its repercussions form the central narrative of her story in all scriptural sources for her life. Although the Brahmanas (9th to 6th centuries BCE) are the earliest scriptures to hint at her relationship with Indra, the 5th- to 4th-century BCE Hindu epic Ramayana – whose hero is Rama – is the first to explicitly mention her extra-marital affair in detail. Medieval story-tellers often focus on Ahalya’s deliverance by Rama, which is seen as proof of the saving grace of God. Her story has been retold numerous times in the scriptures and lives on in modern-age poetry and short stories, as well as in dance and drama. While ancient narratives are Rama-centric, contemporary ones focus on Ahalya, telling the story from her perspective. Other traditions deal with her children.
In traditional Hinduism, Ahalya is extolled as the first of the panchakanya (“five virgins”), archetypes of female chastity whose names are believed to dispel sin when recited. While some praise her loyalty to her husband and her undaunted acceptance of the curse and gender norms, others condemn her adultery.