Everything about Anasuya: Mythological Hindu Wife of Atri

The Hindu sage Atri took as wife Anasuya (or Anusuya), a name meaning the divine quality of Free-from-envy.

She was so vigorous an ascetic, and producer of miracles, that she irrigated earth with the Ganges in drought and on another occasion “made ten nights one” because her friend was cursed to “become a widow tomorrow”

“Tomorrow shall not come” said Anasuya, and extinguished it by making ten nights one. At least, so goes the story, but it is more likely that, being a clever woman, Anasuya shifted the calendar.

Sons of Anasuya

Atri and Anasuya had two sons: Durvasas and Dattatreya.

The name Durvasas represents asceticism, ill-cloted and homeless; for, the ascetic, almost naked, wanders houseless.

Datta-atreya also has it’s own meaning. Take away the suffix “atreya” and all that’s left is “Datta”, which means “gift” or “charity”.

Anasuya’s loyalty is tested

Once upon a time Rishi Narada who is known in the Puranas as a traveller through the three worlds, and a great plotter, plotting feuds and strange things always ending in victory on the side of the good, went to the assemblage of the gods and goddesses, and, in course of conveying news, said that there was not another pativrata (married woman loyal to her husband) like Anasuya in all the earth and heaven.

The goddesses Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Uma, the wives of the Tri-murtis Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesvara, said:

“How can you say so in our presence?”

For they considered themselves unrivalled in all good qualities.

“I do not wish” said Narada “to decry you, but if you are equal to Anasuya, cook these iron kanakas, chick-peas, as she can.”

To prove what he said, he went to Anasuya, got her to cook and make payasa of the iron peas (i.e. a preparation of peas boiled in milk and sugar) and took it to the three goddesses.

They asked their respective husbands to prove one way or another that Anasuya was not steadfast in her loyalty to her husband.

Accordingly, the Tri-murtis deities disguised themselves as Brahmans and went to Atri’s house as atithis, guests.

Atri was absent, but Anasuya received them and spread the leaves for their dinner. They said that they would eat in her house, only if she should serve food quite naked.

She knew how inhospitable it would be to send away hungry guests from her house. So, equal to the occasion, she sprinkled on them the water of her husband’s jar, and they at once became three innocent babes.

She became naked and fed the babes, and then, dressing herself, put them in three cradles, and was rocking them singing nursery songs.

If to be a father of twins is no small distinction, what was the joy of Atri to find on coming home that he had become the father of three divine sons.

Days went on, and the three goddesses were put in a terrible state of mind not knowing , what became of their husbands. Thus, the goddesses sent Indra to find them out.

He went to many places but in vain. At that juncture, Narada met the goddesses, and said how the Tri-murtis had disappeared from their envious wives, and become dear babes to Anasuya of matchless pativratya.

The goddesses ran at once to her house and were received with due respect. They begged her to give them back their husbands. She sprinkled the same water over the babes and they became the Tri-murtis again and asked her to take a boon from them. As her husband was childless, she said:

“May you three be born in me as one son”

Accordingly, Dattatreya was born with three heads.

The meaning of Anasuya’s name

One way of interpreting Anasuya’s name is view it as a pun of sorts, since “anas”, among other things means cooked food, implying she would be a good ook.

Interpreting her name in the proper way however, as an-asuya, free from envy, she becomes etymologically the only lady who can be free from envy and whose anasuyata even the goddesses, though having bright names, splendid in their own way, are not able to take away.

Love, which a wife has for her husband, for whose sake she leaves father, mother, brothers and sisters, and whose difficulties she shares, is indeed a divine quality.

The spouses of the gods have that love in abundance; but because they are the God’s wives, they cannot logically be their mothers as well.

Atri’s wife Anasuya does not have this limitation. Being a steadfast pativrata to her husband, she can at the same time love God with a motherly love, which is the highest degree of disinterested love that can be had on earth.

What can we say of Anasuya’s motherly love, who not having children of her own, converts others into babes and loves them as if they were her own?

Such a mother is anasuya, free from envy, and is pure disinterestedness; and she deserves to be the mother of the gods themselves, for the gods are pure disinterestedness.

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