Gautama and Ahalya

Gautama and Ahalya ‎‎(Music from Pagliacci)‎‎ Press play before reading to hear the clip

                Indra was growing more and more restless, waiting for his moment to make love to the woman he lusted after more than any other. Since the god Brahma had created Ahalya, Indra, who was also a god, felt entitled to her. She noticed his passes and found them to be a bit flattering. She had been entertaining his affections without her husband Gautama knowing of course. Indra would crow like a rooster in the morning to wake Gautama and he would leave and do his daily duties. This day, however, would end differently for these two adulterers.

Gautama returned home a bit early to check on something, a decision he would question for years. He heard some strange sounds and ran, immediately thinking Ahalya was in trouble. Instead, he found her in bed with Indra, disguised as Gautama. Ahalya would only sleep with Indra when he was disguised as Gautama as a way to ease her guilt a little about the affair. Another reason was to provide an easy out for her and Indra if needed. All three people were completely flabbergasted and stared at one another in shock for a few moments.

Ahalya tried reason with her husband. “Gautama? Wait, I am confused,” she said with a puzzled expression on her face. Meanwhile, Indra tried to leave quietly out the back. “Honey, how have you created a double of yourself? That is not a very nice trick to play on your wife, is it?” Gautama stared straight at her in a deafening silence. She continued, “I was so excited when you arrived home so soon after leaving but it isn’t you, is it? What has happened here? Why won’t you speak to me?” Gautama shook his head in disbelief.

“You dare insult me by lying to me,” he said in a scathing voice. “I have done nothing but be a loyal husband and guardian to you for your life. What have I done to deserve such great disloyalty from you?” His voice was so loud Ahalya trembled and Indra, who had taken the form of a cat, could not move. Just as Indra was about to exit the room Gautama bellowed, “You will pay for your insolence! Since you yearn for my wife’s fruit so wildly you won’t mind being covered in them will you?” In an instant Indra was covered with female organs. Ahalya screamed in terror, “No!” as Indra ran away in shame. “Don’t leave me, Indra!” she shrieked.

“Now you, my beautiful wife,” Gautama threatened. “Wait,” cried Ahalya. “I did not mean to hurt you. I made you so happy and I can continue to. Please do not cause me shame. I never wanted to hurt you. I love you and am your wife!” Gautama was not affected by his wife’s pleas. He looked at her and snarled, “You are no longer my wife!” Ahalya screamed as her husband turned her into stone. He looked around his house and noticed that many creatures had seen the events of this terrible morning. He fiercely glared at all of them. The reality of his actions began to flood his mind as he gasped, “The spectacle is finished.”

To the left, Rama is seen restoring Ahalya back into human form.

Author’s note: This story from the Ramayana exemplifies what adultery can do to a couple. I made a few changes to the story to fit the music a bit better and make for a more dramatic storytelling. In my retelling Indra and Ahalya have been having an affair. In the original story according to Narayan’s version, Ahalya was unaware that Indra disguised himself as Gautama to sleep with her. Indra convinced her that he was her husband. I embellished the part claiming Ahalya wanted Indra to disguise himself as Gautama to ease her mind about the affair. Most of the conversation was not included in the original either. Narayan has Ahalya plead with Gautama to not turn her into stone. She explains she was unaware of Indra’s presence. In my version Gautama is unaffected by her plea but in the original he changed his mind a bit; he decided to let her be turned back into human by Rama in the future. Finally I added the creatures watching on as the day’s events unfold to draw a parallel to the opera; they are not present in the original. I wanted to give to reader the impression that Gautama had lost his mind in a jealous rage and did some things that he lived to regret later in his life. This also is not alluded to in the original story.

Connection to the opera: Pagliacci is a verismo opera by the Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo. Verismo means the opera is perhaps a bit more violent and uses characters who exhibit everyday human attributes, jealousy in this case. Canio is the leader of a traveling acting troupe. He is madly in love with his wife Nedda who also belongs to this acting troupe. Nedda does not share the same love for Canio as he does for her and is having an affair with Silvio. I liken Gautama to Canio. Both characters love their wives and are stricken by blind rage when they confront them. Nedda and Ahalya are similar in that they are both beautiful women loved by men who react violently upon learning of their affairs. Silvio like Indra is a bit apprehensive when it comes to confronting his lover’s husband. The clip provided is the final few minutes of the opera. During a performance of the comedy troupe, Canio barges on stage in a drunken rage and begins to question Nedda about her affair. At the beginning of the clip Nedda tries to remain in character for the live performance and snap Canio out of his rage, but she fails. Canio stabs both his wife and her lover, killing them in a quick moment. He then utters, “La Commedia è finita!” which translates in English, “The play is over.”


Narayan, R.K. (1972). Ramayana